Iowa Race Review: Feel Good Edition

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

A real feel good story emerged Sunday evening in Iowa, with Josef Newgarden winning his third IndyCar race and first since sustaining serious injuries at Texas in June. As usual, Iowa Speedway provided plenty of passing and thrilling oval track racing. In still more good news, the series announced its return for at least the next two years. The positive vibes were everywhere.

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Photo from centredaily.com

Newgarden was feeling good in the car Sunday, despite his broken clavicle and hand still healing. He lapped and ran away from the field in the Fuzzy’s Vodka machine that was clearly the class of the field. Starting second, he took the lead from pole sitter Simon Pagenaud on the first lap and never let up. Mad Will Power battled his way up to second, while Scott Dixon equaled his best finish at Iowa in third. Racy Russian Mikhail Aleshin was top Honda in fifth for SPM.

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In a largely clean, green race there were three cautions, two for engines and one for a spin. Ryan Hunter-Reay did his best Simona de Silvestro impersonation Continue reading

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Road America Preview: Racing The Haunted Woods

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Photo from photobucket.com

A mysterious land of wonderment, danger and frights, Road America’s where AJ‘s leg bones from his terrifying 1990 crash still haunt the foreboding, forested hills. For modern day racers, it’s a lengthy leap into the unsettling unknown.

 

Once upon a time long, long ago IndyCar raced at a magical place called Road America. The scene of flips, collisions and even rear wings flying off, racing last occurred there in 2007 prior to the conclusion of the super scary split. The series first appeared at the frightful facility in the deep, dark woods way back in 1982. Legends including Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan won races there. It truly was an epic age.

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Only half the field tested in Wisconsin after the Texas flood, as they scattered for vacations from Vegas to Le Mans. Those who did test included Continue reading

Top Fifteen IndyCar Stories of 2015

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

The Force Be With You – Rahal rebounded for an excellent season, winning twice and finishing fourth in points. He then proceeded to wed the gorgeous and talented Courtney Force, making major motoring and matrimonial momentum going into 2016. Penske/Ganassi Empire be warned.

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Loss of Williams – No, it’s not an F1 story. SPM cut Englishman James Jakes loose after a lackluster season, which means tragically that his stunningly beautiful girlfriend Megan Williams will no longer enhance the viewing experience with her Venus-like presence. The series needs more serious WAGS like Meg and to feature them prominently, as the NFL does with its cheerleaders.

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Photo from usatoday.com

Karam Craps Out – Despite our best efforts, fearless young Pennsylvanian Sage Karam is out of the series having lost his ride with villainous Chip the Hutt. Sage had a decent year all things considered, and IndyCar is poorer, older and less American because of his leaving. Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review

  • Silly Season Dominoes Tumble: Canuck James Hinchcliffe announced Tuesday that he’s signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, filling Pag’s vacant seat as he’s now at Team Penske. The Canadian comedian did so in characteristic style, making the announcement at a local brewery in Indianapolis. This after officiating the marriage ceremony of fellow driver Charlie Kimball last week. Beer, change of scenery and honeymooning – what a charmed life IndyCar drivers lead.

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  • The Game of Musical Seats continues: Ryan Briscoe’s now a free agent again with reports linking Sage Karam to Ganassi’s fourth car next year. It seems as though in IndyCar as in life the rich continue to get richer, the poor poorer. Rumors have linked young limey Jack Hawksworth to A.J. Foyt Racing’s famed 14 car. IRR predicted both Briscoe and Sato were in trouble months ago, as both underperformed rather spectacularly in 2014. With Hawksworth a free agent, Bryan Herta Autosport joins the list of teams looking for a fresh pilot, as does Andretti Autosport. Got all that?

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Mr. & Mrs. Briscoe – photo from indystar.com

  • A.J. Foyt Racing Expanding to Speedway: According to reports, A.J. Foyt Racing purchased a large building on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. They plan to renovate, rent out part and use part of it as a satellite base in Indy during the season while maintaining their main base outside of Houston, Texas. A.J. is quoted on his team’s website: “We’re happy to be part of Speedway’s redevelopment.” It’s a positive sign for the team and a plus for Speedway. Plus it’ll be a little bit of A.J. in Indy, where he belongs.

