Just two races remain on the 2015 IndyCar calendar – one classic oval and one classic road course. Whilst expected dominance from one team has failed to materialise, an unlikely title candidate emerged as the season progressed. With no driver taking more than two wins, three of the nine race winners this year have the most realistic shots at the championship at this stage. However, as we reflect on the season so far, let’s take a look at the 2015 IndyCar season winners and losers.
Juan Pablo Montoya
It’s tough to work out how to not stick the current points leader in the winners section. Montoya upped his game from last season, addressing areas where he was pretty weak in such as qualifying. His form on the big ovals has been better than anybody else’s this season and whilst he has gone off the bubble a bit, not having a top three since his brilliant win at Indy, he has consistently picked up strong finishes, including a trio of fourth places. His lead has depleted in races as of late, but he still is in the best position to win the championship.
And just like that, Graham Rahal goes from being a lower midfield runner to a top-class driver and championship underdog. Somehow, he and his team has managed to find the sweet spot with Honda’s aero kit and they’ve delivered two wins this season and four top fours in the last four races. He is aiming to become the first driver to win a championship for his father’s team since his father himself back in 1992.
Scott Dixon has consistently delivered strong results yet again this season. He managed to tick off one of the few boxes remaining on his CV by winning at Long Beach earlier in the year, and apart from being wiped out by his team mate at Detroit, has finished every single race. That aside, he has just three other races where he was classified outside of the top 10, including Iowa where he failed to capitalise on Montoya’s misfortune; saying that however, it has been another very strong season by the veteran.
Sebastien Bourdais has clearly not lost his talent to drive a car quickly. Although it has taken him five years to finally find his feet once again after his unsuccessful stint in Formula One, he has asserted himself as a frontrunner once again by taking two wins this season following his first win since his return last year. This time around however, he managed to secure a victory on an oval – a brilliant victory at Milwaukee to compliment his other win this season at Detroit, but other really strong results have eluded him somewhat. Nonetheless, he has been consistently towards or at the front this year, and with a team like KV Racing, that’s a very strong run.
2015 has seen a very different Marco Andretti to the one we have come accustomed to in the past. This season has seen Andretti become quite methodical regarding his racing, and his reward has been two strong podium finishes, and being ahead of both of his full-time team mates – including former champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. He has completed every single lap this season to date, something almost unthinkable in IndyCar, and has some very big names behind him in the points table. If he could close out the year with a win or another strong top three, it would seal off a strong season for the grandson of the great Mario Andretti.
In his fourth IndyCar season, Josef Newgarden has finally come of age. Two wins and a pole position (both firsts for the young American) has seen him rocket to the top in the series, and is now being scouted by a number of other teams, in addition to having an outside shot at a F1 seat with Haas for next year. It hasn’t all been plain-sailing however, as there have been a few days where he has not looked as strong as Luca Filippi, despite the latter not knowing all of the circuits. He has trounced co-owner Ed Carpenter on the ovals though.
Gabby Chaves has quietly gone about his business with Bryan Herta Autosport this season and looks likely to notch up the Rookie of the Year award due to his solid consistent driving. Whilst he does not have any really strong results to brag about, he has finished every race, and has shown himself to be a very solid peddler. He also looks set to remain with the team for next season, to give some sort of continuity amongst the single-car driver line-up.
With Sage Karam, the word is definitely potential. This young, feisty 20-year old has set the IndyCar world alight in a similar manner to Max Verstappen in Formula 1. Given that two of his team mates are Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, Karam has shown himself to be incredibly strong against them at times, especially on the ovals. Whilst his driving has come under fire on a few occasions – Ed Carpenter having serious words with him after the race at Iowa where he scored his first podium finish, and seeming to have a personal vendetta against A.J. Foyt’s cars too, the talent is certainly there, and young Karam is one to watch in the future.
Another young one to watch is Conor Daly. Daly has only done five races this season (four if you exclude his car expiring before it started at Indianapolis), but he looked very comfortable from the off. He had a really strong showing in the second race at Detroit, where he finished sixth in the wet whilst some big names encountered some problems. It would be good to see what he can do if he is given a full season with a team.
In their first year as the merged Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, CFH has delivered two wins with its new star Newgarden – the same number of wins as big teams Chip Ganassi Racing or Andretti Autosport. Despite a very costly May and June in terms of wrecks, and struggling to find the right balance on the ovals at times, the future looks very positive for the CFH crew.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
In addition to Graham Rahal performing very well this season, the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team has performed exceptionally as well considering its status. As a single-car team, the fact that they got on top of the Honda aero kit which seems to lack in the downforce department compared to the Chevrolet before anybody else is exceptional. Co-owner Bobby Rahal notably took a step back this season, often watching the races from the stands amongst the fans and this seems to have had a positive effect on the team too. With talks of a two-car team possibly on the way, the glory days of the mid-1990s for what was Team Rahal could be on the cards once again.
