Several post-season IndyCar stats to digest after Fontana

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A few days have passed since the IZOD IndyCar Series concluded its 2013 season. Scott Dixon is champion, which is the easiest statistic to look at. But here’s some other intriguing bits of note from the season:

  • There were 10 different race winners, one shy of tying the record set in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons. They were: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Will Power.
  • Some 20 different drivers scored at least one podium finish. Any of the above 10 were joined on the rostrum at some point this year by: Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, Simona de Silvestro, Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, James Jakes and Carlos Munoz.
  • Dixon’s title run was fueled by a second-half surge, as he scored 337 points in the last nine races, and no one else scoring more than 289. The top 10 scorers in the last nine races: Dixon 337, Power 289, Pagenaud 267, Wilson 245, Bourdais 237, Kimball 234, Castroneves 218, Franchitti 216, de Silvestro 210 and Andretti 207. Hinchcliffe (183), Newgarden (166) and Hunter-Reay (146) were next up.
  • That second-half change made for a drastically different overall top 10 compared to the first half of 2013, paced by Andretti Autosport. The points after 10 races were: Castroneves 332, Hunter-Reay 323, Andretti 277, Hinchcliffe 266, Kanaan 253, Pagenaud 241, Dixon 240, Sato 233, Wilson 227 and Power 209. E.J. Viso (203) and Franchitti (202) were next.
  • Power was the year’s best starter. The Australian’s starting average of 4.316 led Hunter-Reay (5.368), Andretti (8.895), Hinchcliffe (9.053), Castroneves (9.156) and Dixon (9.579). Those six were the only full-time drivers to boast a starting position average inside the top 10. Worst in the field was a tie between Rahal and Sebastian Saavedra, 17.737.
  • Power’s 103 laps led at Fontana also meant he led the most laps this year, with 351 of a possible 2,433 on point. Others over 100 included Hunter-Reay at 297, Hinchcliffe on 264, Andretti 259, Dixon and Castroneves each with 239, and Sato with 187. In all 25 of the 38 drivers who took the green flag this year led at least one lap.
  • Dixon scored the most points on road/street courses with 420 to Pagenaud’s 371 and Wilson’s 342, while Castroneves led the oval points with 215 to Hunter-Reay’s 209 and Kanaan’s 202. The separate Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt Trophies for road/street and oval championships were quietly retired this year, and not awarded.
  • Despite starting only 12 of 19 races, Oriol Servia scored only three fewer points than Saavedra (233 to 236), who was the lowest-placed driver to run all 19. Saavedra ended 21st in the standings.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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