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Photo from usatoday.com

  • Finale at Sonoma? Regrettably, it looks as though one of the dullest and dreariest tracks in the country will host the grand finale in 2015. Curt Cavin’s sidekick and minor television/radio personality Kevin Lee tweeted about “more speculation about #IndyCar schedule” and then Cavin posted his own. It’s now down to a matter of dates, as it’s no secret as to the tracks which will be visited. Happily, all of the ovals from this season return in 2015 and the only subtraction is Houston, which was a dangerous joke of a parking lot track that nearly killed Dario and others last year.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

  • Another possible change is Toronto losing its twin billing, with the date changing due to a conflict with the Goodwill Games or some such obsolete international nonsense. Seen any pro sports lately? We blame Ted Turner for this amongst many other things. Both Brasilia, the planned capital in central Brazil, and New Orleans NOLA Motorsports Park, south of the Big Sleazy will host new races on road courses next season. Yippie. Otherwise, no major changes are forthcoming apart from some date changes which make sense, such as Pocono moving off the weekend of July 4th.

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Photo from economist.com

  • Odds and Ends: IMS upgraded their website, a long overdue move. IndyCar reporter for AutoRacing1.com Brian Carroccio showed IRR a kindness and followed us on Twitter, so a superspeedway sized thanks to him. Be sure to check out his work on the web. Finally, couldn’t resist this take on celubu-tard Gwynnie (a fave of ours to look at) and the recent fundraiser held in her California home for the once popular commander in chief. Wake me to your leader.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

IndyCar 300 at Kansas Speedway, April 27, 2008 in Pictures

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It was a raw, windy, chilly day in Kansas, a three hour drive from home.

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A good sized crowd attended the race and were not disappointed.

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The pit action was furious and directly across from our front stretch seats.

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Several cautions kept the field bunched up for close quarters racing.

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Two and three wide action was the norm on this day.

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The seating at Kansas Speedway allows for views of the entire track.

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The humongous American flag is a nice touch.

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It wasn’t Team Penske’s day, although they ran strong as usual.

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Ed Carpenter’s Menard’s paint scheme was simply gorgeous.

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The late Dan Wheldon won the race that day for Target.

IndyCar News Week in Review

  • Pags to Penske: The most significant IndyCar news of the week wasn’t even a close race – it was a Penske sweep. The championship winning team landed the hottest free agent on the market in 2014, ironically a Frenchman. Pagenaud to Penske is major news, creating a four car powerhouse team, a first for Penske for a full season. Looks like the Cap’n grew tired of watching Andretti’s and Ganassi’s cars outnumber his on track, so he’s upping the count. For fans of underdogs, this adds another reason to root against the former CART Cardinal turned Captain and his dominant team.

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Photo from pinterest.com

  • Hinch Marries Kimball?! On September 27, Charlie Kimball married long time girlfriend Kathleen Thompson in a ceremony in Indianapolis officiated by Canadian James Hinchcliffe. Apparently the madcap mayor obtained a ministerial license online from a shadowy group known as American Marriage Ministries. We wish the newlyweds all the happiness in the world and the Mayor of Hinchtown a very  blessed day in his new career. It could really pay off for him if his on track performance doesn’t improve.

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Photo from racing.ap.org

  • Other Silly Season News: Mayor/Minister Hinch remains unsigned, but Pagenaud’s vacant seat at Schmidt is said to be his for the taking. Schmidt has tested several lesser known drivers recently, although signs point to the quirky Canadian being paired with the mad Russian for next season. This should make an intriguing international combination for one of the few IRL era teams left in the paddock. Speaking of the good ol’ days, as predicted here at IRR months ago Sato’s ride with AJ Foyt Racing is apparently in jeopardy, as other drivers including rookie Englishman Jack Hawksworth have been rumored to be under consideration by the King of IndyCar.

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Photo from toledoblade.com

  • Career Change? Former series driver Swiss Miss Simona de Silvestro’s Formula 1 dreams have been obliterated, as Swiss team Sauber announced it’s moving in a different direction. De Silvestro departed IndyCar in 2013 after scoring her first podium finish with a second place finish in Houston. Enduring several unsuccessful seasons in IndyCar, Simona’s latest failed F-1 venture is considered by some as her last chance in big league racing. We wish her the best in her future endeavors and would enjoy seeing her return to IndyCar, though we’re not holding our breath.

