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MotorSportsTalk’s 2013 IndyCar season review, Part 2

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Earlier this year, my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I took a two-part look at the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Part one focused on our respective bests/worsts, with the second each of our top five stories.

We’re continuing our comprehensive, full 2013 IndyCar recap this morning with our respective bests and worsts of this year. You can look forward to a number of posts related to this season over the next several weeks. As you’ll see below, Chris and I agreed on several items, but occasionally for different reasons…

BEST DRIVER

TONY DIZINNO: Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing. A no-doubter. Four second-half wins including the incredible run of three in eight days at Pocono and Toronto, a revitalized charge at Houston after getting knocked down at Sonoma and Baltimore, and a controlled drive at Fontana all did the trick for Dixon’s third IndyCar title. Helio Castroneves collected points, but Dixon went out and took points away.

CHRIS ESTRADA: Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon’s place among IndyCar’s all-time best competitors has to be secure after he charged from seventh in the standings at mid-season to his third career IndyCar Series championship. His three-race win streak in July (Pocono, Toronto 1 and 2) put him back in the title picture, but he proved how strong his resolve is after suffering twin calamities at Sonoma and Baltimore, and capitalized on the misfortunes of title rival Helio Castroneves in the Houston doubleheader with a win and runner-up. From there, he did what he had to do at Fontana and now he’s back on top of the mountain – a well-deserved triumph for one of the sport’s most tenacious drivers.

MOST DISAPPOINTING DRIVER

TDZ: Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Sebastian Saavedra’s a close second for me, but the stats don’t lie: Rahal tied Saavedra with the worst starting average in the field (17.7), had only five top-10 finishes in 19 races, and finished 18th in the standings. Plus, James Jakes hassled him way more than I thought was possible. A midseason engineering change from Gerry Hughes to Neil Fife helped, but it wasn’t enough to make a sizeable difference. Perhaps the addition of Bill Pappas for 2014, announced Thursday, will. I certainly didn’t expect this, and I’m fairly certain these guys didn’t either.

CE: Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Things just never really got on track for Rahal in his first full-time season with the family team. He and the No. 15 crew are capable of better as they showed in their flashes of promise this season, like their podium at Long Beach, drive to fifth in Iowa and jumping 17 positions in Houston Race 1 for a top-10 result. It’s moments like those that should make the RLL camp optimistic about what they can do when everything does come together. But 2013 was definitely not that time.

MOST IMPROVED DRIVER

TDZ: Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Either “Newgy” or “Chuck strong,” Charlie Kimball, would be a worthy recipient here, and Chris hits Charlie’s case below. I’ll state Josef’s. The kid overachieved on a single-car team in his sophomore season and eliminated the mistakes that all-too-frequently occurred in his rookie year. He could have won at Brazil had it not been for ill-timed defending by Takuma Sato, and his run to second at Baltimore was one of the drives of the year. There, he started fifth, bounced from front to back to front again, and handled the track’s notorious chicane like a boss. His qualifying could be better but that’s my only demerit; 23rd to 14th is an excellent jump in the standings and in 2014 he should be contending for his first win, and a top-10 points finish, a la Kimball this year.

CE: Charlie Kimball, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. The IndyCar Series had four first-time winners in 2013, but it can be argued that Kimball’s breakthrough at Mid-Ohio in August was the most heart-warming of them all. It was the climax of a very competitive 2013 for the American driver, who logged two podiums (the other coming at Pocono), three top-5s, and 10 top-10s en route to a respectable ninth-place finish in the championship. Even better: With Kimball’s star rising on the track, he and sponsor Novo Nordisk’s noble work toward diabetes awareness is sure to resonate further off of it.

BEST RACE

TDZ: Brazil. Several second-half races challenged it from a drama standpoint – Sonoma, Baltimore, both Houston rounds and the Fontana season finale – but Brazil was the best blend of on-track drama and an incredible finish in my estimation.

