Nineteen races with 10 winners (four of whom were first-timers ” James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball) from seven different teams. Perhaps an even better indicator of how the competitive balance shifted across the IndyCar season was that there were nine pole-sitters spread between six teams. The average number of lap leaders per race was 5.42, with the number of lead changes per race being a remarkable 10.74.
OK, so those numbers are boosted considerably by the Indy 500, but this year of all years, those series’ stats must make Formula 1 fans catch their breath in amazement?
Robin Miller writes?
With all the great racing of 2013 you might think it’s difficult to single out the three best IndyCar races of the season but, actually, it was quite simple. Brazil, Indianapolis and Long Beach held the most intrigue and emotion for me even though one of them finished under caution.
The show at Sao Paulo was tops because it produced one of the greatest last laps in the history of street racing, if not IndyCar racing. At any given time in the last two laps the victory could have gone to Josef Newgarden, Takuma Sato or James Hinchcliffe as they slid, chopped, dive-bombed and weaved around the racy 2.5-mile circuit like a soccer scrum.
Newgarden’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car never officially led a lap but did a masterful job of applying pressure and dodging Sato’s swerving AJ Foyt Racing entry at 175mph down the long, bending straightaway heading for home. While those two battled, it allowed Hinchcliffe to join the party and the Andretti Autosport driver saved his best for last.
As Newgarden’s tires gave up, it became a two-man duel that wasn’t decided until the final corner of the final lap. Hinch hustled inside Sato as they accelerated out of the right-hander and drag raced to the checkered flag with the Canadian winning by .034 of a second and depriving the Japanese veteran of back-to-back triumphs. Hinch had only led once all afternoon ” the final 400 yards.
Indianapolis featured the same attributes except there were five potential victors by the closing laps of the race, as three of the Andretti armada ” Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and rookie Carlos Munoz ” battled Tony Kanaan with Justin Wilson also lurking.
Even though there were a record 68 lead changes among 14 drivers, nobody wanted to be first on a restart because they were a sitting duck, or so it appeared. RHR was leading when Graham Rahal crashed on lap 194 and he immediately surrendered it to Kanaan on the lap 197 restart.
As the Andretti trio was lining up to take a shot at T.K., the modern day Lloyd Ruby finally caught a break at Indianapolis when Dario Franchitti smacked the wall on lap 198. That ended the passing derby and the veteran from Brazil who had led 221 laps at IMS in years past but never tasted the milk was able to finally, and calmly, steer his KV Racing entry into Victory Lane.
Long Beach didn’t hold the late-race drama of the other two but it did produce one of the most popular winners in recent memory as Sato scored his initial IndyCar victory while driving for A.J. Foyt ” who hadn’t won a race since 2002.
Always quick in Formula 1, the pride of Japan had shown a fast pace in the USA the past three seasons but had never been able to seal the deal. Starting fourth, he snatched the lead on lap 31 and led the final 50 circuits in a flawless performance that even made Super Tex smile through the pain of his sciatic nerve damage.Marshall Pruett writes?
Choosing St. Petersburg as one of my three favorites might seem like a strange pick with so many other great races to draw from, but it stands out for a few different non-traditional reasons.
First, it was the perfect scene-setter for the championship battle that would rage over the next seven months as a shock first-time winner in James Hinchcliffe made the Las Vegas odds-makers look downright silly. Ryan Hunter-Reay was coming off his first championship, Will Power was ready to put the disappointment of 2012 behind him and Scott Dixon looked like he’d had enough of watching others earn their respective IndyCar titles.
Power would claim pole position, but little else went according to the script. Takuma Sato and his new AJ Foyt Racing team qualified second, Simona de Silvestro took third, Tristan Vautier, the lone rookie in the field, made the Firestone Fast Six, and favorites like RHR (eighth) and Dixon (20th) were well off their mark.
Firestone’s new street course compound, as it turned out, caught most teams by surprise, leaving some of the powerhouse programs struggling for the right direction to follow. In the race, Power was assaulted from behind during a caution, robbing him of a potential win, his teammate Helio Castroneves, who won the race in 2012, looked strong but goofed up under braking on a restart and saw Hinchcliffe seize the opportunity.
Hinch held onto the lead to score his first win, Marco Andretti’s long off-season of personal development led him to third, Dixon drove like a mad man from 20th to fifth and de Silvestro secured a solid sixth. Championship hopefuls Dario Franchitti crashed on cold tires, Simon Pagenaud was out early with a broken exhaust and RHR dealt with a scary sticking throttle before retiring. It was a crazy opening to a season that defied predictions at almost every turn.
