End of a season

The 2013 IndyCar season gave us once again some of the best racing in North America and the championship between Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves went down to the wire that kept you on the edge of your seat until the checkered flag flew at Fontana.

In the end, the best man won the championship. Dixon started the season a bit slow, but got hot after a win at Pocono and taking the doubleheader sweep at Toronto and was virtually a contender at every race after that and survived two gaffes with Will Power at Baltimore and Sonoma. Castroneves on the other hand had only one win and was made hay while the sun shined and consistently stay out of trouble better than everyone else and was more consistent at staying out of trouble and finished better than everyone else. He was is great shape to take the title, but gearbox issues at both races in Houston is what ultimately cost him the championship, while Dixon scored a win and a second place finish which evaporated his points lead.

Will Power had his worst points finish since joining Team Penske full time in 2010 in 4th place. He had a bit of an off year by not scoring his first win of the season until Sonoma in August and having 9 finishes of 16th or worst, but came on strong at the end of the year winning 3 out of the last 5 races, launching him from 8th in points to 4th when it was all said and done.

All three top Andretti Autosport drivers had a similar season. Last years champ Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe both won races and ran up front, but had a number of finishes of 15th or worst (8 for Hinchcliffe, 9 for Hunter-Reay) either due to accidents or mechanical failures that ruined a shot at the title. Andretti was the best of the AA cars and had a career best season finishing 5th in points, but did not win a race.

Justin Wilson also was impressive this year. Dale Coyne Racing is a hard working group of guys, but they are not Penske or Ganassi and the results that Wilson turned driving for them speak for themselves. Wilson both finished well due to having fast cars and driving thru the field. He is one of the best road and street course drivers out there and he has gotten the hang of the ovals as well.

With nine different winners in the season, it was one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory. All but four drivers that competed in every race scored a podium.

It was also very refreshing to see the many new faces up front as well. Josef Newgarden, James Jakes and Simona de Silvestro all scored their first career podiums. Newgarden and de Silvestro both had career best seasons which show promise for the future of the two. Their teams are not as flushed with money as the bigger teams and had up and down seasons, but both drivers turned some good runs that made you notice the talent within.

Newgarden darn near won Sao Paulo and despite having bad brakes at Baltimore muscled thru and finished 2nd and eliminated the many mistakes during his Freshman campaign throughout the year to end the season 14th in the standings. De Silvestro came out of the box strong at the beginning of the season and suffered from a mid season slump, but rebounded after Toronto and finished the season with 5 straight top 10 finishes including what was close to a perfect race at race 1 in Houston and scored her first podium.

The heartwarming story of the year was Tony Kanaan winning the Indianapolis 500 after 12 years of trying and frustration. The race itself was a pass fest and was a matter of playing the game and staying up front to get to the end. Yes, the race finished under caution, but TK drove his heart out and as he said “I’m going to go for it, it’s all or nothing,” made the move on Ryan Hunter-Reay when it mattered as the green flag flew for the final restart and was in the right place when the caution flag flew.

Another heart-warmer was Charlie Kimball’s first win at Mid-Ohio. Kimball’s career almost didn’t happen as he was hospitalized for diabetes while he was racing in Europe and to see him get his first win was a redeeming moment for the 3rd year driver. Kimball also had a career best season encompassing his first win, finishing 9th in the final standings.

Another feel good story for the season was Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud returned to IndyCar last season driving for Sam Schmidt and turned a few heads with some impressive runs, but this year he proved his worth in the series. He won twice (Detroit and Baltimore) and proved that he has what it takes to be a contender in seasons to come. It was also a feel good year for his team Schmidt Petersen Motorsports as well. After nearly losing his life in a crash in 2000, Sam Schmidt has persevered against the odds and built a team from the ground up. With a driver like Pagenaud behind the wheel, the team can contend for championships in this series.

Sebastien Bourdais, once Dragon Racing put Tom Brown on his pit box, reaffirmed his place in IndyCar. He nearly pulled off wins at the first race at Toronto and Baltimore. Given his lack of experience on superspeedways, he naturally still had to learn them, but at Fontana he was a rocket and had one of the top 3 cars the whole night that was unfortunately ended by a crash. With Bourdais moving on to KV Racing for next season, look for him to return to form soon.

The most surprising win of the season was Mike Conway winning at Detroit. No disrespect to Conway, Conway is a good driver, but it was the car he was in that made it more impressive. The 2nd Dale Coyne Racing car has been by and large over the years a rent-a-ride car. The car didn’t even have an up to date paint scheme that weekend, but Conway in the end dominated the first race and nearly won the second race. Also factor in that Conway does not run the series on a full time basis after stepping out of the car before last years season finale at Fontana saying that he doesn’t want to race on ovals any longer.

Two other drivers that only made a handful of starts that really turned some heads are Carlos Munoz and Luca Filippi. Munoz qualified 2nd at Indy and was very aggressive and in the end finished in 2nd, but it was Fontana where he made the most of his opportunity. He started in 10th and moved his way to the front driving lower than anybody else. He pushed it too hard in the end, and despite crashing, he took it very well in the post race interview. If he can calm down a bit, he has potential to be a championship contender some day.

Filippi’s run at Houston put him on the map like Indy and Fontana put Munoz on the map. Filippi ran near the front all day and had it not been for an ill timed caution, he would have been near the podium. In talking to him after the race, he was very confident and realistic and showed real professionalism.

On the manufactures side, both Chevrolet and Honda were in close competition the whole year and the manufacturer title fight went down to the last race of the season, with Chevrolet coming out on top.

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