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Photo from usatoday.com

  • Odds & Ends: There was a Firestone tire test at IMS recently, and it was uneventful according to reports.  Ed Carpenter, whose team is transitioning to two cars as he merges with SFH, participated in the test while his new teammate Josef Newgarden watched. Newkid Tweeted some snaps of his boss and it looked to be a perfect fall day in Indianapolis, the Rome of motorsport. Testing of the new aero kits hasn’t begun, but will be a crucial component for teams this off season. In other news, Honda’s scrambling to keep up with Chevy as they continue to hemorrhage top drivers and teams, most recently Pags.

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IndyCar’s Great Schism: A Brief Comparative History of the Split, Part 2

In early 1996 the IRL held its first race in Orlando, Florida, proving naysayers who’d predicted the series would never turn a lap wrong. Making the most of his Papal power with an ultimatum of his own, George instituted the controversial 25/8 rule that year for Indy 500 qualifications, reserving 25 of the traditional 33 starting spots for IRL teams, in practice shutting out (all but a few) CART teams. As Hinton wrote, Tony George “didn’t want partners” and he didn’t want to deal  with the corrupt CART Cardinals, either. They protested George’s Papal Bull by not participating in the Indy 500, instead doing the unthinkable and holding a competing race in Michigan called the “U.S. 500.” Clearly IndyCar’s Great Schism wasn’t going away anytime soon.

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Photo from ap.org

The upstart U.S. 500 – the Avignon of motorsports – featured plenty of controversy of its own. A first lap, front row pileup led to a hasty decision to allow the affected drivers to restart the halted race in backup cars from their previous positions – with no penalty. Pole sitter Jimmy Vasser, who’d been involved in the opening lap melee, went on to win the race. The conflicting open wheel events that Memorial Day Weekend in 1996 set the tone for the entire split, as to many observers both sides appeared misguided, mad and wrong. In retrospect, that Sunday clearly was the nadir of the sport.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As in Church history some principles in the open wheel war changed their minds and dramatically switched sides. By 2002, former CART Cardinal Roger Penske had defected to the IRL and was back at the Indy 500. CART loyalist Chip Ganassi had won the 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 and became a full time member of George’s series in 2003. The hand writing was on the wall in Gasoline Alley. Trouble is, the owners of CART weren’t in Indy to read it. Left with the carcass of CART were the likes of Jimmy Vasser, Australian Kevin Kalkhoven and the unlikable air conditioning magnate Jerry Forsythe, who together with others would struggle in vain for the next four years to keep CART alive, merely prolonging the ordeal.

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Photo from autosport.com

Both the IRL and IndyCar’s schism lasted thirteen years in total, obviously an ominous period of time. This, along with thirty years of the owners’ Babylonian Captivity, had taken a toll. In 2008, after lengthy negotiations and previous failed attempts George finally reached a deal to purchase and absorb what was left of the former CART series, creating a unified series called IndyCar. Once the Council of Indianapolis was underway it wouldn’t be long before a new Pope Martin would be elevated and the Schism would finally be brought to an acceptable and merciful end. While the corrosive split now appeared in the rear view mirror, as with the Church’s Great Schism much of IndyCar’s magic, appeal and luster had been squandered, lost – possibly forever.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As Hinton noted, in one sense George had won the open wheel war and emerged in command, just as he’d envisioned. In another sense he’d lost, as IndyCar had become what CART had been and he’d hated, swerving away from its oval racing American roots. To make matters worse, the series had been lapped by NASCAR during the war. George himself – now the undisputed Pope – lasted barely a year in the position, when his own sisters ousted him for his sins. This abruptly ended his free-spending and grandiose Pontificate and opened the door for the transitional Randy Bernard, the Pope Martin of IndyCar.

