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Estrada: Top 10 IndyCar Drivers of 2013

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Alright, boys and girls, it’s my turn now. The 2013 IndyCar season has been complete for about a month, so it’s a good time to get my Top 10 drivers’ list for 2013 out in the open. Feel free to check out my colleague Tony DiZinno’s list as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Scott Dixon

Determination and doubleheaders were the important elements in Dixon’s 2013 title run. The three twinbill events carried the unknown factor going into this season for everybody in the series, but the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver took to them as he needed to: A pair of fourths at Belle Isle, two wins at Toronto, and a win and a second at Houston. Toronto and Houston were critical in particular – the former helped Dixon get back into the title race and the latter helped him take control of the championship after potentially devastating setbacks at Sonoma and Baltimore.

Dixon and TCGR had their backs against the wall at several points this season but they always managed to fight their way out. Truly, they deserve this championship.

2. Simon Pagenaud

If not for that exhaust problem in the season opener at St. Petersburg, we likely would have seen Pagenaud be in contention for the championship all the way to Fontana. Still, he was competitive throughout the year, claiming two wins and 13 Top-10 finishes along the way. Not to say he was perfect: In a field this tight, he’ll need to have more of those Top-10s turn into at least Top-5s, and as Mr. DiZinno has written, he can’t afford to have down days in qualifying (first 5 starts of 2013: 19th, 13th, 17th, 23rd, 21st).

But if he can work on those, I can see him kissing the Astor Cup next fall as champion. He and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports are a great combination.

3. Will Power

For a while this year, it seemed all the bizarre stuff had to happen to Power: How would the championship had been different if J.R. Hildebrand hadn’t ran over the top of his car at St. Pete or if Tristan Vautier had run into him in the pits at Long Beach? He had several more incidents like this during the year, and it cost him dearly in the points.

But a strong second-half surge reminded us that we can never discard him as one of the most formidable competitors in the paddock. And with signs of him shedding his reputation as a non-factor on ovals, he’s getting closer to becoming the kind of all-around driver that his rivals could lose some sleep over. Watch out for “Willy P” in 2014.

4. Helio Castroneves

Getting the most out of his equipment served Castroneves well in 2013 – until his equipment gave out on him in both Houston races. As a result, he once again lost out on that elusive series championship. It’s the down side of taking what I call “the Matt Kenseth route” to a title (said with respect, of course, to the former Sprint Cup champion). Consistency can put you ahead of the pack but if your rivals are finding ways to win as you keep banking just decent results, you’re in trouble when something bad finally happens to you.

Castroneves had some truly impressive moments, chief among them being his runaway win at Texas Motor Speedway. He just needed a few more of those.

5. Justin Wilson

Take his crash in the season finale at Fontana out of the equation, and the British driver could have wound up in the Top 5 of the standings. Like Pagenaud, qualifying wasn’t exactly Wilson’s strongest suit (10 starts outside the Top-10 in 2013) but when race day rolled around, he was solid more often than not. And also like Pagenaud, he did it for a team that doesn’t have the resources of a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti squad.

Wilson had good runs at every discipline of track, but as you’d expect, he really shined on road and street circuits with a season-best finish of second coming on the road course at Sonoma. I think he could be up for one or two wins next year upon recovering from his injuries in the aforementioned accident. Get well soon, Justin.

6. Marco Andretti

This could be your dark horse next year. After a brutal 2012 season on road and street circuits, Andretti knew that couldn’t happen again. A re-calibration of his driving style on the twisty tracks proved successful (four Top-5s, 10 Top-10s on RC/SCs) and that was the catalyst for his best overall season in the IndyCar Series.

