Estrada: Top 10 IndyCar Drivers of 2013

Leave a comment

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.

Hamilton regrets setup changes after qualifying second in Abu Dhabi

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during qualifying at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
© AP
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton was left ruing changes to his setup ahead of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after missing out on pole by three-tenths of a second.

For the sixth race in a row, Hamilton will start from P2 on the grid at the Yas Marina Circuit after losing out to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the final stage of qualifying.

Hamilton set the pace in both Q1 and Q2, but was unable to match Rosberg’s time in the final shoot-out for pole, leaving him to settle for second place once again.

“I’ve generally been struggling with the car a little bit all weekend,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“We’ve been working really hard to make some changes and we had to take something off the car, but Nico was just really quick today and he did a really great job in Q3.”

“It generally gets a little bit better in the race. But it’s been for a while now, just struggling on the edge of the car.

“It was a lot more comfortable at the beginning of the year for me and coming into this weekend, I tried to make some changes.

“I disadvantaged myself with one of the things that I took off the car because it looked better. I tried to get around it but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough.”

Hamilton may have clinched his third Formula 1 title over a month ago in Austin, but the Briton knows that victory in Abu Dhabi is key if he is to end Rosberg’s hot streak and cut some of the German’s momentum ahead of the 2016 season.

Rosberg: No revival, I’m just quicker than Hamilton right now

Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg’s impressive qualifying form continued on Saturday in Abu Dhabi as he secured his sixth consecutive pole position by edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the end of Q3.

Rosberg produced a stunning final lap in qualifying to take pole by three-tenths of a second to extend his hot streak and leave Hamilton to settle for P2 once again.

Despite losing the championship over a month ago, Rosberg has been the man to beat in recent weeks, prompting many to tip him for a renewed fight for the Formula 1 drivers’ title in 2016.

Speaking after qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday, Rosberg said that he is simply quicker than Hamilton at the moment and that his recent form is not a revival.

“Before it was close in the other direction and now it is close in this direction,” Rosberg said.

“I am quicker at the moment and I am very pleased about that. I am enjoying the moment and happy to be on pole again. There is no revival and I haven’t invented anything. It is just progress and that is it.

“Before it was always very, very close and Lewis had that one tenth edge. at the moment it is me that has the one tenth edge, today a bit more, but it was very close lately in the last two races.”

Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position means that he will start 2016 just two shy of the Ayrton Senna’s record streak set across the 1988 and 1989 seasons with McLaren.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Grosjean after Abu Dhabi qualifying gearbox failure: “S*** happens”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Romain Grosjean will start his final race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox issue brought an early end to his qualifying session in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Grosjean makes his last Formula 1 start for Lotus this weekend ahead of his move to Haas F1 Team for 2016, and had hoped to add to his haul of 49 points so far this season.

However, the Frenchman will face an uphill struggle in Sunday’s race after a gearbox issue forced him to park his car at the side of the track during qualifying.

Grosjean had aborted his first run in Q2 after Lotus identified the issue on his car and told him to pit, but opted to send him back out with two minutes remaining.

It proved to be a vain attempt to get Grosjean through to Q3, though, as the problem reared its head once again and forced him to stop on the run down to turn eight at the Yas Marina Circuit.

After the session, Grosjean was disappointed that his final qualifying with Lotus had ended in such fashion, but remains hopeful of an improved performance in Sunday’s race.

In the second Lotus car, Pastor Maldonado outqualified Grosjean for just the second time in 2015 after finishing 13th in Q2.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg takes sixth straight pole position in Abu Dhabi

Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg will start the final race of the 2015 Formula 1 season from pole position after setting the pace during Saturday’s qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:40.237 under the lights in Q3 to secure pole by three-tenths of a second, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of qualifying.

After trailing Rosberg in FP2 and FP3, Hamilton bounced back in the first two stages of qualifying by beating the German driver, but was unable to carry this form over into the final shoot-out for pole.

Hamilton managed to wrestle provisional pole back by going one-tenth of a second quicker than Rosberg with his final Q3 lap, only for his teammate to respond and take pole by three-tenths.

The result marked Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position and sets him up perfectly for Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen finished as the best-of-the-rest for Ferrari, edging out Force India’s Sergio Perez for third place on the grid with an impressive last lap. Perez will start from P4 on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas led Williams’ charge in sixth place ahead of teammate Felipe Massa in eighth, as they were split by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top ten in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen was unfortunate to miss out on a place in Q3 after being edged out by Sainz in the sister Toro Rosso by just four-hundredths of a second, leaving him 11th ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button. Pastor Maldonado finished 13th for Lotus ahead of Felipe Nasr as both struggled for pace to get close to a Q3 berth.

Romain Grosjean will start his last race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox problem cut his qualifying short. The team told Grosjean to abort his first flying lap because of the issue, and a vain effort to get him out late on ended with the Frenchman parking up at the side of the track.

The biggest shock in qualifying came in Sebastian Vettel’s exit after the German driver backed off on his final lap, mistakenly believing that he had already done enough to make it through to Q2. A quick last effort from Grosjean dumped the German out in Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid for the start of Sunday’s race.

Vettel was joined in the dropzone by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso after his final run in qualifying was ended by a puncture on his rear-left tire. The Spaniard finished 17th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who also had an issue on his car, while Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the timesheets for Manor.

The result gives Rosberg a golden opportunity to round off a difficult 2015 season with a third straight win, and also means he will start 2016 with Ayrton Senna’s record of eight pole positions in a row within reach.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.