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Photos from autosport.com and quizlet.com

Attendance, viewership, media coverage and public perception all suffered mightily during the split, along with the prestige of IndyCar and most troubling of all its Holiest of Holies, the Indianapolis 500. Divided down the middle, the two open wheel series not only bitterly opposed one another as did their adherents, but also lessened the overall standing of the entire institution in the public’s eyes, precisely as the Great Schism had done to the Church six hundred years earlier.

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Chart from americanpopularculture.com

The Indy 500 was negatively affected over the years as it and its series faced stiff competition from CART then from Champ Car and finally, from apathy. Sadly during the protracted conflict both sides had faded in NASCAR’s dust. The media coverage of the series quickly had become divided and reduced during the schism, adding to the sickening spiral of decline in IndyCar. After bankruptcy, a name change and ultimately imminent failure, remaining CART true believers finally saw the error of their ways and sold out. The few dead-enders who hadn’t already come back to the IRL fold like Vasser and Kalkhoven either did so or simply refused and instead closed up shop, such as the peevish Forsythe.

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On the bright side, the respective Great Schisms taught invaluable lessons, even if they weren’t immediately or in some cases ever put to use. One could argue that positive motivations drove all of the competing sides during both splits, with generally good people fighting for what they believed in and loved, although egos and base emotions certainly played their roles in these surprisingly similar sagas.  One could also argue that human nature took over – as it always does – and egos and arrogance crept in where good intentions retreated or never existed. This sometimes happens even with good, high-minded people supporting diametrically opposed yet compelling causes.

Happily, these devastating divides finally ended after decades of acrimony and destruction and the respective institutions somehow survived and have moved forward. Like Church members in the fifteenth century when the great Schism was still recent, IndyCar fans today hopefully await the arrival of badly needed reforms. Sadly, such reformation wouldn’t come to the Church for over a century after the Schism’s end. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a fifteenth that long for IndyCar to see the light and complete its penance, so that a true American open wheel Renaissance may begin.

Giving that Extra Effort to Win?

An article on legendary four time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt in Motorsport Magazine got us to thinking, which is a nice surprise from an informative piece. It chronicled Foyt’s 1964 season in which he won the championship and his second Indianapolis 500. It was what Foyt said recently while reflecting on his career that was striking, though.

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Photo from toledoblade.com

Foyt said “I know some great race drivers who were always satisfied with second or third when they could’ve won. They did not want to put that extra little effort. They were satisfied. My worst days were when I ran Indy and ran like crap myself. I couldn’t wait to get back there the next year to prove a point.” Knowing Foyt and his mind through the media at least, the cynic in us wondered which current drivers in the IndyCar series he might have been referring to – which drivers were satisfied with podiums rather than going above and beyond for race wins. Several leapt to mind.  

Ryan Briscoe made headlines recently, although not for his driving  or even his own efforts. His celebrity wife was promoted at ESPN and it was reported that the couple were moving to Connecticut. That’s a long way from his team and their  race shop in North Carolina. It’s not like Briscoe has torn up the tracks lately, as his last wins came at Sonoma in 2012 and Texas in 2010. He actually had a great year in 2009 with three wins and an amazing eight second place finishes, but that’s five years ago. His performance lately has fallen off and he’s had a disastrous last couple of seasons.

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Photo from indystar.com

Graham Rahal’s another driver who’s struggled mightily as of late. With a high finish of second in 2014, Rahal has only one career win in IndyCar. That came his rookie year as a nineteen year old at St. Pete, six years ago now. Graham’s been in the headlines for dating the gorgeous and talented Courtney Force lately, but hasn’t made news for his driving abilities for quite some time. Driving for his father, we wonder what he’s doing to significantly up his game.

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Photo from examiner.com

Finally, there’s the scion of the Andretti clan, Marco. He has only two wins in his eight year career which encompasses nearly a hundred and fifty IndyCar starts. Marco’s known to live the high life and makes fairly regular appearances in the press, just not for his on track performance. His last win was over three years ago in Iowa and this year’s campaign was disappointing to say the least, especially in comparison to his teammates. 

Another quote from Foyt may well apply to the young Andretti. Foyt reminisced  about his youthful days driving. “Back in those days when the sun went down was when it all started. You could stay up half the night partying away and get up in the morning and go to work feeling great, raring to go. You didn’t even feel it.”

