RVM…2011 Season Review Part the Final

So here we are finally at the final installment of the 2011 season in review. I think by now I have gotten 2011 out of my system and we can begin to look towards 2012 with a more focused eye. Even now, merely three weeks out, and next year is already starting to shape up. There are a few more things about last season I would like to hit first before I file 2011 into the history books.

Best of the rest – Before the 2011 season, I would have bet money that KV racing would have been the best of the rest by the end of the year, and although showing speed in qualifying and racing, the team as a whole failed to shine. TK finished in P5 while Sato and Viso languished back in P13 and P18 respectively. Newman/Haas Racing was actually the best of the rest with Oriol Servia taking home P3 in the standings behind the Penske and Ganassi of Power and Franchitti. Rookie James Hinchcliffe, quite possibly completing the most affable team in the paddock with Servia, placed P12 and took home Rookie of the year honors; not too shabby for a team than has never put their car on a shaker rig or into a wind tunnel. It will be very interesting to see how NHR stacks up next year, have they been saving their resources for a strong 2012? After hearing Servia make those comments on trackside a few months ago, I tend to think yes.

The best of the rest is without a doubt Andretti Autosport. Although missing the 500 with two of their five drivers, the team was still able to come home with 3 wins among Conway, Andretti and Hunter-Reay. Danica Patrick’s perpetual consistency landed her a finish of P10 with Andretti and Hunter-Reay taking P8 and P7. The team as a whole showed more strength throughout the season. Each driver had their mishaps and Conway being the outlier in P17, but placing three drivers in the bottom half of the top ten is quite impressive given the deep field. If KV can get their act together, I really think Penske and Ganassi could see some real competition from these three teams.

The Underdogs – While the fight at the front of the field was heated all year long, it was the underdogs that really stuck out to me; particularly Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais. Sam Schmidt bought Tag’s FAZZT racing team before the 2011 campaign for SSM’s first foray into the big cars. Tagliani was retained as the driver for the number one seat as the team ballooned to four cars for Indy, while usually bringing two rides, in one form or another, to the other events. Tags had an amazing first half of the year, capping off his early season success with pole for the Indy 500. He did have a few good results in the back half of the season, but unfortunately they were mixed in with some of his worst of the year. Funding woes plagued the team and added to an often stretched thin engineering staff, there was not much hope for Tags by season end as he missed the Kentucky round to give his seat to Dan Wheldon. I like Alex, and think he did a fantastic job considering the environment he was asked to perform in. I really hope to see him have a bit more success next year.

Bourdais was absolutely amazing to watch this year. He drove the twistie portion of the schedule; sharing the number 19 ride with Alex Lloyd who ran the ovals. Sea Bass finished 13thin the road standings and 23rd overall, the highest part time finisher, all in a part time Dale Coyne ride. Nothing against DCR, but they are not know for their superb engineering or supreme setups. Bourdais was able to do magical things with the underfunded team racking up five top tens in nine rounds with an 11th and three crash outs. Bourdais should be at the top of everyone’s watch list with his skills on the road courses. Unfortunately, I am sure the four time champion is not; raising questions about the competency of team owners and managers. I really hope he can find a solid ride next year and show these guys the way it should be done.

All in all – I thought the season was remarkable, but for all of the wrong reasons. The tragic events at Vegas capped off a year of more or less insanity in the series. I remember being downright embarrassed for those painful 30 minutes of yellow flag running to start the season off. After the smoke settled in Florida, we caught a glimpse of how the rest of the season would go at Barber and Long Beach…rough. Then we had an amazing run of races starting in Sao Paulo, including Indy, Texas and Milwaukee and culminating in Iowa.

Then Toronto Happened. The season seemed to slowly unravel from this point on, testing the most hardened indycar fans. The Canadian swing was rough, no question, and the series looked to be heading back to some semblance of sanity before the decision the restart a race in the rain happened. As quick as the paddock got fired up it was put to sleep at Sonoma. Baltimore seems to have gone worse than initially thought, and we had a quiet last trip to Japan. I didn’t know what to make of the season anymore at this point. My patience, nerves and resolve had all been thoroughly tested and I was looking forward to an in person trip to Kentucky that more than solidified my love again for the series.

2011 was a rollercoaster of a year. Looking back through the schedule, if you take that silly green flag away from New Hampshire, the series was at its most civilized on the ovals. We saw more poor officiating and even worse driving on the twisties this year to make me wonder quite simply: did the series seriously write road racing rules back in 2005 or did they just assume an oval rule book would suffice with a bit of tweaking; mainly at the officials discretion. It seemed like they were winging it.

Looking back I still think the year was marginally successful and entertaining before Las Vegas. This was not the worst season of indycar I have seen, but I do hope we continue growing. The 2012 schedule is in flux, three spiffy new engines are coming to play and the new car is “unstable” at Indy. I am not too concerned yet as it is still early days and there is a long off season ahead. I really did enjoy 2011 for all it was worth and honestly look forward to 2012 with positive eyes.

anotherindycarblog will not be shuttering its doors through the long and painful off season. I have no idea what these next five months have in store for my small little nerd shrine to the greatest sport in the world, but it should be entertaining as silly season has already kicked into full tilt.

Here’s to 2011, naturally aspirated engines, the Dallara IR03, Japan, Danica, and of course Dan Wheldon.

Eric Hall

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