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Road & street courses, no shortage of contenders

by
Zachary Houghton
| Jul 21, 2011

 

The very basic idea behind racing is that you’re only going to have one winner, no matter how talented or deserving the field might be. That means that on any given race day, over two dozen drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series are going to be headed back to the garages disappointed.

That’s definitely how it’s been on the road and street courses this year; for every Will Power, Mike Conway, or Dario Franchitti who’s found the top of the podium, there are a host of other drivers still fighting like crazy to get there. Here are some of the competitors who we thought at the start of the year might have a good shot at winning on the “twisties”, as well as a bit on their chances to win on one of the remaining road/street courses:

Sèbastien  Bourdais
This first half of Bourdais’ season could not have gone any worse. The proud Frenchman had to watch as his efforts in the series met setback after setback. For the 4-time Champ Car winner, it was a result as foreign as it was unexpected. However, the Dale Coyne Racing #19 car has begun to show some flickers of life. Sebas still has an uphill climb in battling against teams such as Ganassi and Andretti, but he’s definitely got the resume to get it done.

Ryan Briscoe
Briscoe’s season hasn’t been completely wretched, but the Aussie driver expects wins, not just Top 5s. After a rough start to the season, Briscoe looked more in form at Long Beach (P2), Sao Paolo (P3), and most recently Toronto (P7). He’s got some stiff competition in teammate Will Power, but he’s always been good at Edmonton, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma—three venues coming up in short order.

Helio Castroneves
For much of this year, Helio’s driving has resembled a lively session of bumper cars. His best road or street course finish was at Barber (P7). Whomever stole his mojo, I hope they’re feeling guilty right about now, because it has not been fun to watch. Struggles aside, Helio’s a multiple race winner and Penske driver—don’t count out a sudden charge to the podium at some point in the season’s second half. The struggles can’t last forever, but high-contact motorsports are not Helio’s friend right now.

Scott Dixon
Dixie was close in Toronto, but couldn’t get around his teammate Franchitti. Perhaps more than anyone off this list, you have to think he’s in line to deliver a victory in one of the upcoming races. It seems like he’s always up front, but always just misses out. Target Chip Ganassi’s dominance this year would almost seem to guarantee a win soon, but you know what they say about guarantees in racing.

Tony Kanaan
TK’s “miracle season” has been just that, considering how a week or so before the season began, none of us were sure he’d even be in an IndyCar. Yet TK has amply shown that he still has plenty of fuel for the fire, finishing P3 in the series opener and just missing victory on a couple of occasions. On the road and street courses, TK has finished P22 or worse twice, but more than balances that with 3 Top 10 finishes. It seems like this team needs to dig and find just a bit more to accomplish KV Racing’s first IICS victory. It’s the barest of margins right now separating TK from hoisting another winner’s trophy.

Graham Rahal
Rahal has seen some poor qualifying performances this year, but the Service Central Ganassi driver has shown marked improvement once in the actual race. If the team can figure out those qualifying woes, Graham can spend a little less time fighting towards the front and more time battling amongst the leaders. Fun thought: Given the nastiness after Toronto (with Dixon seemingly denying Rahal as a teammate and describing him in less than glowing terms), if Rahal gets a win before Dixon this year or beats Dixon at the line, won’t that be a topic for discussion?

Ryan Hunter-Reay
RHR was in contention at Long Beach when his car suffered an unexpected mechanical failure. Until his podium finish at Toronto, that was as close as he would get sniffing victory. The first half of the season couldn’t have been much worse for Hunter-Reay, but he’s showing signs of emerging from the nightmarish jumble of bad luck and on-track mishaps that eradicated any hopes of victory. RHR’s one of the best road/street drivers in the series, and provided his outings look more like Toronto, the second half of this schedule should be quite favorable for him.

Takuma Sato
For a long while at Sao Paolo, it looked like Taku was going to put all his unhappy, crash-filled memories behind him and get the win. Will Power won that race on a differing fuel strategy, however, and the rest of the season has been vintage Sato: maddeningly fast, infuriatingly inconsistent. As long as that’s the case, he’ll tease, but ultimately fall short.

Simona de Silvestro
After finishing P4 in the series opener, the sky seemed to be the limit for the Iron Maiden. After a P9 at Barber, the middle portion of her season would not see her finish better than P20 until Toronto, where a Top 10 hopefully heralded a reversal of fortunes for HVM. This small team has lost their primary car, has seen their driver in a couple of blood-curdling accidents, and missed Iowa entirely due to Simona’s injuries. They can still grab some good finishes, but finishing P1 is going to be a steep challenge.

Oriol Servia
If you can’t cheer for the comeback story of the year in Newman/Haas Racing, then I think we need to admit you likely have no soul. Oriol Servia has proven himself the consummate veteran on this team, always seemingly poking around the Top 5 or Top 10. There’s not much that’s going to faze him. Newman/Haas competes with much larger teams on a fraction of the budget, and Servia is going to put them in a position to at least have a chance at a win or two. If the Spaniard can just get the smallest bit of luck in one of these races, Newman/Haas will be right back where they belong.

E.J. Viso
Despite the fact that Viso has far, far more poor finishes than good ones, like his teammate Sato, he tends to show you these flashes of great ability followed by a terrible letdown. Viso seems to catch lightning in a bottle once or twice each season; it’s a long shot, but if he could keep his nose clean like he has a couple times this year already, he could get it done for KV Racing.

Justin Wilson
Wilson was expected to be a regular contender on the twisty circuits in 2011, but instead he’s just seen disappointment after disappointment. He’s been spun and booted so many times that he probably has to take motion sickness pills. The entire Dreyer & Reinbold team seems to have taken a half-step back this year, but Wilson is still one of the most talented drivers on the circuit. He should sneak in some Top 5s, but right now, this team just doesn’t seem in contention like we’d expect. Justin will do what he can, but it’s a tall order. Then again, Wilson’s a pretty tall guy.

Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.

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