To say that the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season had a different look and feel to it would be a massive understatement. There was the DW12 chassis, three engine manufacturers, new rules, new drivers, and new penalties. It would also be the first season without Dan Wheldon. Change was definitely in the air, and everyone could feel it long before the drop of the first green flag.
Even with all of these changes, the series continued to rebuild what was once the premier racing league in America. The competition was stiff, the engines were shaky, and mistakes were made. Aside from the off-the-track stuff involving Randy Bernard, team owners, and the cancellation of the race in China, it was a phenomenal season. There were highs and lows that the sport can learn from going forward. Lets hand out some hardware from this past season.
Best Race Outside of Indianapolis: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
This race is always exciting, but this year’s event had some interesting twists and turns, including a fantastic finish. Before the race, Chevrolet announced they were changing engines in all of their cars, resulting in 11 cars incurring the 10-position grid penalty. The first lap featured contact between Dario Franchitti and Josef Newgarden, which ended Josef’s day. The real story was rookie Simon Pagenaud catching leader Will Power over the final few laps, getting to the rear of his car on the final turn. Power held on to win by 0.8 seconds, with James Hinchcliffe earning his first career podium after contact between Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap. This race also featured a spectacular crash between Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. The end result was Rahal being put on probation for making a dangerous blocking move on Marco. There were nine lead changes among seven different drivers in one of the closest finishes in a long time.
Most Disappointing Team: KV Racing
Entering this season, it looked as though KV Racing would be the team to challenge Penske and Ganassi for wins. That didn’t happen though, as each of their three cars failed to win a race. Tony Kanaan had some solid runs, but also some he would like to forget. Rubens Barrichello’s first season in IndyCar went about as expected. He was close to getting a podium at Sonoma, but his fourth place finish was as close as he would get. EJ Viso looked like a much improved driver early in the season, but while the crashes were down, so was his overall performance on the track.
Biggest Turnaround From 2011: Helio Castroneves
Last season Helio finished outside of the top ten in the standings, and failed to win a race for the first time in a decade. This year, he had two wins, and finished fourth in the Championship.
Biggest Heartbreak: Takuma Sato, Indy 500
Everyone remembers where they were when this happened. Did he make his move too early? Did Dario pinch him down? Does it matter? These are all questions that may get different answers, but the fact is, neither driver did anything wrong. They were going for the win on the final lap of the biggest race in the world. What a monumental win it would have been for Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and his fans on the other side of the world. Right behind Sato would be Will Power’s crash in the season finale this year in Fontana.
Hardest Crash: Josef Newgarden at Sonoma
Through no fault of his own, Josef Newgarden takes the unwanted award for hardest crash in 2012. He wasn’t on the lead lap, but had warmer tires than Sebastien Bourdais, who just pitted. Bourdais didn’t want to get stuck behind him, so he was pushing. His cold tires got him off course, and when he came back onto the track, he collected Newgarden and they went into the outer retaining wall. The impact from Josef’s car actually moved the concrete barrier back a few feet, and sent tires flying everywhere. Both drivers were somehow able to climb out of their cars, but Newgarden’s left index finger would require surgery. The complex surgery was enough to keep him out of the following weekend’s race at Baltimore.
Persaverance Award: Simona de Silvestro
Perhaps no one has earned this award more than Simona did this season. She and the HVM Racing team did an outstanding job of keeping their nose to the ground and moving forward, despite being stuck with the worst engine every single weekend. Since Indianapolis (which didn’t last long for her) she is the only driver to be powered by a Lotus engine. Imagine showing up to work each and every day, knowing that you had virtually no shot to get a top ten, let alone win a race. While others have been complaining nonstop on their behalf, Simona and the HVM crew let things roll off their backs and just kept moving forward. When this team moves to a Chevrolet or Honda next season, look out, because they will be right there in the thick of things.
Biggest Surprise: Simon Pagenaud
Most of us knew coming into the season that Pagenaud would turn some heads, but even I was a little surprised by his success. Simon was the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year, and did it in impressive fashion. Eight times he finished in the top seven, and recorded four podium finishes on his way to a fifth place spot in the Championship standings.
Biggest Disappointment: Marco Andretti
In 15 races this season, Marco only recorded three top-ten finishes. His dismal 16th place finish in the Championship standings was a combination of bad luck, and poor performance. He should bounce back next year, especially with his two teammates performing at such a high level. Dario Franchitti was a candidate for this award, but even as bad as his overall season went, he did still win his third Indy 400 this year. That makes up for any/all bad things during the season.
Worst Moment: Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
The return to Belle Isle was eagerly anticipated going in, but now it is looked back on as one of the worst events of the season. There wasn’t a challenge for the lead all race, as Scott Dixon was dominating everyone. The only thing that could slow him down would be the track actually falling apart, which it did. The strips of sealant on the street were being pulled up due to the suction from the cars. Drivers were running over the strips and crashing, most notably James Hinchcliffe, who until that point hadn’t had a DNF. One of the chunks he ran over sent him into the tire barrier, ending his day. He was frustrated of course, as were all the drivers with the track conditions.
Best Moment: Helio Castroneves Winning in St Petersburg
It was the first race of the season, the first race since the loss of Dan Wheldon, in his backyard. After not winning a single race in 2011, Helio found his way to the front, and took the checkered flag at St Pete. His celebration with the Dan Wheldon Way sign on the newly named road seemed like some sort of story book ending. Another candidate for this award could be the lap around IMS that Bryan Herta took in Dan’s 2011 Indy 500 winning car just before this year’s race. Dario’s celebration in victory lane was touching as well. Anything, really, associated to the memory of Dan.