The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season has officially been added to the history books. The storylines this year centered around the rise of young stars, Bump Day at Indy, the exceptional Rookie class, and a reminder that Scott Dixon may not be human. There were eight different race winners this year, which included a new face on the Borg Warner Trophy. It was another glass of milk for Roger Penske, and another championship for rival Chip Ganassi.
The Month of May is always the crown jewel of the season, and this year was no exception. Two years ago was the 100th Running, and last year saw Fernando Alonso making his much-anticipated debut. This year was all about the return of familiar faces. Helio Castroneves was back in the fold with Team Penske, after being transitioned to sports cars. Danica Patrick returned to the place where she made her name. It would be the final start of her career as she decided to retire from racing. Stefan Wilson also made his return, after stepping aside last year for Alonso. Wilson was leading the race in the closing laps, but didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end. The storybook finish was ever so close.
There was new blood this year as well, with Carlin Racing and Juncos Racing entering the series, and Harding Racing going full-time. We also got a taste of Scuderia Corsa at Indianapolis, and a glimpse of Steinbrenner Racing at Sonoma. There were many rumors of McLaren and Fernando Alonso, major heartbreak on Bump Day at Indy, and extremely anxious moments at Pocono. The season truly was a roller coaster of emotions.
The championship was decided at the season-ending race for the 13th consecutive year, as four drivers battled for the 2018 title. In the end, it was Chip Ganassi Racing hoisting their 12th Astor Cup trophy in Sonoma.
Best Team: Andretti Autosport
It may seem odd to give this award to a team that didn’t win the Indianapolis 500 or the series championship, but this group of drivers from top to bottom was the strongest. Obviously Alexander Rossi (2nd) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (4th) were leading the charge, but both Marco Andretti and Zach Veach performed very well this season. It was an exceptional Rookie campaign for Veach, as he and Rossi were two of the four drivers that completed all 17 races this season.
The four drivers combined for five wins, five poles, 14 podium finishes, and 571 laps led. Both Rossi and Hunter-Reay finished inside the top-five at Indianapolis, and the charge from 32nd starting position for Rossi was incredible to watch. The two extra cars they had at Indy also panned out well. Carlos Munoz finished 7th in his return to the team, and Stefan Wilson was just a few laps short of an extremely emotional victory. They came up one spot short for the championship, but there is no doubt that the future is very bright for Michael Andretti’s team.
Honorable Mention: Team Penske
Most Disappointing Team: AJ Foyt Racing
Expectations were much higher entering the 2018 season, with veteran Tony Kanaan coming over to lead the way in the famed No. 14 car. His best finish of the season was a 6th place result at Toronto. It is the first time in his 21-year career that he finished a full season without recording a top-five finish. Unfortunately all three of his DNFs this year came at arguably the team’s three biggest races – Indianapolis, Texas, and Pocono.
Fellow Brazilian Matheus Leist’s Rookie campaign didn’t include a top-ten finish, but he proved to have solid pace at nearly every venue this year. Kanaan had one of the three best cars at Indy, and the team shined all month long. That they can be proud of, and will certainly be a major factor there again next year as both drivers aim to build upon 2018.
Most Disappointing Driver: Graham Rahal
After a brilliant 2017 season, and riding a monstrous wave of momentum in the off-season, Graham Rahal was expected to compete for the championship this year. Things looked promising after the season opener, where he finished runner-up at St Petersburg. Unfortunately, that would be his only podium finish of the season. Whether it was qualifying trouble or circumstances in the race, things just never clicked for the No. 15 team at the level many anticipated.
It wasn’t all disaster though, as Rahal finished inside the top-ten in both races at Indianapolis, and had 11 top-ten finishes overall. Lady luck wasn’t on their side in the final two races. Despite all of the bad luck, Graham still finished 8th in the standings. Although he didn’t win a race this season, the Ohio native did improve his finishing position relative to where he started in ten races, including gaining 20 positions at Indy. Expect a strong rebound for this talented group in 2019.
Biggest Heartbreak: James Hinchcliffe, Indianapolis
Heartbreak is just one of the many words that would accurately describe the feeling that so many felt on May 19. It’s difficult to even imagine the feelings that James, Sam Schmidt, and the entire SPM team experienced that day. Race day might have been even worse. The Indianapolis 500 is everything in IndyCar. These men and women work hard and make incredible sacrifices for this one race. Not being able to participate, and watch from the sidelines is just devastating. We can echo the same sentiments for Pippa Mann and her Dale Coyne Racing team.
