Just weeks away from the season-opening event in St. Petersburg, FL, we examine a few prospects for the upcoming season. Aside from the usual suspects in the hunt for the championship, here are a few dark horses who may take the IndyCar title in 2013.
1. Sebastien Bourdais
In his second year with Dragon Racing, Sebastien Bourdais is due for a return to his winning ways. The Frenchman won the final four titles of the now defunct Champ Car series in dominant fashion and showed all the potential in 2012 that he displayed from 2004-2007. Battling engine gremlins with the underdog Lotus power-plant, Bourdais was largely hindered from showing the Jay Penske owned team’s potential. With a committed effort for 2013 and Chevy power, Bourdais banks on his best bet to compete for wins and podiums since his Champ Car days.
2. James Hinchcliffe
Hinch enters his third year in the IndyCar series coming off a solid sophomore year performance with Andretti Autosport. The young Canadian moved into the prime GoDaddy seat vacated by Danica Patrick at the end of 2011. Following a year of steady results highlighted by a few podiums and, at one point, running as high as second in the standings, The Mayor looks as a prime candidate to grace the top step of the podium this season. With Andretti Autosport’s knack for colluding (and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s championship-winning experiences from last year,) there’s plenty of potential for Hinch to threaten the veterans in 2013.
3. Josef Newgarden
A rookie in 2012, Newgarden showed flashes of brilliance at times. Driving for the underdogs Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Newgarden moved mountains on a shoestring budget. The American put his DW12 on the front row at Long Beach, just his third race. His aggression got the better of him, however, as he put it in the wall trying to overtake past champion, Dario Franchitti, in the opening laps of the race. Reliability issues and rookie mistakes hampered the 22 year-old as his best finish was only 12th at Mid-Ohio. Heading into 2013, Newgarden has gained invaluable experience and could easily see the front of the pack this season.
4. Oriol Servia
Servia, the always underrated Spaniard, signed on with Dreyer Reinbold Racing for 2012 after the untimely and unfortunate demise of Newman/Haas Racing. Making the most of Lotus power, Servia placed 11th in the Sao Paulo round, one of the highest placings for any of the Lotus powered cars. After Sao Paulo, DRR dumped Lotus and signed on to a joint effort with Panther Racing. With the partnership, Oriol welcomed the shift to Chevy power. In his first race with the new engine maker, Servia placed fourth at Indy. Servia added a few more fourths to the season tally. Although never on the podium in 2012, Servia remained consistently in the top-10 for much of the second half of the season. In 2013, Servia looks to build on the moderate successes of the previous year and could be a serious threat in the points when the circus arrives at Fontana.
5. Simon Pagenaud
In his full-time return to American open-wheel racing since Champ Car’s demise, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud put in some amazing drives for the one-car effort of Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports. Few picked Pagenaud to immediately join the front runners when he emerged as the Honda-powered team’s driver at the opening of last year, but they should have. In his first start, Pagenaud finished sixth. Pagenaud frequented the top-10 in 2012, finishing as high as second at Long Beach. Despite his consistent finishes on road and street courses, Pagenaud seemed to find difficulty in figuring out the oval side of the IndyCar schedule. He managed to muster out a top-5 at Iowa as his best finish on an oval in 2012. After a year to gain confidence on the ovals, however, Pagenaud’s building chemistry with his team could prove a formidable threat to the usual front-runners in the championship.