Castroneves, despite being fourth in the championship has failed to convert any of his three pole positions into victories this season. He has very much looked out of sorts at times this season despite five top three finishes. He was simply bettered by both Montoya and Will Power at Indianapolis which is not typical of Castroneves, and whilst this is far from the disaster that was 2011, he could end this year winless as he did that season.
Like team-mate Castroneves, Power’s pole-to-win conversion rate this season has been shocking – converting just one of his five pole positions into victory. Whilst his sole win of the year at the Indianapolis Grand Prix was typical Power, he has struggled a lot at times this season as well. Like Montoya, he hasn’t finished on the rostrum since his strong run at Indianapolis, but he has had three non-finishes since then as well – the joint highest along with the likes of Stefano Coletti and Takuma Sato.
Simon Pagenaud was phenomenal during his time at SPM, there was no denying it. However he has appeared to struggle to life driving for Roger Penske and the results show. Currently in a lowly tenth in the championship, he has only really recently found some sort of form and even then it is a bit patchy, finishing around the top ten mark on four occasions in the last six races. He has been the top Penske car in just two races this season – on both occasions he was third.
2012 champion Hunter-Reay continues his trend of either being completely woeful or absolutely brilliant. However he has been the latter on just two occasions this season – at Alabama and when he took his first win of the season at Iowa. Other than that he has been outshone by his a young Carlos Munoz, an improved Marco Andretti and at times by part-timers in Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro.
What does Charlie Kimball actually contribute to a top team like Chip Ganassi Racing? This is his fifth season now in IndyCar – each with the famous team and he has shown very little improvement since. Other than one strong outing at the Indy 500, Kimball has looked dismal all season. He even managed to do the biggest faux pass in motorsport by taking out his team mate at Detroit. In terms of notable race results he has done no more than his young part-timer rookie of a team mate Sage Karam.
Bottom of the standings for those who have attended every race is GP2 reject Stefano Coletti. His first season in IndyCar has been very tough for the Monegasque and he currently has just one more point than Luca Filippi, who doesn’t even take to the ovals. He has looked less comfortable than fellow GP2 reject Rodolfo Gonzalez. Yes, Gonzalez. Whilst having a team mate like Sebastien Bourdais is not the easiest thing to deal with in the world, for a driver who was so successful in GP2, a lot more should have been expected from Coletti – especially on the road and street courses. He has finished ahead of Bourdais just once this season.
Oval specialist Ed Carpenter usually has at least a couple of strong showings each year. This has not been the case in 2015 as he has finished just two races, and has rarely looked like challenging for victory. He has struggled to get to grips with the aero kits, and has been outshone by young Newgarden on the ovals generally.
The full-time Andretti drivers have notched up just two race wins between them this season and sit just seventh, 11th and 12th in the table. With rumours of lawsuit and serious debt lingering over the team too, it does not appear to be a good period for the famous name. With their fourth seat for 2016 seeming to be a shootout between Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro too, there is quite a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team.
A.J. Foyt Enterprises
It has been quite a costly year for Foyt’s team. Bringing in the highly-rated Jack Hawksworth appears to have delivered little and whilst Takuma Sato has appeared on the podium once this season, having to retire from the last race at Mid-Ohio due to a lack of parts just shows how bad the situation is there.
Dale Coyne Racing
Another team seemingly in a dire situation at the moment is Dale Coyne racing – who has got through no less than eight drivers this season. They’ve lost their consistent pair of hands in Justin Wilson and last season’s driver Carlos Huertas only did three races this year. It is clear that some of the names brought in this year come with a substantial budget behind them as opposed to driving talent. Whilst since Detroit things have been somewhat better – Rodolfo Gonzalez and Pippa Mann both doing solid jobs on the road/street courses and ovals respectively and Tristan Vautier doing all races since then, the team were really not being taken at all seriously earlier on in the year.
Now this might require some explaining. Penske have had 11 of the 14 poles so far this season but they’ve delivered just three race victories. They have run 1-2-3-4 in qualifying a few times this year but they lay first, fourth, fifth and tenth in the standings, and even then Juan Pablo Montoya’s lead has not been gradually whittled down by Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon, with his team mates struggling to back him or the team up. Given the quality in the driving line-up, I have been very much disappointed with just three wins and 14 top threes split across their four drivers this year. Even if they do take the title this season, they realistically should have taken it in a much more commanding fashion.