But I have to assume he’s still thinking over potential wins that went by the boards at Milwaukee (electrical problems) and Pocono (poor fuel mileage) – and if that happened to be a correct assumption, I certainly couldn’t blame him for remaining sour over those instances.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay

A solid first half had Hunter-Reay in position to successfully defend his 2012 crown, but after finishing runner-up at Iowa, everything fell apart for him. In the final nine races, he never finished higher than fifth (Mid-Ohio). Takuma Sato tagged him from behind on pit road at Pocono, and then came a never-ending stream of bad luck in the remaining street circuits that included pit stalls and a crash in the Toronto weekend, as well as battery problems in Baltimore and mechanical woes in Houston.

When he stayed out of trouble, he was often a force to be reckoned with, as his victories at Barber and Milwaukee showed. But six DNFs were too much to overcome in the end.

8. James Hinchcliffe

Up and down, feast or famine, roller-coaster, see-saw…Don’t worry about what phrase you want to use to describe the Canadian fan favorite’s season – it’ll fit. Highly memorable triumphs at St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo and Iowa were cancelled out by four DNFs and poor results at places like Indianapolis and Belle Isle. Those down days skewed his average finish (12.3) noticeably in the end, but as Mr. DiZinno mentioned, he did find a rhythm of sorts in the second half of the year.

Hinchcliffe’s stock is still rising overall, and now that he’s made his decision to re-up with Andretti Autosport, that’ll be one less thing for him to worry about in 2014 – although he’ll still have to figure out how to get some good fortune for once in his home race at Toronto…

9. Charlie Kimball

Also on the upward trend is Kimball, who cracked the Top 10 of the championship thanks to a steady year that saw him earn his first career win at Mid-Ohio and impress at several other points. Bit by bit, the young American has evolved into a driver that can carry his own weight at Ganassi, an environment that can be a little intimidating considering that he has to stack up against great veterans like Dixon and Dario Franchitti (and now, Tony Kanaan).

The pressure will be on him to raise his game even further next year, but Kimball has shown he can be a threat at nearly every stop. Outside of Mid-Ohio, I was particularly fascinated by his run at Fontana – a run that almost ended with him in Victory Lane until his Honda gave up the ghost.

10. Sebastien Bourdais

I tend to be a bit of an oval guy, but while I’m tempted to give Tony Kanaan the final spot in my Top-10 after winning Indianapolis, I must take the whole season into account. And when I do, I find that I must give No. 10 to Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car king that will be replacing Kanaan next year at KV-SH Racing. In what would be his final run with the Dragon Racing camp, “Seabass” was a true contender from Toronto onwards with three podium finishes and six Top-10s (plus one smashed-up trophy) in the final eight races. I also must mention the real jolt that the team got when it gave Tom Brown the nod at engineer.

Honorable Mention – Mike Conway

I’m keeping myself to one of these. And yes, I’m giving it to a part-time driver. But with Kanaan hindered by a poor road/street course campaign and Franchitti continuing to be uneven in the Dallara DW12, it’s down to Mike Conway, who delivered a tour-de-force weekend in Detroit with a crushing win in Race 1 and a third-place showing in Race 2.

He followed that up with three more Top-10s from Toronto (a pair of sevenths) and Houston (a ninth in Race 2), and all that chatter about how he’d effectively ended his IndyCar career when he gave up the ovals last year is nothing but a bad memory now. Any time Conway turns up for an IndyCar race, be glad – the show is going to be that much better.

Highlights from the the Indianapolis 500, Runnings 61-70

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Johncock over Mears in 1982. Photo: IMS Archives
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The Associated Press has compiled a list of highlights of all past Indianapolis 500 races, as the buildup to the 100th running presented by PennGrade Motor Oil takes place this May 29.

Here are runnings 61-70, from 1977 through 1986.

Past pieces:

RACE: 61st Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 1977

WINNER: A.J. Foyt

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.331 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Foyt became the first four-time winner of the race. He also had a winning car that had both a body and engine built entirely within the United States.

NOTABLE: Tom Sneva became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier at the Speedway while winning the pole. Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500. It was the final Indy 500 for track owner Tony Hulman, who died of heart failure five months later.

