Third year a charm for Hinch, Hildebrand, Kimball?


The impact of three rookie quarterbacks in the 2012 National Football League season – Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III – helped change the game as their presence created a new wave of talent.

Two years ago, IndyCar featured a similar crop of three rookies who have the potential to become dynamic stars within the series. In their third year, it’s time for JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe (right) and Charlie Kimball to take the next step in their careers.

None has yet tasted a victory although they’ve been tantalizingly close. Hildebrand’s near moment of glory, which turned to heartbreak mere moments later, came in the final turn of the 2011 Indianapolis 500, when he smacked the wall while leading and after lapping Kimball.

Kimball’s best career finish of second at Toronto last year featured some spell-binding passing maneuvers, but he didn’t get the chance to battle Ryan Hunter-Reay for the win as the race ended under caution.

Hinchcliffe is one of IndyCar’s most dynamic and engaging personalities, but that doesn’t do justice to his determination and poise on track. Still, although he broke onto the podium in his second year on two occasions, he has yet to finish better than third.

Some of the long-established veterans in the series had at least one win under their belts right now. Dario Franchitti (1998), Tony Kanaan (1999) and Will Power (2007) each won their first race in their second seasons, Helio Castroneves (2000) in his third, while Scott Dixon (2001) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2003) each scored a win during their rookie year.

It’s been since 2007 that a first-year driver has won a race in either the IndyCar or Champ Car ranks. Robert Doornbos at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec in 2007 beat Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power to that win in the Champ Car series, the last year it ran before folding into IndyCar prior to 2008.

Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe have new engineering talent at their disposal this year. Hinchcliffe’s 2012 engineer Tino Belli has shifted, incidentally, to Panther Racing for Hildebrand. Luckily for Hinchcliffe, he is reunited with engineer Craig Hampson, who helped aid his development during his rookie season at Newman/Haas Racing in 2011; that year, “Hinch” beat Hildebrand and Kimball for rookie-of-the-year honors.

Kimball’s now more fully integrated into the single Chip Ganassi Racing umbrella, as the de facto third car from the main team rather than one of two from the satellite operation. Kimball’s 2012 teammate Graham Rahal went to drive with his dad and so Kimball should work closer to the Dixon/Franchitti Target squad.

The rookie crop has been sparse since they all entered in 2011. Although Simon Pagenaud was IndyCar’s rookie-of-the-year last year, he was a rookie in name only given his prior experience levels of driving in Champ Car and sports cars the four years previous to that. In truth, Firestone Indy Lights rookie Josef Newgarden was really the only true “first-timer,” and despite some flashes he struggled to garner any significant results.

With an increased schedule, there are more opportunities for any of these three to break through. They did a rather humorous video last year playing off each other in introducing themselves, which is below.