The IndyCar season is officially over. While that may be a depressing opening line, there are so many things to reflect on from this past season, in what was another incredible year of open wheel racing. What is the headline from this year? Is it Will Power finally capturing his first ever series championship? Could it be his teammate, Helio Castroneves finishing runner-up for a fourth time in his career, still searching for his first title? There were so many twists and turns throughout this year, it’s hard to keep it all in perspective. The month of September has just begun, and we won’t be back to racing until February. So until then, we’ll reflect on this past season, in anticipation for 2015.
The 2014 season was the return of Juan Montoya, a road course race at Indy, the year of the rookies, and another epic Indy 500. It’s difficult to imagine a group of rookie drivers with more talent than what was on display this year. Carlos Munoz, Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Huertas, and Sage Karam impressed a lot of people. The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was a major success. It gave us phenomenal racing, and there were so many great places to watch the race and take photos. Tony Kanaan took over the red Target car for his retired friend Dario Franchitti, and ended the season on a terrific hot streak. Ryan Hunter-Reay tasted the milk at Indianapolis, and Power finally got the monkey off of his back.
We saw plenty of highs and lows this year, and 2015 will be no different. Here at OWA, it’s time to hand out the hardware, and relive some of the epic moments we saw this past season.
Best Team: Team Penske
This one was a no brainer. Not only did they win the championship, but they finished 1st, 2nd, and 4th in the final standings, and all three drivers won a race this season. As a team, they won the most (5) races in 2014. By comparison, Ganassi, Andretti, and Ed Carpenter Racing all won 3 races each. It was the team’s first series title since Sam Hornish Jr in 2006, and just their second championship since 2001. They were head and shoulders above everyone else in 2014.
Most Disappointing Driver/Team: Graham Rahal, RLL Racing
Quite honestly, there were a lot of drivers that could have just as easily won this award. Guys we expected to see big things from, like James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson, and Ryan Briscoe. None of them lived up to expectations, for whatever reason. Ganassi struggled mightily through the first 14 races, and nobody outside of Hunter-Reay did anything at Andretti. The one win that Dale Coyne got this year didn’t even come from Wilson, but from his rookie teammate. There’s a reason why the expectations were high though – they have all of the necessary tools to succeed, it’s just a matter of everything falling into place. How bad was Rahal’s season though? For perspective, Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin both missed double-points races this season (Pocono & Fontana) and still finished ahead of Graham in the final standings.
Best Race Outside of Indianapolis: Iowa
As many incredible road/street course races as there were, it was an oval race that I thought was the best, overall. IndyCars and Iowa Speedway go together like peanut butter and jelly. This year’s race was dominated by Kanaan, who led 247 laps. It was Hunter-Reay who spoiled his day though, taking the lead with a breathtaking pass with 3 laps remaining. Ryan and a few other drivers opted to pit for fresh tires with about 20 laps to go, and it proved to be a worthy gamble. They were slicing through the field on their way to the front, in a late, furious dash to the checkered flag. It was heartbreak for Kanaan, as well as Power, who brushed the wall with 6 laps remaining. His tire was going down, and he dropped from 4th to 12th in the closing laps. You can watch the highlights of the race below, courtesy of IndyCar.
Click here to see all of the highlight videos from this season.
Best Move: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Indianapolis 500
The stage just doesn’t get any bigger than this. The closing laps of the Indianapolis 500. You’re battling a three-time winner, in pursuit of your first. Not only was it a daring move, but it worked, and he was able to fend off Castroneves for the win. Anyone who witnessed that pass in Turn 3 surely will never forget it.
Biggest Turnaround From 2013: Tony Kanaan
Looking at the final standings from 2013 to 2014, there wasn’t really anyone that made a significant improvement. Most drivers either stayed even, or moved down. Kanaan made the biggest improvement from last year to this year, going from 11th to 7th. It’s hard to say it was a better season though, after he won the Indy 500 last year. Still, he finished on the podium in 5 of the last 7 races this year, and ended the season with a win.