As RACER Editor David Malsher so aptly described the outcome of Detroit 1, ?Mike Conway got up off the couch and won the race for Dale Coyne Racing,? and his assessment isn’t far from the truth. The Briton was a last-minute call-up from Coyne just days after the Indy 500, and to Conway’s mild displeasure, he’d asked Coyne if his services would be of interest for Belle Isle, heard nothing back from the veteran team owner, and chose to fly home to the U.K.. Coyne called him shortly after making the trek across the Atlantic, leading Conway to turn around and head back to the States to drive the No. 18 DCR Honda on the gripless street circuit.
Sixth in opening practice, second in his half of the first qualifying segment, third in Q2 and third in the Firestone Fast Six, Conway was on the attack from the moment he landed in Detroit. He’d go on to demolish the field, stretching out a 12.9-second lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay, marking the biggest margin of victory of the year. Amazing stuff.
There are few venues left on the IndyCar circuit where frightening speeds and insane passing are the norm, making October’s season finale at Fontana a must-see event for thrill seekers. Pick any of the green-flag laps during the 250-lap contest and you’ll find cars running two- or three-abreast, and sometimes that number crept up to four or five. Some 29 official lead changes took place, but there had to be a hundred or more that weren’t captured at the start/finish line. The 2013 edition of the race had overheating motors, unexpected drivers leading in dominant fashion, rookies determined to prove their value, and high drama as the championship came down to a duel between two men.
The last few laps at Brazil rank as the best of the season, without a doubt, but if you’re in need of an IndyCar fix during the off-season, sit down and watch Fontana from start to finish. It’s terrifyingly magnificent.David Malsher writes?
With his last choice, Robin highlights the difference between a great race and a great result. Charlie Kimball’s victory at Mid-Ohio was a wonderful result and he thoroughly deserved it. But I spent the first half of the race fuming at the sight of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Scott Dixon trying not to trip over each other as they cruised around two seconds off their potential pace. That race was five laps longer this year specifically to eliminate fuel-saving tactics; without yellow flags, it had been a real push to make it on two stops in 2012. To try that strategy again with greater distance to cover meant arguably the three fastest drivers in the series were effectively neutered as it became clear that no caution periods were coming to rescue them.
So I want to give major props to the Grand Prix of Houston, because despite a track that could have been designed to shake out a driver’s dentures and a couple of corners that had been tightened unnecessarily since it last held a race in 2007, it produced plenty of passing. It’s tough to nominate the second race in light of the career-ending shunt for Dario Franchitti complete with scarily flying fence into the grandstand. The whole scene was hideously reminiscent of the heart-in-mouth footage from the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona this year.
But by then we had seen a great fight between the Ganassi car of Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power, resolved in the latter’s favor. It was a fight we’d been promised in the previous day’s race until ruined by the pits closing under yellow while Dixon was in pit lane and Power wasn’t. Houston 2, by contrast proved the old adage that it only takes two cars to make a race.
Iowa Speedway, aside from being one of my favorite tracks on the schedule, generally produces great races, and it lived up to its reputation again this year, despite the winner rarely being in doubt the moment James Hinchcliffe hit the front. Everywhere else around the 0.875-mile oval, there was so much to watch. Hinch’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay started only 12th but raced forward, clipped the tail of Graham Rahal’s car, fell to the back as a result of an unscheduled pit stop to replace his damaged nosecone, and then surged through the field like the series title was at stake.
Rahal himself drove a storming race, resolutely taking an unusual high line that he somehow made work, but was passed on the final lap by the similarly charging Ed Carpenter, for whom this fourth place was his best result until finishing runner-up at the season finale at Fontana. Predictably Tony Kanaan (KV Racing) and Marco Andretti figured strongly, too, with TK scoring a great third, while Andretti slipped away to ninth with a damper problem. But at all times, it seemed, there were two or three battles to watch, and Iowa is often like that. Long may it continue on the IndyCar schedule.
Third nomination is trickier. We all reveled in the action at Fontana ” 29 lead changes divided among 11 cars is hard to argue with ” but I wasn’t impressed with the amount of mechanical strife. Only five of the DNFs were classified as mechanicals, but there were several walking wounded at the end. Similarly, I’ve heard Baltimore described as a good race, but one third of it was under caution ” and a lot of those yellows were caused by dumbass driving, plain and simple. I’m not a racecar driver, but I do know this: If there are 10 cars directly in front of you on a restart and you’re heading for a hairpin, you need to brake sooner than if you had the track to yourself. Duh!
So my third nomination has to be the Indy 500. Carlos Munoz, Hunter-Reay and Andretti have cause to disagree, but most people in the grandstands would say the result was as good as the racing. And for once, I’ll join the majority.