RACE: 62nd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 28, 1978

WINNER: Al Unser Sr.

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.363 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Although he dominated the second half of the race, Unser bent his front wing during a pit stop on lap 180. It allowed second-place finisher Tom Sneva to close within 8 seconds – the second-closest finish in Indy history to that point. Unser’s victory was the first at Indy for the Cosworth DFX V8 engine, and the British-based company won the Indy 500 for 10 consecutive years.

NOTABLE: Janet Guthrie finished ninth and later revealed she drove with a broken wrist. Tony Hulman’s widow, Mary F. Hulman, delivered the starting command for the first time. It was the final Indy 500 contested before the formation of CART.

RACE: 63rd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 1979

WINNER: Rick Mears

AVERAGE SPEED: 158.899 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Mears, in his second Indianapolis 500, took the lead with 18 laps remaining to win the first of his four 500s. Unser brothers Bobby and Al combined to lead 174 laps, but Al was unable to finish the race and Bobby faded to fifth.

NOTABLE: Former President Gerald Ford was in attendance and served as grand marshal of the 500 Festival Parade. It was the first 500 that used the pace car during caution periods. Although the race was sanctioned by USAC, many drivers entered it as a one-off and broke away to participate in the in the inaugural 1979 SCCA/CART Indy Car Series. It marked the first open-wheel “split” and created a rancorous month of squabbling in which a court injunction was needed to lift USAC’s ban of CART participants.

RACE: 64th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 25, 1980

WINNER: Johnny Rutherford

AVERAGE SPEED: 142.862 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Rutherford won the pole, led 118 laps and won the race by a commanding 29.92 seconds. Rutherford became the sixth driver to win the Indy 500 three times.

NOTABLE: Tom Sneva set a record by becoming the first driver to start last and lead the race, which he did twice for 16 laps. Sneva also became the first driver in Indy history to start last and finish second. It was his third runner-up finish in four years – which earned him the title of “bridesmaid” – and it matched Bill Holland’s achievement exactly 30 years earlier. The race also had 10 rookies, and for the first time in Indy history, the three drivers that started on the last row all finished in the top eight.

RACE: 65th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 24, 1981

WINNER: Bobby Unser

AVERAGE SPEED: 139.084 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: One of the most controversial Indy 500 races in history after Unser beat Mario Andretti to the checkered flag. USAC officials later ruled Unser had illegally passed cars while exiting the pit area during a caution. When the official results were posted the next day, Unser had been issued a one-position penalty and Andretti declared the race winner. Penske Racing appealed and the process wasn’t settled until Oct. 9, when Unser was reinstated as the winner. It was Unser’s third Indy 500 victory and he retired at the end of the season.

NOTABLE: A rainy month disrupted on-track activities and pole qualifying was stretched over three days because of the weather. The event was also marred by a crash that left an unconscious Danny Ongais completely exposed in the cockpit as the burning car continued to move. Ongais suffered a concussion and badly broken feet and legs, but returned to Indianapolis the next year. Rick Mears was also burned during a fire in the pits, forcing him to try to use a fire extinguisher on himself. His father, Bill, grabbed the extinguisher and put out the fire. The incident prompted a redesign to the fuel nozzle used on Indy cars, and Mears recovered after plastic surgery.

RACE: 66th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1982

WINNER: Gordon Johncock

AVERAGE SPEED: 162.029 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Johncock beat Rick Mears by 0.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point. The two dueled for the final 40 laps, too, making it one of the best races in history.

NOTABLE: Gordon Smiley was killed when he crashed during qualifying and his body tumbled for hundreds of feet between turns 3 and 4, the helmet ripped from his head. His death was the first at Indy since 1973. Kevin Cogan started from the middle of the front row between pole-sitter Mears and A.J. Foyt. As the field approached the start, Cogan suddenly swerved right to trigger a crash that collected Foyt, Mario Andretti, Geoff Brabham and Roger Mears. Cogan was blacklisted in the industry, rebuked by Andretti – who said “this is what happens when you have children doing a man’s job up front” – and he was ultimately fired by Roger Penske.

