Simona de Silvestro. Photo: AP

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Remaining part-time entrants

1 Comment

MotorSportsTalk concludes its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with these drivers who raced in three or fewer events:

30. Simona de Silvestro (3 starts)
31. JR Hildebrand (2 starts)
32. Oriol Servia (2 starts)
33. Mikhail Aleshin (1 start)
35. Townsend Bell (1 start)
36. Carlos Huertas (3 starts)
37. Alex Tagliani (1 start)
38. James Davison (1 start)
39. Bryan Clauson (1 start)
N/R. Buddy Lazier (1 DNQ)
N/R. Rocky Moran Jr. (1 Practice)
N/R. Davey Hamilton (1 Test)

The sample size was too small and too infrequent to merit much more than a one-paragraph review for these drivers. Here are quick recaps of the races where they made an appearance:

Simona de Silvestro, Nos. 25 and 29 Andretti Autosport Honda

The likable, talented and popular Swiss made a welcome return in the best equipment she’s ever had. Problem was, it was only for the season opener, which then grew into two further races. Fourth in NOLA owed more to strategy and it briefly had her top-10 in points, but she endured a tough Indy 500 in her last IndyCar appearance this season.

JR Hildebrand, No. 6 CFH Racing Chevrolet 

Was unlucky to have not finished higher than he did in his two month of May starts for CFH Racing. Gambled on strategy at the Grand Prix and had a potential top-six in his grasp before a rough final pit stop; meanwhile banked his second straight one-off top-10 in the Indy 500 in P8. Deserves more starts in 2016.

Oriol Servia, No. 32 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda 

An Indy 500 pre-race sleeper, Servia didn’t get to send the David Letterman special in Ray Harroun livery into Victory Lane, ending in the wall after contact with Ed Carpenter. But Servia’s grace, fortitude and determination shone through in what was Justin Wilson’s No. 25 Honda in a last-minute call-up at Sonoma.

Mikhail Aleshin, No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

The likable Russian made a surprise, welcome return to the IndyCar field at Sonoma in a third car and scored a top-10 finish after qualifying the highest of the three cars. It plants the seed for a potential full-time return in 2016.

Carlos Huertas, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

“Grumpy Cat” made a surprise last-minute return ahead of St. Petersburg and nearly finished second at NOLA on strategy before an inglorious and unfortunate spin under yellow. The surprises continued when he mysteriously disappeared for two races, then came back for Indy, qualified well for the ‘500, then suffered an inner ear condition and removed from the cockpit once more.

Townsend Bell, No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing Chevrolet 

NBCSN’s IndyCar analyst made his usual Indy 500 appearance, but without the desired result despite great pit work from the DRR crew and early month promise. You can view his month of May blogs for MotorSportsTalk here, and the third year of our annual “Ten with Townsend” series here.

Alex Tagliani, No. 48 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda

Had a cool car with a Gurney tribute livery driving for Foyt, led a lap again on pit strategy and finished his usual mid-teens in his second straight one-off Indy 500.

James Davison, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda 

Davison’s practice speed was impressive given limited running, but his lone race start ended ingloriously following a pit road collision that hit two crewmembers.

Bryan Clauson, No. 88 KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Chevrolet 

The short-track ace and the popular Jonathan Byrd’s name returned to IMS after several year hiatuses and more often than not, it showed in a tough month.

Buddy Lazier, No. 91 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet

The 1996 Indy 500 champ found qualifying with a new aero kit, a deeper field and limited on-track running a tougher challenge this time around than in 2013 or 2014.

Rocky Moran Jr., No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

Moran was due to make a surprise, but welcome, debut at Long Beach before a hand injury derailed and sidelined him after an accident in practice. Conor Daly took over the ride for the rest of the weekend.

Davey Hamilton, No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing Chevrolet

Hamilton made his competitive one-day return in an official session filling in for T-Bell during the first day of oval kit testing at IMS.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

Leave a comment

Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”