Editor’s note: We’ve done something a little different with this year’s IndyCar report card, based on a simple question: How would Robin’s grades stack up against the teams’ own assessments of their seasons?
We decided to find out. While Robin carried out his grading process as usual, RACER reached out to all of the full-time IndyCar teams and asked them to issue a grade to their own 2019 seasons. Some of the results were predictable; others are surprising.
A couple of caveats. The initial scope was limited to full-time teams, but Robin also wanted to incorporate Meyer Shank Racing, so you’ll find a Miller grade for them here, but not one from MSR itself. There were also two full-time teams that did not participate in the self-grading exercise.
We’ve arranged the teams in alphabetical order. Today’s report covers everyone from A.J. Foyt Racing through to DCR, and check back on Monday when we’ll round things off with everyone from ECR through to Team Penske.
And now, on to Robin – and the teams…
Funny, it didn’t feel like any one driver or team dominated the 2019 IndyCar season, but the statistics say otherwise: Roger Penske’s talented trio pretty much had their way with the series.
Josef Newgarden scored four wins and his second championship, Simon Pagenaud swept the month of May, and Will Power added a pair of victories as they combined to triumph in nine of 17 races, earn eight pole positions and lead nearly lead half of the 2,029 laps.
Rookie Colton Herta dazzled everyone with two wins for Harding Steinbrenner Racing – tying five-time champ Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato – as IndyCar again featured great racing and some surprises, but wound up the same old story for the 16th time in The Captain’s remarkable run.
A.J. FOYT RACING
MILLER’S GRADE: D
The boss said it was the “worst season he’s had in 50 years” and there’s not much to add because Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist basically took a knife to a gunfight. T.K. salvaged a third at Gateway, but big changes are coming in 2020 to try and get this once-proud outfit back to being competitive.
TEAM’S GRADE: No Grade
Larry Foyt, team president:
“It’s hard. I think it’s almost a disservice to my guys to put a grade on the season because… the easy thing to say is definitely an A+ on effort, which everyone will say, but it really was. This is probably the toughest season, certainly that I’ve had, since I’ve been here, just pure results-wise and pace-wise. But the thing is, I don’t think we’ve had a mechanical DNF all year. The cars are well-built; we’ve just lacked… the race pace has been OK; we just lacked that single lap speed for qualifying, and it kills you for these types of circuits. I think Tony finished eighth in the oval championship and obviously had the third at Gateway and top 10 at Indy. Matheus didn’t fare as well on the ovals, but on some of the road courses he showed good pace.
“So definitely, you can say it’s been such a hard season results-wise, no doubt about it. Especially qualifying. It’s just been unlike anything I’ve seen for us as a team, that the struggles we’ve had. But I look at the effort, the one thing that’s been awesome is, the crew just kept their head down and kept working.
“The thing is, to me right now, IndyCar is really a people game. And it’s how all your people fit together. So how your engineering/driver combination goes together to get the best speed, because it’s so close. The parity in IndyCar is awesome, but also if you’re missing just that little bit, the penalty is huge. So I think the adversity of it; what I’ve learned from that is just, man, what a great team we have that they don’t give up. You know, it’d be easy for them to just be frustrated and negative all the time, but everyone keeps doing their job.
“So no doubt, we just struggled for pace this year. Our engineer/driving combo, that I put together, did not work, period. And that’s on me. So this winter, we have to look at that and see what we need to do to fix that.”
MILLER’S GRADE: C
For a four-car effort with Andretti’s engineering expertise, it was a below-average campaign. Rossi’s two runaway wins and five podiums kept him in the championship hunt before a late fade and his was a B+ season, but his teammates dragged the overall grade down. Ryan Hunter-Reay only led one race and had two podiums in an otherwise forgettable year, while Marco Andretti managed just a pair of sixth places to wind up 16th in the standings. Zach Veach pressed a little too hard early and couldn’t regain that rookie form to wind up 18th.
[Did not self-grade]
MILLER’S GRADE: C–
Poised to join the Big 3 before Robert Wickens’ injury in 2018, this group took a step backwards in 2019. James Hinchcliffe qualified a lot better than he finished most races and had some sorry luck to wind up 12th in the points with only one podium. Marcus Ericsson had the predictable learning curve of a rookie but turned in some good drives (second at Detroit) that weren’t always rewarded.
TEAM’S GRADE: “On potential, probably a B+. On ultimate execution, probably a C–”
Sam Schmidt, team co-owner:
“We had a clear expectation of winning races this season, so per that goal, we didn’t reach it. With that said I feel we had several races where we didn’t show our true potential, such as Mid-Ohio, Pocono and Portland where we had incidents on the opening lap. So it’s difficult to say where we’d been had it not been for those.
“We’ve made a big step forward in race pace this season, so that was a big positive. However that also highlights our biggest area of weakness, which has been qualifying. If we qualified better throughout the year, we probably wouldn’t have to get as creative with strategy as we’ve had to.
“IndyCar is getting more and more competitive and you need everything to go your way in order to put together race wins consistently. This year was tough in that sense. Whenever we had the pace to contend for the top step of the podium, we didn’t have things fall our way. You have to make your own luck to a certain extent, but whenever we’ve needed a bit of luck, we just didn’t have any.”
MILLER’S GRADE: C–
If Pato O’Ward and Conor Daly ran the full season this team could have made some noise. Both showed their talents but neither was in the seat long enough to make a difference as Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam also took turns trying to get that first podium. Daly came closest with a charge from 18th to sixth at Gateway, and O’Ward opened 2019 by qualifying and finishing eighth at COTA before the team’s disastrous month of May in which Kimball’s was the only car to qualify.
[Did not self-grade]