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

Are these talented, potentially great drivers giving that little extra effort in the off season to put themselves in a position to win? Or are they doing what they’ve always done or less hoping against hope that things will turn around for them? Good ol’ A.J. – always one to make you think.

2014 IndyCar Horse Power Rankings – Teams

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Photo from gizmag.com

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske

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2. Andretti Autosport

3. Target CG Racing

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

5. Ed Carpenter Racing (soon to be defunct)

6. KV Racing

7. Dale Coyne Racing

8. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (soon to be defunct)

9. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

10. AJ Foyt Racing

11. Herta Autosport

 

Observations:

Chevy & Honda split the top 4 rankings although Chevy took first & third, with the former winning the engine manufacturers’ race and the latter winning the Indy 500. 

There’s been no other silly season news as of yet, although that could change affecting the Horse Power Rankings. Stay tuned for updates. 

The series will be down to ten teams next year unless a new one joins full time. That’s old AFL levels, folks. Fan Force United, are you reading?

Target rose through the rankings during the last quarter of the season along with Penske, while Andretti fell. Momentum for 2015?

The introduction of aero-kits in 2015 will almost certainly affect the Horse Power rankings, also. 

IndyCar 2014 Season Grades

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Under new leadership yet again for the 2014 campaign Indycar instituted several changes, apparently operating under the philosophy ‘if it’s kinda broke, then half-ass fix it.’ One modification brought a more compact schedule with fewer gaps but lasting less than six months and concluded by Labor Day. While the more concentrated schedule with less momentum-killing layoffs was an improvement, we’d still like to see more races and an earlier start to the season.

Next year’s schedule hasn’t been released yet to the consternation of many, but this is standard operating procedure for IndyCar. While leaks and snippets have caused angst amongst some, we’re taking a largely wait and see approach to 2015. The subtraction of Houston from next year’s lineup is a positive move though, as the track was a dangerous and thrown together creation on a parking lot, for goodness sake. It’s the track that nearly killed Dario and big league racing can do better. 

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

The series also relied upon double header races at three different street venues again in 2014 to reach eighteen races for the season. For the three 500 mile races double points were awarded in an effort to balance the increasingly road and street course-heavy schedule. This trend is not helpful because the on-track product suffers when fewer oval tracks are visited. Tracks like Michigan, Kentucky, Phoenix and others all should be brought back to IndyCar. Re-instituting the 500 mile triple crown this season added an extra element of racing (as well as more mileage) and should be continued along with some 400 mile events.

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Photo from sfhracing.com

Penalties were another focal point of 2014, with both calls and non-calls making headlines and causing outrage across IndyCar association of states. Race control added Jan Beekhuis as a steward late in the season as it seems rules related issues are still being sorted out by Derrick Walker and Beaux Barfield. Most races went fairly smoothly even in spite of an earthquake at Sonoma, although it seemed race control was a larger part of the story this year, which isn’t a positive development. Refs aren’t what fill the stands or gain viewers.

With a few exceptions like the usual suspects Barber and Mid-Ohio, the racing was highly entertaining and exciting this season. Weather intruded on a couple of races such as Toronto so the new rain tires made their debut, but overall there were few major glitches. It was also a relatively safe season thankfully, although Aleshin’s accident in the final practice was no minor crash.

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The series’ crown jewel Indianapolis 500 once again proved thrilling and one of the better races of the year with winner Ryan Hunter-Reay making an agreeable face of IndyCar. Fontana provided an exciting finale as usual, marking an astounding nine years in a row the last race has decided the championship and rewarding Tony Kanaan with a deserved win. Overall, we give IndyCar a solid grade of B for the season – above average with some room for improvement.

Team Grades :

AJ Foyt Racing

Race Wins: 0

Podiums: 0

Poles: 2

Sato and the team failed to impress with season high finishes of fourth and fifth after winning a race last year. Another disappointing year means there could be changes in AJ Foyt Racing’s future, starting with the driver.

Bonus Points: Underfunded increasingly rare one car team nominally headed by an IndyCar legend.

Overall Grade: D-

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Photo from speedsport-magazine.com

 

Andretti Autosport

Race Wins: 3

Podiums: 9

Poles: 1

Carlos Munoz ran an impressive rookie campaign, winning ROY honors and taking three podium finishes.

