My IndyCar Wish List For 2016
The Christmas season is finally behind us. As we toss the tree to the curb, much like John Barnes did to JR Hildebrand in 2013, put the decorations away for another year and endure a lot of meaningless lopsided bowl games – the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season suddenly seems much closer than it did just a couple of weeks ago. We are now only sixty-five days away from the first practice at St. Petersburg in mid-March. The 100th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is just 144 days away. Both will be here before you know it.
Rather than looking back and reviewing the highs and lows of this past season, I thought I would look forward and create my own wish list for the 2016 season that lies ahead. Some may be very attainable, while others may be a little far-fetched. But it’s my list and I can dream if I want to, can’t I?
A seat for Servia: For years, I’ve been saying that Oriol Servia is one of the most underrated drivers in the paddock. I still maintain that, but at forty-one – he is now also one of the oldest drivers in the paddock. Servia has a history bringing cars home in one piece and usually in a much higher position than where he started. The man is simply a racer, which cannot be said about every driver that has a full-time ride. Some drivers are qualifiers, while others simply toil at the back of the field giving airtime to their sponsors. A racer is one who competes going into every corner and usually comes out of the corner in front of the other car. That describes Oriol Servia.
With Servia being long in the tooth, the chances are dwindling that he will ever secure another full-time IndyCar ride. Earlier in the offseason, I said that Michael Andretti would do well to put Servia in his fourth car, assuming sponsorship could be secured. Nothing since then has changed my mind. He is a savvy veteran who knows how to take care of a car and take it to the front. I would love to see him perform in a good car, which he would be getting at Andretti Autosport.
More races for Pigot: Spencer Pigot, the reigning Indy Lights champion, has a three-race deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in their second car, which includes the Indianapolis 500. Pigot is an up and coming American driver, who is fast and has the personality to be attractive to potential sponsors. His full-time status in the series would be another boost to a series that is quietly getting stocked with young American talent.
Pigot, Sage Karam and Conor Daly bring a more American flavor to a series that already has full-time US drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball along with part-timers Townsend Bell, JR Hildebrand and Bryan Clauson.
Hildebrand at CFH: Speaking of JR Hildebrand, I think it’s time he was given another shot in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Luca Filippi had a very ordinary year on the road and street courses in the No.20 Fuzzy’s car for CFH Racing. In ten starts, there was a second place finish at Toronto. But if you throw out that result, Filippi only managed two ninth-place finishes mixed in with three finishes below twentieth. Teammate Josef Newgarden won two non-ovals last year, so you know the team knows how to set up cars.
Since being unfairly jettisoned by Panther Racing just after the 2013 Indianapolis 500, Hildebrand has been patiently waiting. He has driven two one-off efforts for the Indianapolis 500 to top-ten finishes for the team. I would love to see Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher give Hildebrand a shot in the car at all of the non-ovals, as well as a ride in a third CFH car for the “500”; giving them an all-American lineup to go alongside Bobby Rahal’s team featuring both drivers that hail from the US.
A strong return for Hinch: Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we came very close to losing James Hinchcliffe in the moments after his practice crash on the Monday practice before the Indianapolis 500. Thanks to the excellent work by the Holmatro Safety Team, the worst that came out of it was that Hinchcliffe missed the rest of the 2015 season.
After a long recovery from the devastation of having his lower abdomen impaled by a suspension piece, Hinch was finally able to climb back into his race car for a test at Road America back in the fall. He has had the offseason to build up his strength and his endurance.
With Honda given the opportunity to revamp their aero kit for the upcoming season, I’m hoping that James Hinchcliffe can have a very successful return to the cockpit in 2016.
A better year for Foyt: Every offseason, we all think that Larry Foyt has put the final pieces of the puzzle together for his famous father’s team to contend for the upcoming season. Somewhere before the halfway point of each season, we realize that Foyt’s team has, once again, let us down.
This offseason is no different. George Klotz was hired away from Andretti Autosport to serve as Team Director. Famed engineer Don Halliday was named Technical Director and will oversee the engineers.
Fortunately, there was no change to the driver lineup, which should lend some stability to the team. Takuma Sato will be entering his fourth season with Foyt, with Jack Hawksworth will be entering his second, while trying to shake his sophomore slump after a strong showing in his rookie season with Bryan Herta. Last year was the first time Foyt had run two full-time cars since the 2002 season. I’m hoping that they worked out their growing pains and will make great strides in the coming year.
Better racing, less controversy: While I acknowledge that it is almost impossible for any racing series to avoid controversy throughout a season, the Verizon IndyCar Series had way too much controversy in 2015 – with most of it being self-induced.
