DRR Scores Big By Signing Oriol Servia
I’ve never hidden the fact that I think Oriol Servia is one of the most underrated drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In fact, some have criticized my admiration for Servia and write him off as nothing more than a journeyman driver. Not surprisingly, my opinion of him as a driver is quite a bit higher. He is a savvy veteran that always seems to be able to squeeze every ounce of available speed out of a car.
When his team, Newman/Haas Racing closed their doors last month, I feared he might be shut out of a ride for 2012 altogether. Fortunately, we found out yesterday that Servia has landed at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for 2012. A year ago, I might have considered Dreyer & Reinbold to be a slight step up from Newman/Haas. But Dreyer & Reinbold fell off in 2011, while Newman/Haas made great strides – due, in a large part, to Servia’s efforts.
While Justin Wilson did well on road and street courses for Dreyer & Reinbold; for the most part, he struggled on ovals. Servia brings a more solid and diverse resume to DRR. He is strong on both ovals and non-ovals. His experience in American open-wheel racing dates all the way back to 2000, when he drove for Cal Well’s PPI team in CART. PPI is indicative of the level of team that Servia has driven for – a team either on its way up or down, but never at its peak. In fact, many of his teams were so obscure, they are all but forgotten – PPI and Sigma fit that description. He also drove for Bruce McCaw’s Pac West Racing when it was merely a shadow of its former self. Ditto for Patrick Racing. He drove for KV Racing Technology when they were labeled as a "transition team" in 2008, and somehow managed a ninth place finish in points.
Last season, Servia finished an impressive fourth in points – first in class behind the leaders at Penske/Ganassi – in a car that some questioned would even be on the grid at this time last year. Not only did they answer the bell at the start of the season, but Servia ripped off two top-five finishes in the first four races. The Spaniard placed his Newman/Haas Telemundo Dallara on the front row at Indianapolis and was a contender all season long. In fact, he was one of only three drivers to be running at the finish of every race last season. Such consistency led to his eventual fourth place finish in points for 2011.
Quite honestly, I was hoping against hope that Servia would join his Newman/Haas teammate, James Hinchcliffe, at Andretti Autosport. That didn’t happen, but of the available seats still left – this one makes the most sense. For years, we’ve heard that Dreyer & Reinbold had retooled and were poised for a strong season only to be disappointed the following October. This offseason, they parted ways with longtime engineer Larry Curry and have made other moves. With a new car and the Lotus engine along with a new engineering staff, no one quite knows what to expect from Dreyer & Reinbold. Hiring Oriol Servia was a step in the right direction in raising expectations.
One question I have is regarding a possible teammate for Servia at DRR. If you listened to Trackside last night, you heard Servia make a strong statement. He said he would prefer to have either a good teammate or no teammate. Of course, he’s not the one paying the bills. Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl probably have the final say on that subject. I would think that with a new car, it would be most advantageous to have a teammate – no matter how talented they are.
There are many drivers that are still on the outside looking in. Tomas Scheckter and Paul Tracy both have a recent history with Dreyer & Reinbold. Townsend Bell could be a nice addition. Pippa Mann also comes to mind if they are looking for a rookie – and if she secures the funding she has been pursuing for the past few months. Pippa could benefit immensely from having an experienced teammate. Other possibilities include Vitor Meira (who I would personally like to see in a third car at KV), Buddy Rice (who also has a history with DRR), Alex Lloyd and Bertrand Baguette. One person that I don’t expect to see alongside Servia is Ana Beatriz. Her full rookie season was somewhat underwhelming and I just get the feeling they will choose to go in a different direction. Of course, the Ipiranga money that she brings could certainly change their minds.
Don’t forget about Bruno Junqueira. I’ve long maintained that Bruno and Oriol Servia are two of the most overlooked drivers in the paddock. If I were an owner, this would be a combination that I would strongly consider before I passed it up. Neither of them is in learning mode. They are both pure racers, through and through.
This is going to be a large and competitive field this season. The IZOD IndyCar Season is looking at a real possibility of having thirty full-time entries for 2012. With that being the case, a two-car team needs two veteran drivers to succeed. A marginal team with one veteran and one rookie could quickly become irrelevant in a crowded field like the one we expect for this season. Pure conjecture such as this is what makes the offseason so much fun.
I have always admired those drivers that can hustle a car that is less than perfect. It doesn’t take a ton of talent to get a good car around a track quickly. It takes talent, but not a ton of it. However, it takes a ton of talent – and guts – to will a car around a track when it doesn’t want to turn or handle correctly. Oriol Servia has proven time and time again that he can do that.
Whichever way Dreyer & Reinbold chooses to go in the way of a teammate, make no mistake who the leader of the team will be – Oriol Servia.