Getting To Say "I Told You So"
When I say that I’m not one to gloat or that I don’t enjoy saying “I told you so”; it makes me sound very mature, grounded and responsible. Those that know me know what a shallow and superficial person I really am. They also know that I take great delight in saying “I told you so”.
Many times over the last couple of years, few things have enraged a handful of readers than when I pick up the cause of two drivers that I consider some of the most underrated drivers in open-wheel racing today – Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia. Some of the nicer comments over the last couple of years claimed that I knew nothing about racing or that the sport has surely passed me by. Then there were the more pointed comments that suggested I submit to a mental evaluation.
Bruno Junqueira had an early out in FAZZT Racing’s second car in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and didn’t get to show much of his stuff. But those that were paying attention witnessed him putting that car in the field with literally no practice time. I still say he’s a good driver, and the pairing of Bruno and fellow Brazilian Vitor Meira will be one to watch in May.
But my gloating is actually centered on Oriol Servia. After three races, Servia currently sits in fourth in the points battle. Had he not gotten tied up in Helio’s overly ambitious move at Long Beach, he may even be higher. His pirouette in Turn One to rejoin the field with hardly batting an eye, was either masterful car control or just plain dumb luck.
Whatever the case, I think a large portion of the credit for the turnaround at Newman/Haas has to go to Oriol Servia.
Since the beginning of the season, the resurgence at Newman/Hass Racing has been well-documented and deservedly so. There have been many theories as to why they have rebounded after a couple of dismal years. Some point to the fact that Mike Lanigan is no longer in the picture. He has now teamed up with Bobby Rahal and David Letterman to form Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing. Others site the infusion of cash from Telemundo and Sprott.
Those are plausible theories but I tend to place most of the credit with the presence of driver Oriol Servia. So many times, we look at teams and envision a scenario where a veteran driver is paired with a rookie. When Tony Kanaan lost his ride in October, many thought a combination of Tony Kanaan and JR Hildebrand would be a great duo at Panther. The savvy veteran could get immediate results, while giving the rookie time to process everything and take advantage of the presence of an experienced driver.
Economics rarely allow ideal situations like this to occur. Teams are forced to take big checks from drivers they wouldn’t ordinarily put into their cockpits. In the case of Newman/Haas, however, the right circumstances came together.
James Hinchcliffe has been stunning, for the most part, in his two races for Newman/Haas. Although he made a rookie mistake on the first lap at Barber and was eventually taken out by the EJ Viso incident – he showed quite a bit of skill in his time behind the wheel in Birmingham. At Long Beach, he was nothing short of brilliant. Although he missed the first race, he has to be considered the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
But don’t underestimate the value of the presence of Oriol Servia. Although he garners little fanfare, he has delivered excellent results for every CART/Champ Car/IZOD IndyCar Series team he has driven for over the past eleven seasons. When he first came on the scene with PPI Motorsports in 2000, he was teamed with Christiano da Matta. He scored ten top-ten finishes, including a third place finish at Belle Isle in Detroit.
In those early days, he also drove for Pat Patrick, where he finished seventh in points in 2003, and the perennially under-funded Dale Coyne Racing where he scored a podium finish at Laguna Seca. His break came when he substituted for the aforementioned Bruno Junqueira at Newman/Haas, after Bruno’s season ending injury at Indianapolis. In a substitute role, Servia scored seven podium finishes in eleven starts, including a win. In those eleven races, he also had two fourths and a fifth place finish. Normally, ten top fives, seven podiums and a race win in eleven starts would draw a ton of attention. Servia was shackled with being the teammate to Sebastien Bourdais, who was in the midst of winning four straight championships.
For the next few seasons, Servia bounced between PKV, Forsythe and the newly re-named KV Racing of a now-unified series, then back to Newman/Haas. In that time he delivered many podium finishes and strong consistent results. Servia also delivered one of the more memorable drives of the 2009 Indianapolis 500. While driving for Rahal-Letterman, he drove a car reminiscent of a Dan Gurney livery of the late sixties. He carved his way up through the field, in a year that didn’t see a whole lot of passing at Indy, only to be sidelined by a fuel-pump issue. He finished out the 2009 season with Newman/Haas after Robert Doornbos left the team. After sitting out the 2010 season, Servia finds himself back at Newman/Haas for this season. So far, the results have been impressive.
With so many strong performances and results; oddly enough, Oriol Servia is never recognized for being more than a journeyman driver. I’ve never understood that. Is it because he doesn’t run his mouth or knock drivers out of his way on the track? Anytime I’ve expressed my views on Servia, there are always a few that will vehemently disagree, but never with facts – only raw emotion, along with a few expletives.
If I were ever lucky enough to win the lottery and start my own race team, there are only a handful of drivers that I would go after to build a new team around. Oriol Servia is one of those drivers. I like his low-key style. He doesn’t boast or brag, he just quietly delivers good results.
I think he is perfectly suited for his current role at Newman/Haas. At thirty-six, the bulk of his driving career is behind him. Clearly, the driver of the future at Newman/Haas is James Hinchcliffe. The way he drove at Long Beach, he may possibly be the driver of the present, as well. But the realities of being a rookie will catch up to Hinchcliffe at some point this season. When it does, he can draw on the wealth of experience that Servia brings to the team. In the meantime, Servia will quietly go about his business of bringing home solid finishes for the team – and possibly a race win or two.
Through three races, this season hasn’t developed into the Penske/Ganassi runaway that many predicted. I fully expect one of those two teams to win the championship this season, but the chokehold has already been broken with Mike Conway’s Andretti win at Long Beach. I think another team or two can sneak in and take some wins this season. The way Newman/Haas has performed so far this season; I look for them to be in position to win a couple of races in 2011. If Servia does win this season, just don’t expect him to do a lot of boasting about it. But you can count on me saying “I told you so”.