Its season ended earliest of all the major racing series, so many might forget that the IndyCar championship was the first to go down to the final race of the year.
Two years after the demise of rival Champ Car set the stage for open wheel reunification, things continue to improve for the series.
Ironically IndyCar, which began as a revolt against the old Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART, later Champ Car) now looks just like that series after a move to a schedule that has an equal balance of oval races and stops at road and street courses.
With any luck, the IndyCar Series will find itself on network television next year, something that should help it grow stronger.
The battles on track in 2010 certainly helped it grab some attention, with several drivers putting in some extraordinary performances. Here, in order, are IndyCar’s top drivers of the year.
Will Power, Team Penske Racing
The Australian was 2010’s come back story, returning to the IndyCar Series with a bang by winning the opening two races on the calendar after suffering a season-ending back injury last year. Power was the master of the non-oval stops, taking five victories and finishing no worse than fourth in the series’ nine road and street course races.
Power gets the nod as the top driver due to his win total, season high eight poles, and improving performance on ovals, which almost delivered his first IndyCar title in his second full year in the series. Despite only having only 13 oval races under his belt prior to 2010, Power still finished only 110 points behind eventual champion Dario Franchitti in that discipline, even though the Scot has more than 80 starts on them.
On the other hand, Power scored 105 more points in the non-oval races than the three-time champion who has scored half of his 26 career wins in IndyCar on road and street courses.
Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi Racing
For the third time in the past four years, the talented Scot showed grace – and speed – under pressure by clinching the IndyCar crown in the final race of the season. Franchitti is known as a driver who rarely makes a mistake behind the wheel and in 2010 it was no different. Cool and consistent, Franchitti finds a way to get exactly what he needs to win a title after coming from behind in the past two consecutive season finales to win the IndyCar championship. And, Franchitti’s dominant drive in the Indianapolis 500 was a thing of beauty. He started on the outside of the front row and really never looked back, leading 155 of the 200 laps to take his second victory in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Racing
Known more for his win in Dancing with the Stars than his prowess behind the wheel, Castroneves showed he can pull off some fancy moves inside the cockpit by winning an early road course race in Alabama before taking a pair of late season wins on ovals in Kentucky and Motegi, Japan. Castroneves was the only driver in 2010 to win on an oval after starting from pole, putting up the fastest lap, and lead the most laps in the race, a feat he accomplished in Japan. He would have had four wins in 2010 had the IndyCar Series not taken away a sure victory in Edmonton with a penalty for blocking. Castroneves became one of the stories of the year after he blew a gasket following the race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
Hunter-Reay ended the year as one of only two drivers (the other was teammate Tony Kanaan) able to crack the Penske and Ganassi stranglehold on wins after taking the chequered flag on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. A late addition to the team, Hunter-Reay made the most of his opportunity, finishing just eight points behind the more experienced Kanaan in the battle to be the top Andretti driver of the year. While his sponsor, Izod, only signed on for a partial season, Hunter-Reay’s results were strong enough to keep him in the car all year and earn him a two-year deal with Andretti that will keep him with the team until the end of 2012.
Justin Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold
Wilson joined his third team in as many years in the IndyCar series and immediately dragged the Dreyer & Reinbold outfit up the grid. The Englishman took two second place finishes for a team that had one podium in the previous three seasons. The only driver to get a better result in the history of the team was owner Robbie Buhl, who won his first race with the outfit in 2000. Unfortunately for Wilson, his chance at a 2010 win evaporated in the Long Beach, Calif., race when Alex Lloyd closed the door while being lapped and broke the Dreyer & Reinbold driver’s front wing. He recovered to finish second after watching the win delivered into Hunter-Reay’s waiting hands.
Simona De Silvestro, HVM Racing
Yes, she made some rookie mistakes, but after all De Silvestro was a first year IndyCar driver with no oval experience coming into the season. Nevertheless, the 22-year old Swiss driver went home with the rookie of the year award at the Indianapolis 500 driving to a 14th place finish after qualifying 22nd in her first race at the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. To put things into perspective, she finished ahead of former F1 driver Takuma Sato and just 24 points behind IndyCar rookie of the year winner Alex Lloyd, who had two years of oval racing experience in Indy Lights prior to joining the big series. De Silvestro’s performance also delivered the Tony Renna Rising Star Award, named after the promising IndyCar racer who was killed in a testing accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003.
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