2018 Year in Review: Drivers
The 2018 season came to a triumphant conclusion in Sonoma. Now it’s time to look back at the season, first up - the drivers. The people who make each race so interesting! Some had great seasons, some had not so great seasons, and some were just Scott Dixon.
The question surrounding Robert Wickens’ rookie season with INDYCAR is: what if? Before the crash during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in August, Wickens had already driven himself into notoriety. The story of Wickens started at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. In his first INDYCAR race, Wickens clenched the pole. I remember sitting on the track, eyes wide looking at the screen: it was amazing. His statistics are nothing but spectacular. He had one pole, four podiums, and a top 10 finish at his first Indianapolis 500. We joked, but he was the non-rookie Rookie. Coming over from DTM, did it truly prepare him for INDYCAR? I think it didn’t. Some of his reactionary comments, especially after the Indianapolis 500, indicated the series was challenging for him.
The series ends with Wickens as the Rookie of the Year and in eleventh placed (in a sort of unexpected twist tied with his BFF James Hinchcliffe). But what if? The crash took Wickens out of the rest of the season. He missed the final three races, including the double points at Sonoma. I think, had he raced the final three races, Wickens would have cracked the Top 5. No one knows what his future holds, but he is a smart and very strong individual.
The smartest thing Zach Veach and Michael Andretti did was to sign a three-year contract. Zach had a solid rookie season, coming in fifteenth in the standings. He brought the car home every race. Even when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tried to set it on fire three times (the track was jealous of the car’s sweet sweet paint job) he finished the race. Zach had five top-ten finishes during the season and made it into the Firestone Fast Six at the Portland Grand Prix.
Moreover, Zach Veach has had a great trajectory of learning. Towards the back-half of the season he was not only driving to finish a race, but getting aggressive and challenging other drivers. Challenging drivers who were some of the top names in the series. He has two years left on his contract with Andretti Autosport. I anticipate Veach will put his dogged determination to work and will start the 2019 season even stronger.
You can’t forget to mention Will Power’s epic Indianapolis 500 win and the countless poles he won this year. It was a great year for Will Power!
Any driver that find themselves behind James Hinchcliffe in points (10th) should take a long hard look at their season and try and figure out what happened. He missed a double points race. That doesn’t mean he gets a few points, he got zero points from the Indianapolis 500. Zero points from a double points race and he still ended the season in tenth place. It’s been a weird season for Hinchcliffe. He did get one first place (Iowa) and another podium finish. His overall finishes were close to even, with seven being outside of a top-ten finish and nine being in the top ten.
The final races of the season weren’t great for Hinch (15th, 22nd, and 15th), that may be attributed to the issues that affected his hands following the crash during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in August. For certain, next season I suspect the #5 car will do what is necessary to make sure they race in the Indianapolis 500. Last time Hinch missed the 500 he came back and grabbed the pole – maybe we’ll see that happen again.
An up and down season for our favorite Frenchman. Simon Pagenaud has had some deep lows including not evening finish a lap at Long Beach and a thirteenth place finish in St. Petersburg and a seventeenth place at Detroit (Race 2). For many drivers those may not seem like lows, but last year Simon was running up in the top four contenders, and this year he had two second place finishes (Texas and Toronto) and two four place finishes (Gateway and Sonoma).
Is it bad to be the lowest placing Penske driver? Penske always has, it seems, drivers in the top 5 every season. Pagenaud, coming in 6th, has him as the lowest Penske driver. He’s not by himself though, Josef Newgarden finished the season in fifth, and there was a sixty-eight-point difference between them.
Simon did indicate he’s had some issues finding the sweet spot with the car in road courses. He’s a very versatile driver, so the off-season I can see a lot of sim work and studying various setups.
Has anyone else noticed Tony Kanaan real quick to jump in if someone has said he’s had a bad season? Here’s the thing, it’s not been a great season for Tony. I’m not saying he should quick or AJ Foyt Racing should fire him. I’m saying they’ve got some figuring out to do in the off-season. Last year Kanaan had seven top tens with one of those being a first place finish (Texas). This year, he has had four top ten finishes.
I don’t want to lay all the blame at Kanaan, as those familiar with our show know, I’ve spared no mercy when discussing the decisions of AJ Foyt Racing (and when I do a review of the teams…expect no mercy). It’s just disappointing to see such finishes from a great individual, a man who does triathlons for fun, and the best ambassador INDYCAR has. We all as a fan-base enjoy seeing Kanaan do well because we all appreciate him. A lot of things will be reviewed over the summer, and I am hopeful that next year we see a better season from Tony.
Last season I made a very bold statement that I felt Alexander Rossi was going to win the 2018 Championship. I was close, though as a math teacher once said “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”. I’m still very pleased at my call and it’s been an amazing season for Alexander Rossi. He has driven that vehicle, as many people have said, “like he stole it”. At ISM, the Indy 500, and Sonoma it was amazing to watch that car cut through the field. Hard charging and making passes. This after drivers said the new aero kit cut down on passes and many fans said there wouldn’t be as many. I guess no one told Rossi.
This season he’s had three first place finishes, and then eight top five finishes, and four top ten finishes. It’s been a hell of a year for Rossi. Plus, much like a shark he’s had a taste of blood – and he’s going to be relentless next year. Calling my shot again: 2019 he’s getting the championship!
Scott Dixon did Scott Dixon things.
What are your thoughts about these and other drivers during the season? Let me know!
This is part of a four-part series breaking down the 2018 season. Future parts will cover Teams, Tracks/Races, and an overall top moments.