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Photo from indycar.com

Hunter-Reay won the Indy 500 and two other races making the team’s season. Hinchcliffe and Marco were disappointing, as were the team’s qualifying efforts.

Bonus Points: RHR’s first Indy 500 victory and AA’s first since Dario won in 2007.

Overall Grade: B-

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Photo from Getty Images

 

Bryan Herta Autosport

Race Wins: 0

Podiums: 1

Poles: 0

English rookie Jack Hawksworth ran well at times taking a podium at Houston race 2, but still has some development to undergo. Herta’s little team like Foyt’s is a dying breed.

Bonus Points: Underfunded one car team with a hungry young Englishman driving.

Overall Grade: D

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Photo from jackhawsksworth.co.uk

 

Dale Coyne Racing

Race Wins: 1

Podiums: 0

Poles: 0

Carlos Huertas won in Houston race 1 as a rookie, but the team was a non-factor everywhere else and the track’s gone from next year’s schedule. Talented veteran Justin Wilson struggled consistently throughout a difficult season.

Bonus Points: Underfunded two car team run by a quirky former ‘driver.’

Overall Grade: C-

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Photo from racing.ap.org

 

Ed Carpenter Racing

Race Wins: 3

Podiums: 1

Poles: 1

Conway won Long Beach and Toronto race 2 while Ed won Texas and took the pole at Indy as owner/driver. Next year the team merges with SFHR, which probably can’t hurt.

Bonus Points: One car shared by two drivers, plus Ed’s a true underdog.

Overall Grade: B+

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KV Racing

Race Wins: 1

Podiums: 1

Poles: 3

Frenchman Bourdais won Toronto race 1 and finished second at Mid-Ohio. Saavedra struggled mightily all year and in his one highlight he disastrously stalled it on pole at the Indy GP.

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Photo from foxsports.com

Bonus Points: The number one pilot is a Frenchman. None.

Overall Grade: C-

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Photo from usatoday.com

 

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Race Wins: 0

Podiums: 1

Poles: 0

Rahal finished second at Detroit Race 1 and later predicted a win by year’s end. He still only has one IndyCar series victory after seven seasons.

Bonus Points: One car team for most of the year, working through a difficult father-son relationship. They lost their main sponsor for next year and appear to be in some disarray.

Overall Grade: D-

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Photo from motorsport.com

 

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

Race Wins: 0

Podiums: 1

Poles: 0

Josef Newgarden finished second at Iowa and had several second place starts in a frustrating season. No wins yet from Newkid after three seasons but a teammate will help.

Bonus Points: One car outfit with lots of potential and merging with ECR in 2015.

Overall Grade: D

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Photo from espn.go.com

 

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Race Wins: 2

Podiums: 1

Poles: 1

Great job by Pagenaud and the underfunded team to battle Penske in the championship right to the end. Pags & Aleshin finished 1-2 at Houston race 2 and Pags won the inaugural Indy Grand Prix. Aleshin showed potential but is currently recovering from serious injuries suffered in the year’s final practice.

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Photo from usatoday.com

Bonus Points: Schmidt’s an IndyCar guy we all want to root for with two interesting, off beat European drivers. The team represents a future threat provided Pags doesn’t jump ship to Andretti as rumored.

Overall Grade: B-

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Photo from autosport.com

 

Target Chip Ganassi Racing

Race Wins: 3

Podiums: 8

Poles: 1

Dixie and Kanaan came through toward the end of the campaign, but Kimball and especially Briscoe struggled all year in a disappointing 25th anniversary for Target. They should be even more adept with the bow tie next year and carry substantial momentum.

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Photo from chipganassiracing.com

Bonus Points: It’s Chip Ganassi. None.

Overall Grade: C+

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Team Penske

Race Wins: 5

Podiums: 11

Poles: 9

The team swept the top two spots in the championship with Power prevailing at Fontana. Helio and Montoya both contributed race wins, podiums  and poles with Montoya doing so after more than a decade out of the car. They’re top of the class for reasons, folks.

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Photo from tri-cityherald.com

Bonus Points: None.

Overall Grade: A

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