Friday, September 19, 2014

Season Review: Carlos Huertas

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

Carlos Huertas
#18 Dale Coyne Racing

20th in points scoring 314 points.

Best finish: 1st (Houston #1)
Worst finish: 23rd (Houston #2)

Wins: 1
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 17.9
Avg. Finish: 15.9
Change in position: 36

Grade: D

Sure Carlos Huertas was a rookie. Sure Carlos Huertas was a no name until getting a practice ride with Panther Racing. And sure Carlos Huertas won the first race at the Houston doubleheader. But I was still very underwhelmed by Carlos this season. For one, I think Dale Coyne and race strategists pretty much stole the win at Houston for Toronto. Sure he had to do plenty to get that win, but I don't think the win came on pure race craft.

For two, I don't see Carlos making a return to Indycar in 2015. The problem was his performance on ovals. I know that I would never just get in a car and drive on a 200+ MPH oval, putting my life on the line on a track that I'm not comfortable on. I feel like Carlos feels the same. He seems to be in-line with Mike Conway's thinking, as in ovals might not be his thing. Retiring from "driver illness" at Fontana seemed slang for "I don't feel comfortable at all."

While Carlos had some positive moments in 2014, I wasn't all that impressed with his season. He lacked results and qualified consistently.. Consistently bad. With a whole host of drivers waiting to get into Indycar, I have a hard time seeing a driver with the performances like Carlos returning to Indycar in 2015. Without the win, this season would have been an utter dud.

Carlos Huertas - ABC Supply Wisconsin 250: Day 3
Photo: Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images North America

2014 Season grades so far:
Mike Conway - B+
Carlos Huertas - D

Stay tuned for P19 Graham Rahal!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Season Review: Sebastian Saavedra

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

Sebastian Saavedra
#17 KV AFS Racing Technology

21st in points scoring 291 points.

Best finish: 9th (Long Beach)
Worst finish: 23rd (Grand Prix of Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 1
Avg. Start: 17.2
Avg. Finish: 16.9
Change in position: 6

Grade: F

Another year, another disappointing campaign for Sebastian Saavedra. Seb moved from Dragon Racing, where he raced in 2013, to KV Racing, partnering with long time sponsor Gary Peterson and AFS Racing. He also joined his Dragon teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who took over the seat of Tony Kanaan.

So, what did Sebastian do right? Two things stick out: 1) Pole at Grand Prix of Indianapolis 2) Strong run through the field at Iowa. Behind the helmet and the hair, there is some talent there.

But the two things that highlighted his season ended poorly. After capturing the pole for GPI, Saavedra stalled, collecting Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin. After thrashing his way through the field at Iowa, Saavedra hit the wall coming out of turn two, unofficially ending his race. This, many average races, and living in Bourdais's shadow all year put a dark cloud of Saavedra's season.

I have nothing against Saavedra as a person. He seems like a really nice guy to fans and fellow drivers. I just don't see how this season, and his past performances, merits another season in Indycar. I know the equipment may not be the best and he had some bad luck, but at some point, you have to overcome obstacles. He has continually under performed in his career. Question is, will he back next season? I wish him the best wherever his career takes him.

Sebastian Saavedra - Honda Indy Toronto - Day 2
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

So far, the grades have been:
Sebastian Saavedra - F

Stay tuned for P20 Carlos Huertas!

-Matthew Hickey

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Interview: Zach Veach

In another installment of what I like to call "The Fast Five," it is my privilege and honor to bring you an interview I recently did with Indy Lights veteran Zach Veach! Zach is a 19 year old from Stockdale, Ohio who made his Mazda Road to Indy entrance in 2010, driving for Andretti Autosport in the US F2000 series. Ever since then, it's only gone up for Zach. He and Andretti Autosport formed a great bond that led them to the Indy Lights series. A terrific young talent that will surely make it to Indycar someday, I would like to present my interview with Zach Veach (answers listed as ZV):

1) Congrats on finishing your second season of Indy Lights! You finished third in the championship this year, 27 points back of Champion Gabby Chaves. Describe how your season went from your point of view. 

ZV: Thank you so much, I mean overall we have a lot to be proud about. In a way this was our breakthrough year and I was able to start competing at a level I always wanted too by improvements on myself, mentally and physically. I'm heartbroken for my team we missed out on winning the championship, but my Andretti crew did and incredible job for me all season and I'm very thankful for that.

2) If the financial part of business was taken care of, would you be ready to make the jump to Indycar based solely on your driving ability and an interested owner? 