RACE: 67th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 1983

WINNER: Tom Sneva

AVERAGE SPEED: 162.117 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Sneva had finished second three times, won the pole twice and was the fastest qualifier once, but finally earned his first victory to shake his “bridesmaid” tag. Al Unser Sr. was leading over the final 20 laps and his son, Al Unser Jr., was several laps down and accused of intentionally blocking Sneva to protect his father’s lead. Sneva eventually got by both Unsers to win.

NOTABLE: Civility was restored after four years of disputes between USAC and CART. The two sanctioning bodies agreed that the Indianapolis 500 would be sanctioned by USAC, but also recognized on the CART schedule. The arrangement remained in place through 1995.

RACE: 68th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 1984

WINNER: Rick Mears

AVERAGE SPEED: 163.612 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Mears won his second Indy 500 with ease as contenders Tom Sneva and Mario Andretti dropped out of the race in the second half. That left Mears alone two laps ahead of the field and able to cruise to the victory. Three months after the race, Mears suffered severe leg injuries in a crash during practice at Sanair Super Speedway in Canada.

NOTABLE: Three rookies finished in the top five: Roberto Guerrero (2nd), Al Holbert (4th) and Michael Andretti (5th), and Guerrero and Andretti shared the rookie of the year award. Sportswriter-turned-racer Pat BeDard wrecked on lap 58. Emerson Fittipaldi made his debut in the race.

RACE: 69th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 26, 1985

WINNER: Danny Sullivan

AVERAGE SPEED: 152.982 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: It was known as the “Spin and Win” race because as Sullivan passed Mario Andretti for the lead on lap 120, he lost control of his car and did a 360-degree spin in front of Andretti. Sullivan somehow avoided hitting the wall, and Andretti was able to slip past him to retake the lead. Sullivan regained the lead and led the final 61 laps to give Roger Penske another victory.

NOTABLE: The Speedway celebrated 40 years of ownership by the Hulman/George family. The race was also the breakout for the “stock block” Buick V-6 engine and Pancho Carter and Scott Brayton swept the top two spots in track record speeds during qualifying with the pushrod Buick. But reliability was an issue, and both drivers dropped out of the race with mechanical problems.

RACE: 70th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 31, 1986

WINNER: Bobby Rahal

AVERAGE SPEED: 170.722 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: The race was rained out May 25-26 and rescheduled for the following weekend. Rahal battled with Rick Mears and Kevin Cogan, who took the lead with 13 laps to go. But a caution set up a final restart with two laps remaining and Rahal pulled away to win the race. Rahal was the first driver to complete 500 miles in under three hours.

NOTABLE: Rahal won for car owner Jim Trueman, who was cheering from the pit area despite a battle with cancer. Trueman died 11 days after Rahal’s victory. Trueman was the father-in-law of current Team Penske President Tim Cindric.

Vergne carrying out 2017 Pirelli testing today at Fiorano

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28:  Ferrari Formula One test and development driver, Jean Eric Vergne is seen at the Clipsal 500 at the Adelaide Street Circuit on February 28, 2015 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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Jean-Eric Vergne is back in an F1 car today; the Ferrari test driver is taking out the Ferrari F14-T to work on Pirelli’s 2017 tire compounds at the Fiorano test track.

Vergne’s testing the 2016 size tires, which contain a number of prototype elements.

Earlier this year, Pirelli was granted extra test time to test its 2017 compounds.  The plan is to increase larger tires for 2017, which is the first of a new three-year program for Pirelli.

Vergne is fresh off finishing second in the most recent FIA Formula E Championship round, the Paris ePrix.