Best Success Story: Ed Carpenter Racing
This was pairing at ECR was quite the dynamic duo. We knew they would be contenders each and every week, and they proved why. They won 3 races in 2014, and Carpenter won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 yet again. They fielded another car in Indy for JR Hildebrand, who performed very well, starting and finishing in the top ten. If this relationship continues at the newly merged CFH Racing team next season with Josef Newgarden and Hildebrand, they could mess around and win even more races in 2015.
Worst Crash: Standing Start – GP of Indy
There was trouble when the pole sitter didn’t go when the lights went out. The standing start was risky, and we saw why. Thankfully Saavedra was able to walk away from this crash unscathed.
Biggest Heartbreak: Josef Newgarden, Mid-Ohio
Mid-Ohio was the biggest heartbreak of the season for Newgarden, but there were several other instances in which he was hit with bad luck. He was taken out while leading at Long Beach, due to a not-so-smart move by Hunter-Reay. He came up a few laps short on fuel at Pocono, and nearly won at Iowa after a late stop. Mid-Ohio should have been a win, if it weren’t for that air hose. Newgarden and the SFHR team ran well during the season, though their spot in the final standings doesn’t necessarily reflect it.
Best Driver Tweet: James Hinchcliffe
Biggest Surprise: Jack Hawksworth
I wanted to give this award to Carlos Huertas for winning the race in Houston. I just couldn’t. Before the season began, everyone was convinced that Bryan Herta was going to sign Luca Filippi to drive his car full-time. When they announced it would be Hawksworth, it raised a lot of eyebrows. We now know what they knew all along. Jack was arguably the best rookie in an impressive class for 2014. He was calm and cool under pressure, survived some big hits, and even led the most laps (31) at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He finished 7th there, 6th and 3rd at Houston, and 6th again at Toronto. Here’s the best statistic though; Despite missing the double-points paying race at Pocono, Hawksworth still managed to finish ahead of 5 full-time drivers in the final standings.
Most Inspiring Moment: Sam Schmidt Driving at IMS
Sam Schmidt driving a Corvette at Indianapolis. How cool was that? When you think about everything that Sam has gone through in his life, you soon realize that those laps at IMS had to be the most incredible ones he has ever driven. The courage, bravery, and never-give-up attitude that Sam has lived with are something that all of us should truly appreciate. There were plenty of watery eyes at the speedway that day, including his own. It’s a day that he and his family will never forget, and one that we will all fondly remember as well.
Rookie of the Year: Carlos Munoz
We have already discussed just how good this crop of rookies was, which makes this an even tougher decision. In the end though, Munoz finished highest in the standings, and had some very impressive results. He had 5 top-five finishes, including a fourth place finish in the Indy 500. He had 8 top-ten finishes overall, and really showcased his skills on the ovals. He’s the pick for this particular award, but they’re all winners this year.
Best Livery: Graham Rahal, RLL
This was another tough category. In the end though, the stars and strips on Rahal’s ride at Pocono took the top spot. Montoya and Newgarden were up there too. The Strike SFHR car won last year, but their Klipsch sponsored car from this year was almost as good. Three gorgeous looking race cars. For the record, I chose not to include the throwbacks of Castroneves (Yellow Submarine) and Martin Plowman (Coyote Orange).
Worst Moment: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Long Beach
Ryan knows he made a mistake. His own teammate even called him out on TV shortly after it happened. Yes, he should have waited – he would have easily gotten by Newgarden, who was on new tires. Unfortunately, his split-second decision backfired. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. If that same situation occurred ten times, Ryan wouldn’t have made the move in eight of them. It was a facepalm moment, but one that he has learned from. Michael Andretti wasn’t happy about the incident, but Ryan made up for that at Indy.
Helluva Job Award: Kurt Busch
Make no mistake, what Kurt did this year was absolutely incredible. To come to Indy with no open wheel experience and mix it up with 32 other drivers at 230+ mph takes some serious coconuts, among other things. The nearly year-long preparation and training for this feat was not easy. The fact that he was dedicated to making this happen, and buying in to what everyone around him was telling him, makes it that much better. He never backed down, and truly wanted to make this thing work. Oh, and to finish the race in 6th place – phenomenal job.