ZV: If I had the opportunity to, yes, the team and I both believe so; I’d love to make the jump up to the Verizon INDYCAR series. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about with the team the past few weeks, but for us the limitation right now is trying to find the funding to climb the final step on the ladder. If the opportunity doesn’t arise for us to make the step up, another season of Indy Lights wouldn’t be a bad thing starting over with the new car.

As of right now we are focused on and working hard to put together budget for at least a partial INDYCAR season with Andretti Autosport.

Photo from Zach Veach's website

3) What does it mean to drive for an owner like Michael Andretti? 

ZV: It’s truly an honor to say the least. I’ll be forever grateful towards Michael for believing in me from day one and for the impact he has had on my career. I’ve spent 5 seasons with Andretti Autosport and the team has really become my family, from Michael to everyone else at the shop. It’s a place I’d like to spend my entire career at if I’m lucky enough.

4) What do you think of the former Indy Lights chassis? Positives and negatives of the chassis? Is the new chassis going to be a welcomed change to Indy Lights in 2015? 

ZV: I thought the former Indy Lights chassis was an incredible car, she might have been old and a little rough around the edges but the car had a ton of character. The positives were,the car was very safe, the thing weighed a ton so it really put the driver into good shape, and it was a hard car to get time out of. You really had to study to prefect it and get poles and wins. The biggest negative to me for it was it’s age. No pit lane speed limiter, no paddle shift, and no push to pass. Driving it really made you feel like you were going back in time a little but I’m always going to be a fan of that big V8 engine it had in it.

I learned more about driving a race car in my two seasons of Indy Lights than any other step on the ladder, and I’m sure the new car will prove to be as good if not better at training drivers.

Zach Veach 2014 Indy Lights Barber
Zach Veach in the car he drove in 2014 (Photo: Indycar Media)

5) The staple question of the Fast Five Series is meant to show a lighter side of a driver. Have you ever done anything obscure behind the wheel of a race car, like sneeze, cough, sing, etc.?! 

ZV: Oh wow this is a good one… Now I just have to think of something that isn’t too embarrassing. I’ve sung in my head before, but I think that’s pretty common. The worst is when I have the series onboard camera on my car and there are those huge TV’s all over the track. Because I look at them from time to time on the straights and when I see that it’s my onboard footage being played on the screen, I get all excited and want to wave to myself…

Thanks to Zach for taking some time out of his busy schedule to do this interview with me! Let us both know what your comments are!

-Matthew Hickey

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Season Review: Ed Carpenter

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

Ed Carpenter
#20 Ed Carpenter Racing

22nd in points scoring 262 points.

Best finish: 1st (Texas)
Worst finish: 27th (Indianapolis)

Wins: 1
Poles: 1
Avg. Start: 8.3
Avg. Finish: 9.7
Change in position: -8

Grade: B+

Another terrific chapter in Ed Carpenter Racing was set in 2014. As said in my review of Mike Conway's season review, Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter made a great combination. Ed was his usual self on ovals. Other than an accident at Indianapolis with James Hinchcliffe, Ed had a pretty stellar season. A win at Texas and a pole at Indianapolis were the highlights of they year. Ed Carpenter Racing is no more, as the team has merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Ed will be back in a car next season, but will Conway be back? That's what is on Ed's plate this offseason.

As with the situation of Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter should seriously consider returning full-time in Indycar. Now that Conway has come to the team and provided it with some good setups and equipment, Ed Carpenter could take over and be a serious contender for the championship, given that double points are still up for grabs at tracks that Carpenter can succeed at. Although Ed would still likely under-perform on road courses, he could finish in the top-ten in points. Overall, another good showing from Ed this season.

Ed Carpenter - Iowa Corn Indy 300: Day 1
Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt / Getty Images North America

2014 Report Card:
Ed Carpenter - B+
Mike Conway - B+

Stay tuned for P21 Sebastian Saavedra!

-Matthew Hickey

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Around the Horn: September 2014

Around the Horn is back for another installment! Around the Horn is a show that airs on ESPN, where a panel of journalists discuss sports related issues. I have assembled a panel to discuss Indycar issues once a month. Your job as the reader is to share your opinions with anyone you agree/disagree with! Please make your voice heard! Here is this month's panel (make sure to give them all a follow on Twitter):

  • Jake Neely, Twitter handle is @indycarfan25, answers are labeled as JN
  • Lynn Weinberg, Twitter handle is @lynnweinberg, answers are labeled as LW
  • Sophie Hanson, Twitter handle is @Sophie_Hansons3, answers are labeled as SOPH
  • Brian Keifer, Twitter Handle is @briankeifer, answers labeled as BK
  • Sarah Hall, Twitter handle is @flywheel011, answers labeled as SAR
  • James Alban, Twitter handle is @TheKing0fSwing, answers labeled as JA
  • Mathew Gruenholz, Twitter handle is @IndyCarSTIG, answers labeled as STIG
  • Me, Twitter handle is @Indycar_MN, answers labeled MH

1) The First Word (opening topic)

Thoughts on Will Power winning the championship?

