Sunday, December 1, 2013

Indycar Season Review: #ThankYouDario

Scott Dixon snagged his third Indycar crown
Congratulations to the 2013 IZOD Indycar Series champion Scott Dixon, best wishes to a champion's champion Dario Franchitti, and better luck next year Helio Castroneves. That pretty well sums up the late season drama in Indycar. Next year much will change, including the title for the series as IZOD steps aside after this season, there will be two races in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the 2014 schedule ends Labor Day weekend. And while I didn't blog this year about my usual pre-season predictions, there's little doubt that I would have missed the mark by miles, as this season was both tumultuous and unpredictable in many ways. So here's my recap along with my favorite moments.

Dario Franchitti 
I have to start with a sad note:  Dario is leaving Indycar but he is one lucky guy after his horrific accident in Houston which hastened his retirement from Indycar racing. I hate to see him retire under these circumstances but it's good to know that he will make a full recovery and hopefully find a role in the series as an elder statesman or spokesperson. So #ThankYouDario indeed for all the memories.

Tony Kanaan celebrates his first Indy 500 win
My favorite personal moment this year was being able to shoot Victory Lane at the Indy 500 to capture Tony Kanaan's emotional celebration after taking his first Indy win. In a 500 for the ages, I started the race on the roof of Stand E overlooking Turn 1 and ended up in Victory Lane so my day shooting this year's 500 for was quite special. It would be hard to top that day in the years to come but who knows? Maybe next year will be even better! I had picked Ryan Hunter-Reay to win Indy before the month of May started this year but I was really happy for TK to get his first one. And wouldn't you know it - a late crash by TK's buddy Dario brought out the yellow which effectively ended the thrilling lead swapping duels which had transfixed the Indy crowd all race long up to that point.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won from the pole at Barber
Defending Indycar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay started off the season on a role by taking pole position and winning at Barber Motorsports Park. That was where my Indycar season started this year and the race weekend included a couple of firsts. I had never been to Barber before, although I have driven past it several times on my way to Talladega, so it was a treat to get another maiden racetrack visit under my belt. I also got to shoot for for the first time as a sort of trial run and warmup for May in Indianapolis. It was quite a challenging weekend dealing with the terrain at Barber and learning the technical requirements for submitting photos to's website. An added bonus was shooting the Rolex Series that weekend. I felt really good driving home after three days ambling around Barber's rolling circuit and producing images I was proud of. One of my favorite shots of the weekend was taken during RHR's pole award celebration when he was holding his infant son who gave the slightest hint of a smile. He must have been enjoying all the attention!

Charlie Kimball outraced everyone at Mid Ohio to get his first win
The bookend to my Indycar season was the race weekend at Mid Ohio the first weekend in August, again shooting for I love shooting at Mid Ohio and I used to think it was pretty hilly until I went to Barber! I would love to shoot more Indycar races each year but circumstances and my teaching responsibilities intervened. As it turned out, the Honda 200 was another weekend of firsts, albeit not for me as I have been shooting at Mid Ohio since the 1980's and took part in the track's Acura High Performance driving school in 2006. Charlie Kimball got his first career Indycar win by running hard and outracing everyone else who had adopted a fuel saving pace. Chip Ganassi and Dario seemed genuinely happy for Charlie to get his first win. Although there was no way to know it at the time, that weekend was also to be one of the last times that Dario would spray champagne and celebrate on the podium.

Takuma Sato 
In many ways, 2013 was a season of firsts in Indycar. In addition to Kimball, several other drivers got their initial Indycar wins. James Hinchcliffe got his first at St. Petersburg and then added wins in Brazil and Iowa. Takuma Sato got his first at Long Beach, finally rewarding the AJ Foyt team for their patience with the Honda favorite who's motto has become "No Attack - No Chance" after nearly winning the Indy 500 in 2012. Simon Pagenaud got his first in the second Detroit race and took Baltimore later on. Neither Brazil nor Baltimore are on the 2014 Indycar schedule so those race winners may be "defending champs" at those venues in perpetuity. I would expect both events to return to Indycar in the future however, but schedule conflicts must be resolved first. While not in the category of first race wins, this year's comeback story has to be Mike Conway who got a win at Detroit in a one-off ride. Conway will be with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2014 and run all the road races, so his comeback from injuries in the Indy 500 in 2010 is complete.

Carlos Munoz pits at the Indy 500
The most impressive driver this year had to be rookie Carlos Munoz. He started second in the Indy 500 and could have won the race if the last yellow for Dario's wreck hadn't waved. He was exceptionally strong at California in the season finale and was equally impressive filling in for an injured Ryan Briscoe the morning of Race 2 at Toronto He looked good in his first Indycar road race, he is fast and fearless, and has done such a good job in the Firestone Indy Lights series that Andretti Autosport has rewarded him with a full season ride for next year. I expect he will add his name to the list of first time winners in 2014.

Fan favorite Helio Castroneves was title bridesmaid again
Scott Dixon's championship run started at Pocono in July, then he swept both races in Toronto and closed it out with a first and second at Houston. He overcame a huge points deficit, along with adversity at Sonoma (where he was penalized for a pit lane incident from the lead which didn't really seem to be his fault) and at Baltimore (where Will Power squeezed him into the wall and put him out of the race). Coupled with his late season hot streak, perennial series runner-up Helio Castroneves suddenly became snakebitten during the Hosuton weekend with mechanical gremlins which wiped away his points lead in one weekend. That just didn't seem right watching it at the time, but that's racing and Dixon took advantage. If there was a trophy for the worst luck this season, it would have to go to Helio. For someone who represents Indycar so well, has won Indy three times, and is always upbeat with a smile on his face, he sure got kicked in the teeth by the racing gods this season. He led the points standings for months yet on the penultimate weekend, it all fell apart. Rarely have the words Helio and disconsolate been used in the same sentence but after Houston they belonged together and you just knew his championship hopes were gone even though the final race of the season was still ahead at Fontana.

My plans for covering Indycar in 2014 have not been solidified yet, although I am hoping to shoot for again whenever I can. It's a lot of work but a labor of love. So until next time, here's a gallery of my personal Indycar favorite photos from the 2013 events at Barber, Indianapolis and Mid Ohio.

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