Honorable Mention: Robert Wickens, St Petersburg
Biggest 2017 Turnaround: Ryan Hunter-Reay
The easy pick here might be Rossi, but his veteran teammate is more deserving. The 2017 season was rough for Hunter-Reay, as he was winless, and didn’t earn a pole. He finished 9th in the final standings, with five DNFs on the year.
This year he recorded two wins, his first pole since the 2014 race at Long Beach, and had four runner-up finishes. In all, Ryan finished in the top-five an astounding ten times, with one of those being the Indianapolis 500. Only Dixon had more this season. Hunter-Reay bounced back very nicely in 2018, and finished 4th in the final championship standings.
Honorable Mention: Sebastien Bourdais
Best Pass: Alexander Rossi, Indianapolis
The first moment that popped into my head for this award was the Bourdais dive bomb under braking at Long Beach. Watching live, it was difficult to comprehend how he made it through. Since the move was technically illegal (but still badass), I went with Rossi. Both of these deserve recognition, as they were incredible displays of skill and bravery.
After a cut tire during qualifying regulated him to start 32nd at Indianapolis, Rossi was determined to make his way through the field. Not only did he accomplish that by taking the lead on Lap 173, but he did it with style. Which was more impressive; starting 32nd and finishing 4th, or these bold passes he made on his way there?
Honorable Mention: Sebastien Bourdais, Long Beach
Best Race Outside of Indianapolis: Mid-Ohio
The race at Mid-Ohio was the definition of wild. There was a great battle between Rossi and Newgarden early in the race, and that same crossover pass by Newgarden that he pulled the previous year. Josef also had a great side-by-side battle with Power, which Roger Penske didn’t seem to mind. Mid-Ohio was another great race for Wickens, who once again led laps, showed tremendous speed, and earned his second runner-up finish and fourth podium of the season.
The closing laps featured a great three-way battle between champions – Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, and Pagenaud. Speaking of Bourdais, it was clear that he was on a mission from the start. The Frenchman started last, and quickly took his Dale Coyne Racing machine from 24th and into the top five. It was a spectacular drive, filled with some incredible moves. On top of all of this, we have Rossi’s half-donut celebration to remember for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Portland
Best Moment: Robert Wickens Update
No matter what happened on championship Sunday, this video was the greatest thing any of us would witness.
Funniest Moment: Hinchcliffe at Barber
When you gotta go, you gotta go.
Rookie of The Year: Robert Wickens
Wickens officially locked up the Rookie of the Year before the season ended, but it’s important to look back and see just exactly how good he was. Not counting the Pocono race, the Canadian made 13 starts in his first IndyCar season. He led laps in seven races, for a total of 187 laps. Despite missing the last four races of the season, only Newgarden, Rossi, Power, and Dixon led more laps than Wickens this year. His four podiums and two runner-up finishes were damn good, too. Excluding the three races he was taken out of, he never finished worse than 9th, and collected 7 top-five finishes in those 10 races. At the time of his accident at Pocono, Robert was in sixth place in the championship standings.
Robert’s resolve at Indianapolis may have been more impressive than anything. After his Canadian teammate and friend failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, Wickens experienced his first hard lick at the speedway, with virtually no practice time left before the race. He bounced back though, leading laps and gaining nine spots in his first 500-mile race, finishing in 9th position. While his long road to recovery is going to be tough, so too is Robert.
Honorable Mention: Zach Veach
Best Helmet Design: Oriol Servia
Servia has always had some well designed lids, but his helmet at Indianapolis this year was a true work of art. The look, made by Troy Lee Designs, is a combination of his old design from the 2000s and today. It has a special place in Servia’s heart, as it represents where he comes from, and people who have influenced him. Images inspired by famous artist Salvador Dali tell a story about his home, and how the red and yellow colors of the Catalan flag came to be.
Best Livery: Spencer Pigot, ECR/Preferred Freezer
After three years of all white with blue highlights, Ed Carpenter Racing flipped the color scheme upside down for Spencer Pigot’s Preferred Freezer Services machine. The new look featured a sweet blue car with white lettering and trim. Throw that on top of the 2018 universal aero kit, and you had one of the best looking cars to hit the track. Marco Andretti’s US Concrete and Oberto liveries were well done. The SealMaster car for Bourdais was dynamite too. All of the SPM cars looked fabulous as well, with their similar designs with different highlight colors that really popped.
Honorable Mention: Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing / Wix Filters
Congratulations to Scott Dixon and the entire Chip Ganassi Racing organization on another championship season.