On a related but as yet unconfirmed note by Pirelli, Motorsport.com reported Tuesday that ex-Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado has also been tasked with part of the 2017 Pirelli testing. The Venezuelan spent five full seasons on the grid but lost his ride late this offseason to Kevin Magnussen when his budget failed to materialize as planned.

Team reveal Spanish GP Pirelli tire selections

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives ahead of Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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While Pirelli’s hardest compound, the orange sidewall P Zero hard tire, is set to make its season debut at the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks, few teams are stocking up on the hard as the soft and medium tires take preference.

None of the 11 teams and 22 drivers has opted to bring more than two sets of Pirelli’s hard compound. Instead, the balance is between the soft and mediums.

Ferrari and Haas bring the most soft compounds – eight sets apiece for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.

Haas has split its hard and soft strategy though with Grosjean having two hard and three soft sets for the weekend to Gutierrez’s one hard and four soft sets. Renault and Toro Rosso have also opted for a split two hard/three soft versus one hard/four soft set strategy.

After a one-stop race in Sochi for most of the field, Barcelona should revert back to being at least a two-stopper given its nature as a much more abrasive track for tires.

The full breakdown is below:

Ferrari names Fiat Chrysler chief Marchionne as CEO

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne stands on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 6, 2015 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MILAN (AP) Sergio Marchionne took full control of super sports carmaker Ferrari NV, adding the CEO title on Monday to that of chairman as he positions the carmaker in the luxury goods space and seeks to regain Formula 1 glory.

Marchionne’s replacement of CEO Amedeo Felisa came as Ferrari posted its best first-quarter earnings ever, a 19-percent increase in net profit to 78 million euros ($89.5 million). That compares with 65 million euros in the same period last year.

“I remain as bullish on the prospects for this company as I was when I present Ferrari to the markets,” Marchionne, who is also CEO of mass-market carmaker Fiat Chrysler, told an analyst conference call. “We are just now beginning to define the true potential on the passenger car side of what this house can deliver.”

Marchionne engineered the luxury carmaker’s spin off from mass carmaker Fiat Chrysler, after longtime chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo stepped down over differences in strategy. He also launched public offerings in New York and Milan.

Marchionne renewed his pledge to enter the luxury goods space, beyond cars and more exclusive than the Ferrari-branded caps and watches already available, saying the first offerings would be available to the public in 2017, Ferrari’s 70th anniversary. He declined to be more specific.

Ferrari this quarter signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to build a new Ferrari theme park in China, the location of which is still to be decided. It already operates a theme park in Abu Dhabi and has plans to open another in Barcelona.

Another key part of his brand strategy is getting the Ferrari Formula 1 racing team back into the winner’s circle. While Ferrari has placed in the top three in four races this year, it has yet to win.

“We have to correct his quickly,” Marchionne said.

The carmaker, based in the northern Italian city of Maranello, said shipments for the three months ending March 31 grew 15 percent to 1,882. Ferrari limits production to safeguard exclusivity, but Marchionne has said that numbers could nudge up to 9,000 units annually by 2019, with sales of 7,900 projected for this year.

Deliveries rose 24 percent in Europe, its strongest region, to 950 units and just 2 percent in the Americas to 523 units.

Revenues were up nearly 9 percent in the quarter to 675 million euros on sales of the newly launched 488 GTP and 488 Spider. The company also made more money on customizing cars, which Marchionne said was “the most financially rewarding part of the car market,” as well as sponsorships and selling branded goods, which it attributed to Ferrari’s improved Formula 1 performance in 2015 vs. 2014.

Debt dropped to 782 million from 797 million at the end of 2015.

Based on the results, Ferrari raised 2016 forecasts to net revenues around 3 billion euros, up from above 2.9 billion euros and net industrial debt at or below 730 million euros from below 750 million euros.

The 69-year-old Felisa, who is retiring after 26 years at Ferrari, will retain a seat on the board at Ferrari. He became Ferrari CEO in 2008 and formerly was head of product at Alfa Romeo.