CE: Brazil. Of course, this race is currently off the schedule for next season (*facepalm*). Time will tell if it comes back in 2015, but let’s hope so. This year’s running was everything a motor race should be – passes for position galore, daring maneuvers, and a battle that went all the way to the final corner. Even the most hardened oval-racing fans had to love what they saw in the streets of Sao Paulo.

WORST RACE

TDZ: Houston Race 2. The battle between Will Power and Dixon for the win was good, and there was decent passing throughout the field. So why does this qualify? The last-lap wreck that sent Franchitti airborne was the icing on the cake on what was IndyCar’s most trying weekend of the season. Franchitti and fans got injured, the national passerby media popped up again questioning IndyCar’s safety, and most folks left with a sour taste in their mouths.

CE: Houston Race 2. If you saw our coverage during the Grand Prix of Houston weekend, you’ll know that the on-track proceedings left much to be desired: Constant schedule changes, temporary chicanes, bipolar weather conditions, the botched setting of the Race 2 grid, and then, Franchitti getting sent into the catch fence on the final lap and scattering debris into the grandstands. Thankfully, Franchitti survived the incident and the injured fans weren’t severely dinged up. But altogether, it was certainly not IndyCar’s finest hour.

BEST OFF-TRACK STORY

TDZ: Going to take a step down to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder for this. The announcement that Dan Anderson and Andersen Promotions will take over Indy Lights, thus putting it under the same umbrella as Pro Mazda and USF2000, is huge. There is more cohesion, more announcements, and more possibilities for growth under one tent than separate.

CE: I don’t really see this so much as a “story,” but more so as “the right thing to do.” Shortly after the events of Houston, IndyCar drivers such as Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon went to a local hospital to visit some of the fans that were hit with the debris from the aforementioned crash. It was a poignant reminder of just how many good people there are within the series.

WORST OFF-TRACK STORY

TDZ: Take your pick of the 2014 schedule and the doubts that raises among some IndyCar fans, the IMS road course race, the lack of a commercial division head or the rash of sponsors that are on the way out at the end of this year. To me, IZOD’s departure is the biggest – and worst – off-track story this year. It was not unexpected as signs of its leaving have been forecast for almost two years. At the moment though, there is little to no buzz about a potential replacement. I had mooted a couple suggestions a month or so ago but neither appears serious as time has passed. IndyCar has a good product, but will remain invisible on a national scale so long as it does not have a key title sponsor to activate and promote the series. This remains Mark Miles and Hulman & Co.’s biggest challenge, and as Miles performs company reorganization this winter, they seek the big fish that can help get this product to the people.

CE: I have to go with the condensed schedule rolled out for 2014. While keeping tabs on the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway earlier this month, I had the rather cringe-worthy realization that IndyCar would be almost two months into its off-season by this time next fall. Nobody wants to deal with the NFL, but the proposed international winter series for 2015 better come off or the series will sink further into irrelevance thanks to its extended hiatus.

Oriol Servia will race Indy 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 07: Oriol Servia of Spain , driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 7, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (AP) Oriol Servia will race in Indianapolis 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with the possibility of adding more races during the 2017 season.

The 2017 Indy 500 will be Servia’s ninth in the showcase race and fourth with RLL (2009, 2014, 2015). His best finish overall was fourth in 2012 with Dreyer & Reinbold and his best start was third in 2011 with Newman/Haas Racing.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal praised Servia’s experience as well as his ability to be part of “a one-car team fighting the multi-car teams.”

The Spaniard has made 195 starts in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series since his rookie season in 2000. His Indy car highlights include one win (Montreal 2005) and one pole (Australia 2005) as well as 101 top-10 finishes.

FIA reveals provisional 2017 Formula 1 entry list

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The FIA has released the provisional 2017 entry list, which has the four TBAs (as expected) and also confirms the race numbers for rookies Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll.

The big question mark that of course remains is who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas, and if any of the current drivers from other teams move into the TBA spot on the grid.

