In the race seasons prior to 2012, Ryan Hunter-Reay was regarded as a good multi-discipline driver, one with the ability to compete on any give oval or road/street race weekend. However, he was rarely mentioned in the top tier of championship competitors. He was part of that club of IZOD IndyCar Series race winners that didn’t quite come to mind as part of the top echelon of the sport.
That was before last year. Four wins, a dramatic championship fight, and a new #1 decal on his car later, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s big year was in the record books, and his place in the racing conversation had changed.
As we prepare for the 2013 edition of the IICS, it remains to be seen which teams and drivers will show the biggest improvements in terms of results. With that in mind, below are four drivers that just might be primed to have a big season, if not indeed a breakout one. Perhaps it won’t be as dramatic as Hunter-Reay’s drive for the title, but don’t sleep on these racers, either:
It seems odd to mention a four-time open wheel champion as poised for a big or breakout, but Seabass has yet to have a full, uninterrupted season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. When you lump in the fact he was negatively affected by having a Lotus engine in his car for the first few races of the season, it’s easy to see why there’s every expectation a full-time Bourdais will be in a much better position this season. Those of us who saw him drive the wheels off his Lotus machine to one of the hardest-earned Top 10s in recent memory at Alabama last year know there’s no question that the talent is still there. 2013 should be a fresh for Bourdais, and with a full season of Chevy-powered goodness ahead, it should be fun to watch.
Simona de Silvestro
The term “nightmare season” is often tossed about in sports, especially when someone’s season simply doesn’t goes as intended. As the driver for the only Lotus team to limp to the end of the season in 2012, Simona de Silvestro could put a trademark on the term, and I doubt very much anyone would object. HVM Racing simply could not do anything with the Lotus engine, and that is why de Silvestro could manage only a pair of P14s as her best finishes on the season. For a driver whose talent and quickness has never been in question, it was the height of frustration.
Yet what a difference a year makes! KV Racing Technology is the new home of the “Iron Maiden”, and Simona will find herself on a solidly mid-tier team, paired with Tony Kanaan as a teammate. After shoestring budgets, seasons of flying solo, and underpowered engines, KV may well seem like heaven for the 24 year-old racer. We’ve seen what she can do with very little; now fans will get the treat of seeing just what she can manage with something approximating a level playing field.
It’s a change of scenery for Viso this year, as he moves to Andretti Autosport as their fourth full-time entry. You’ll find very few drivers in the field that produce a greater divide among the fan base than EJ, as the affable Venezuelan’s merits are the subject of many a debate online. In his earlier IndyCar years, Viso was seen as fast but reckless, and he had no shortage of “Did Not Finish” results from 2008-2010. However, beginning later in 2011 and through to the 2012 season, Viso seemed to settle down, and was much easier on the carbon fiber overall.
Now, in his sixth year in IndyCar, Viso finds himself at a top team, where the chemistry should be good, and the improvement in patience he’s made can be parlayed into even better results. In short, if EJ Viso is going to win in this series, he’s not going to get many better chances than this season. He’s got the speed, and he’s cut down on his mistakes. It’s time to see if it will pay off. For Viso, it all seems to be in place.
Newgy has always had a reputation as a more aggressive driver. That was extremely evident last year when he immediately challenged Dario Franchitti from the front row at Long Beach. Unfortunately, that maneuver didn’t go as well as planned, and neither did Josef’s rookie campaign. In short, it was a rookie season, filled with a few too many poor choices and a fair amount of bad luck. However, Newgarden was also quick, and if he can find the right balance of attacking tempered with patience, he could give Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing plenty of good results in the upcoming season. A year under the belt can do wonders for a driver. Barely 22 years of age, the budding IndyCar star will still be learning this year, but should be able to produce results more in line with his burgeoning popularity. Let’s not forget, Sarah Fisher’s crew is entirely capable of winning in this Series, and can give Josef what he needs to succeed. It should be an exciting campaign from a talented driver moving his way up the learning curve.
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, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.