Will Power - MAVTV 500 - Day 2
He's finally done it (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

JN: If you read my tweets you know I'm not a William Power fan at all but let's be honest the guy was due to win a championship. He should have won 2 or 3 already. So I'm happy for him because he went through so many heartbreaks to get to this point.

LW: Not many drivers evoke such a wide array of “love/hate” as Will Power. I’ve always been indifferent, I liked him ok, but I never thought he deserved the championship, until this year. Now that he’s proved himself on all types of tracks, he’s earned it, and I’m happy for him. Most people know I’m a huge Helio fan, but I’m also a fan of good racing, and Will and Helio Castroneves provided that right up until the end! What a great year!

SOPH: I am so happy for Will Power winning the championship, I think he needed it for Roger Penske and for himself. With Helio Castroneves having Indy 500 wins, and Will not having any and also no championship wins, I think this definitely secures him a spot on Penske for a long time. I think it is a confidence boost for him, he finally won a life long dream after coming so close many times before.

BK: It was overdue. I’m not a Will Power fan, but I certainly respect all of the work he’s put in to making sure he’s one of the best all-around drivers in the series. With the Astor Cup monkey off of his back, it will be interesting to see if there’s a difference in his driving next season.

SARWill Power deserves it. I'm far from his biggest fan, as I'd like to see him learn to keep a cool head when he needs to, but he IS in a class of his own. And it's always nice to see someone's lifelong dream come true.

JA: Definitely well deserved! You could hear the emotion as he crossed the finish line and the tears were flowing! Congrats to DJ Willy P!

STIGWill Power fought REALLY hard for this one, he impressed many with his determination and skill, as well as burned a few bridges with over aggressive driving (and blocking). In the end though, he deserves it.

MH: Everyone knows that I am really not the biggest Will Power fan, but I was really happy to see a driver get their dream to come true. Congrats to him and all of Team Penske. Can't wait to see the #1 car back next season!

2) Buy or Sell (buy = agree with statement, sell = disagree)

Simon Pagenaud will be back with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports in 2015.

Simon Pagenaud - GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma: Day 3
Where oh where will Pagenaud land? (Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images North America)

JN: Sell, I read some of Simon Pagenaud's press conference after the finale and he was thanking the SPM for a great 3 years. It almost sounded like Dario in 2007 before he went to Nascar.

LW: SELL-I read an article a while back where Simon Pagenaud stated that his priority was being somewhere with top-notch equipment. Andretti could provide that. No matter what someone says, money is always going to be a factor, and I just don’t think SPHM has the resources to give him what he deserves.

SOPH: Sell. I was in line for the autograph session with his very close friend from racing in France, and from what I understand Simon Pagenaud has a couple good offers. But, we also don't have to worry about him going to F1 because he loves racing here. So, I will be veryyy shocked if he ends up back with SPM.

BK: Sell. I think Simon Pagenaud’s stock is still on its way up and that we’ll see him under the Andretti Autosport banner next year. With that said, I’d rather see him stick with Sam and keep a small team in the running both for individual race wins as well as the championship.

SAR: Buy. SPM has made quite a statement this year, and it'll be good for Simon Pagenaud to continue to develop a strong relationship there. I think we will see him with a top team eventually, but he has time for that.

JA: Sell...Some may think Simon Pagenaud might be headed to Formula 1 as he is testing the power unit for Honda soon. Possibly Andretti Autosport might suit him better.

STIG: SELL (but not an impulse sell) Simon Pagenaud did VERY well with Schmidt and is a hot commodity right now and a bigger team like Andretti could most likely sign him, we'll see in the next few months.

MH: Simon Pagenaud has a special thing going with Sam Schmidt and Rob Edwards, but at the end of the day, passing on a deal to go to Andretti Autosport would be kind of foolish. I could see Pagenaud returning, but only if Michael Andretti can't find funding for a fifth car.

3) Out of Bounds (issue about Indycar outside of the track)

Do you see Mikhail Aleshin making a full mental comeback (as in he will still keep his fearlessness that we've seen) on the ovals after his terrible crash at Fontana?