Vandoorne has selected the No. 2 for his driving career in F1 with McLaren Honda. Like Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who debuted on F1 entry lists with numbers in the 40s when they were reserver drivers (Rossi was nominated with No. 42 for the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix; Stevens with No. 46 at Caterham for the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before moving to Nos. 53 and 28 with Manor in 2015 for their first seasons), Vandoorne’s one-off number of 47 this year at the Bahrain Grand Prix will not be retained as his permanent number.

Stroll will be No. 18, thus making only a one number differential from Felipe Massa’s No. 19, at Williams Martini Racing.

Interestingly, Scuderia Toro Rosso does not have its engine name confirmed on the entry list. The team ran year-old Ferraris this season but is set to switch to Renault power units next year. It just remains to be seen what they’ll be called.

The full entry list as published by the FIA is below:

Car N°

Driver’s Name

Company Name

Team Name

Name of the Chassis

Name of the Engine

8

Romain GROSJEAN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

20

Kevin MAGNUSSEN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

 27

Nicolas HULKENBERG

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

30

Jolyon PALMER

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

14

Fernando ALONSO

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

2

Stoffel VANDOORNE

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

44

Lewis HAMILTON

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

3

Daniel RICCIARDO

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

33

Max VERSTAPPEN

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

11

Sergio PEREZ MENDOZA

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

 31

Esteban OCON

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

9

Marcus ERICSSON

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

TBC

TBC

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

5

Sebastian VETTEL

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

7

Kimi RAIKKONEN

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

55

Carlos SAINZ Jr

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

26

Daniil KVYAT

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

77

Valtteri BOTTAS

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

18

Lance STROLL

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

 

IndyCar notes: Ganassi driver to be named; RLL adds engineering ace

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda, races Max Chilton of Great Britian, driver of the #8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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Pair of quick Verizon IndyCar Series nuggets:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will announce its fourth driver for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season on Wednesday. The leading odds are on Max Chilton returning for a sophomore season; Chilton posted on Instagram on Tuesday that he was headed to America, and that with Ganassi testing on Friday in Sebring, he’d be a logical fit. But it’s not necessarily a guarantee. Unlike most of the official driver announcements this offseason, this one isn’t yet a slam dunk.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has added another engineering ace to its staff, hiring Tom German, formerly of Andretti Autosport. German has been named as engineering consultant in a multi-year deal. RLL’s engineering strength with Eddie Jones, Mike Talbott and Martin Pare have helped raise the team’s game in the last two years, and German, who was Alexander Rossi’s race engineer last year and also worked with Team Penske, will only add to that roster. “We are very pleased to welcome Tom to our team.” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “His record speaks volumes and I have no doubt having Tom work in conjunction with Eddie Jones, Martin Pare, Mike Talbott and Alex Farina will generate much success for all of our drivers, now and in the future.”

Ahead of #DWR2, check out Jeff Braun’s house (VIDEO)

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There will be more to come very likely later this week regarding the launch of Dinner with Racers season two, as supported by Continental Tire and Acura.

The popular podcast hosted by sports car veteran driver Ryan Eversley, a factory driver for Acura Motorsports’ NSX GT3 program with RealTime Racing in Pirelli World Challenge, and veteran behind-the-scenes PR/video/marketing maven Sean Heckman had 28 episodes in its first season and should have a similar number for season two.

Two of the more popular episodes from Season 1 involved veteran engineer Jeff Braun, father of Colin and Travis Braun. The elder Braun hosted the guys at his family’s house in Ovalo, Texas, which is about as “middle of nowhere” as it gets. Colin Braun and Jon Bennett will share the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R next season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Jeff Braun’s racing stories were one episode, while a special breakout episode was dedicated to Level 5 Motorsports, and remains one of the most popular downloaded episodes from the season. Both are linked below.

But in the above video, you can get a tour of the Braun household. We leave it to Jeff, Sean and Ryan to do the rest.