There were bungled calls and bad decisions on when and when not to run during the rain-soaked weekend at NOLA Motorsports Park. That set the stage for the qualifying debacle at Indianapolis, when Honda teams were outraged when they perceived that they were being penalized for Chevy’s poor superspeedway aero kit design. A morning of indecision led to a PR nightmare for IndyCar and a scaled back run for the pole that left everyone a little miffed, except for pole-sitter Scott Dixon.
Race Control had its share of gaffes on their in-race calls and non-calls – most notably, a non-penalty for Graham Rahal for leaving the pits at Fontana with part of his fuel hose still attached. Had he been assessed a drive-through penalty as deserved, it’s doubtful he would have won the breathtaking 500-mile race at the two-mile oval.
Like JR Hildebrand and our Christmas tree – Derek Walker was unceremoniously kicked to the curb at the end of the season. Here’s hoping for better decision making and more consistent rule enforcement for 2016.
And another thing…how about assessing penalties on the track, rather than penalizing teams and drivers on the following Wednesday? Just a thought.
A memorable 100th running: So many times in sports, the event fails to live up to the hype. The more the hype, the bigger the dud seems to be the rule. We race fans got lucky in 2011. Although there was much hype leading into the Centennial Celebration of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 – that race may have actually surpassed the hype. The weather was perfect throughout the month, as well as race day. The pre-race events were memorable and the race itself was fantastic leading up to the dramatic conclusion that saw Dan Wheldon win after rookie JR Hildebrand crashed coming out of Turn Four while leading in the final lap.
Five years later, we are now facing the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. If possible, the hype may be even bigger than it was for the 2011 race. The logo, such as it is, was unveiled before the 2015 race was run.
I’m hoping that we get good weather for this year’s race (and qualifying) along with another great and safe race along with the entire month. It would be very deflating to have this year’s race affected by rain or to be a dud.
A safe season: While most of us were still hurting over the loss of Dan Wheldon in 2011, we lost very popular driver Justin Wilson to a fluke accident in 2015. Racing will never be completely safe. That’s why it is a compelling sport. If everyone can do it, it’s no longer a sport. But losing two of the most popular drivers in the series in less than four years is unbearable, in this day and age when fatalities are so uncommon.
Through social media and increased media coverage, we fans grow attached to these drivers like we know them, even if we’ve never met them. It’s a punch to the gut when we lose any driver, even more so when they are as popular as the two we’ve lost most recently. Here’s hoping that all drivers that race in the upcoming IndyCar season will escape serious injury and will all be present at the Championship Banquet at the end of the season.
A return for Sage: One of the most disturbing items in the aftermath of Justin Wilson’s fatal crash at Pocono was the deranged thinking of a few idiots that tried to pin the blame of Wilson’s death on Sage Karam, who crashed while leading and scattered the debris that struck Wilson in the head.
Karam was leading at the time of his crash, Justin Wilson was twelve cars back when the crash took place. By the time Wilson came out of Turn One, the nose cone from Karam’s car was careening into Wilson’s path. It took just the wrong bounce at the wrong time and struck Wilson in the head.
Sage Karam ruffled a lot of feathers of drivers and fans in the 2015 season. He led a lot of laps and had some strong finishes. He also tore up a lot of Chip Ganassi’s equipment as he struggled through his first (almost) full-time season. He seemed willing to take on the role of the villain that is so desperately needed in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But the role of villain is defined as what Paul Tracy was in the nineties and early 2000’s. It is not meant as one who brings death to competitors on the track. If I thought for a minute that Karam was reckless and his actions deliberately led to Wilson’s death, I would be screaming louder than anyone to have him kicked out of the series.
As unfortunate and tragic as it was, Justin Wilson’s accident was a complete fluke. Sage Karam was no more responsible for his death than whatever driver may have held Wilson up two laps earlier to cause him to be in that particular spot to strike the debris.
Sage Karam is currently without a ride. It’s not because Justin Wilson died, nor is it because he angered a few of his fellow competitors along the way. It is strictly about a lack of sponsorship. If Chip Ganassi can strike a deal for the No.8 car, I feel confident that Karam will be the one to get the call. If not, I’m certain that other opportunities will come his way in 2016. He is too good to not be in the series.
I just hope that the moronic knee-jerking non-fans that felt the need to blame anyone will think about what they are saying before casting blame and trying to derail the promising career of a young driver.
So there you have it…my list of just a few wishes for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. I’m not wishing for world peace or to see the end world hunger. I just want good and safe racing among my favorite drivers and teams without any controversy. Is that really asking for too much? I don’t think so.