When we think of a “breakthrough” in racing, it's often a driver winning for the first time (Mike Conway at Long Beach), or finding their way back into victory lane after a long hiatus (Marco Andretti at Iowa). It can also be a team getting their first series win (Dale Coyne Racing at Watkins Glen, 2009).
With over half of the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in the books, there are still many teams and drivers looking for that breakthrough, and that term means something different to each of them. “Breakthrough” can stand for many things...
For Will Power, so dominant on the road and street courses for the past couple of years, it's finally getting past Dario Franchitti to win his first overall series championship.
For Sébastien Bourdais, it's the chance to demonstrate that the four-time Champ Car champion can still win in American open wheel racing, no matter the circumstances. As his program with Dale Coyne continues to gel, podiums and even a win seem more and more likely.
For Andretti Autosport, it's winning at least a couple more races to show a marked improvement over the 2010 season and show that they still deserve conversation as one of INDYCAR's elite teams.
For Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, it's shaking off the cobwebs of their respective disappointing seasons thus far and returning Roger Penske's #3 and #6 cars to the winner's circle.
For KV Racing, it's showing that those pole positions and close-call finishes of drivers such as Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan can translate into the team grabbing their first series win.
For Graham Rahal, it's fulfilling the promise we've seen for so long by winning for his Service Central Chip Ganassi team. He wowed us in 2008 as the youngest winner in major American open wheel history, and he's been on the podium three times this year. That next win seems very much in reach.
For Newman/Haas Racing, it's reclaiming the glory of one of INDYCAR's most historic and famous teams, as Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe continue to attack the podium looking for the team's first win since 2008.
For Martin Plowman, it's finally getting that first chance to show what he can do in a string of IZOD IndyCar Series races, starting with Mid-Ohio.
For Alex Lloyd, it's doing the absolute most he can with what he has in the remaining ovals on the schedule. Drivers don't just drive for today; they drive for their future prospects as well.
For Vitor Meira and Ed Carpenter, it's the chance to put the series' two longest winless streaks to bed. Both drivers have had near misses; every race is a chance to finally get that monkey off their back.
For the drivers of the Firestone Indy Lights Series, it's winning their series championship, and the chance to drive in the top open wheel series in North America. That's the type of breakthrough drivers such as Joseph Newgarden, Esteban Guerrieri, and Stefan Wilson are all fighting so hard for.
Races are more than a simple box score and winner. They're opportunities, benchmarks for teams to measure themselves against. They can be quests, tireless struggles to do the thing everyone tells you is impossible for your team to do. Some teams and drivers find their breakthrough; others never do, but never stop trying. It's that sort of human element, of challenge, of drama, that makes the IZOD IndyCar Series so special.
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 (@indycaradvocate), or via email at mail.rpgblog@gmailcom.