Mikhail Aleshin - Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Hope Aleshin is back 100% next season (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)

JN: Yes I fully believe Mikhail Aleshin will return with the same fearlessness he showed up with. The guy is a real racer and nothing can ever take that away from him.

LW: I don’t think we know enough about Mikhail Aleshin’s medical condition at this point to answer that question. He certainly drives pretty fearlessly, so I hope that during the off season, he would be able to recover fully.

SOPH: I see Mikhail Aleshin making a complete comeback. I don't think it will faze him once he gets back in the car. He seems to be a fearless driver and can't wait to see him back in the car!

BK: I really hope so. Mikhail Aleshin brings a new audience to the series and the lengths to which he went in order to introduce himself to the current fans really made me want to see more of him. Oh, and he’s also a darn good driver.

SAR: Oh my gosh I hope so. Mikhail Aleshin's fearlessness is what caught my eye in Indy, and what made me such a big fan and supporter of him. Plus we all know how badass he really is, so I think it's more likely that we'll see the same Mikhail in 2015!

JA: Not right away. Give Mikhail Aleshin some time, hopefully the off season testing will help. But at some point, he shall be back 100%.

STIGMikhail Aleshin will be fine, his racing mentality is intact. Just a bump in the road for this Russian.

MH: Part of what makes fans love Mikhail Aleshin is his fearlesness and his ability to push the ragged edge. I do not think this crash will have an impact on him. We've seen drivers like Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, and Simona de Silvestro make comebacks after terrible accidents, so Mikhail will do the same.

4) Showdown (conclusion)

Who was your biggest surprise and biggest disappointment from the 2014 season in your point of view?

Juan Pablo Montoya - Texas Motor Speedway: Day 2
The panel, and a lot of fans would agree that JPM was the biggest surprise of the season
(Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

JN: Biggest surprise for me would have to be Juan Pablo Montoya. We all knew he would do well but as well as he did I would have never guessed that. Biggest disappointment would have to be James Hinchcliffe. After winning three races last season I thought this would be a championship year for him but he just never got the season going with all the bad luck.

LW: Biggest Surprise - From a Fantasy IndyCar perspective, I’d have to say Ryan Briscoe. About 6 races into the season, I decided to calculate everyone’s average finish. I was surprised to realize that Briscoe was very consistently finishing in the top 12. I know that’s not great, but picking him in Fantasy IndyCar was a good, safe bet, because he had no 30th place finishes. Biggest Disappointment - I think I would say Josef Newgrarden. This guy needs a win. He needs to prove himself. I hate to say that, because by all accounts, he seems to be a nice guy and the team is very well liked, but something isn’t clicking, and it’s been 3 years now.

SOPH: Biggest disappointment I think was Tony Kanaan. I loveee TK as a person and a driver, but since he moved to the big team of Ganassi he was not having the results we expected out of him. Biggest surprise was Juan Pablo Montoya, he definitely came back stronger than ever and I did not think he was going to be able to do that after many years of being out of an Indycar.

BK: The biggest surprise for me is Juan Pablo Montoya and how well he did on his first season back. My biggest disappointment is (and always will be until it happens) the absence of a strong Andretti/Rahal rivalry. RLL should have been contenders this season with all of the money and talent they acquired last offseason.

SAR: My biggest surprise is the combined talent of the 2014 rookie class. We all knew we'd be seeing Carlos Munoz killing it, but I don't think anyone saw Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam, and Mikhail Aleshin making names for themselves as well. My biggest disappointment was Andretti Autosport; they've been up and down over the hears, but I really thought they had found something last season that would carry over.

JA: Biggest surprise: The victory by Carlos Huertas at Houston! Biggest disappointment: Graham Rahal's season. He had a rough year, some decent finishes, but I thought he would've had at least one victory.

STIG: I wouldn't say it was a big surprise, but Josef Newgarden charging through the field and contending for the win in multiple races was a pleasant and welcome one! A disappointment was Takuma Sato, so many mistakes, WTFs? and unimpressive races this year really got us scratching our heads about him, maybe he'll turn it around in 2015.

MH: Biggest surprise was all of the rookies, especially Mikhail Aleshin. No one saw him having the type of season that he had. Biggest disappointment was Justin Wilson. I hardly heard his name called all year. Wonder what was going on at Dale Coyne Racing this season.

Thanks to everyone for reading! Stay tuned at the end of each month for a chance to end up on next month's panel.

-Matthew Hickey