Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season Review: Graham Rahal

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:

Graham Rahal
#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

19th in points scoring 345 points.

Best finish: 2nd (Detroit Race #1)
Worst finish: 33rd (Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 14.4
Avg. Finish: 15.0
Change in position: -10

Grade: D

What is there to say about Graham Rahal's season? On one hand, I really do feel for the guy. I just think the car he has is absolutely terrible. He's kind of hitched himself to a shitty wagon at his dad's team. Somewhere between 2012, where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showed a lot of pace with Takuma Sato behind the wheel and the last two years they've lost some serious pace.

The team got all of this National Guard money (which they did nothing with and which won't be there in 2015) and some new engineers (specifically veteran and proven-winner Bill Pappas) and they got worse stats compared to 2013 with less full-time entries out there, from P18 to P19. If I'm a potential sponsor being woo'd by the Rahal's for money in 2015, I couldn't possibly find the merit to coughing up $10 million for a failing operation.

To be clear, I like Graham Rahal. The show he put on in Detroit Race #1 and Iowa was great. He does a lot of great things off the track and is one of the most social drivers on Twitter. But ever since joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he's been a bit of a joke. Several bad races, including a P33 at Indianapolis, overshadows the positives they had. The team and Graham said their setups were off in 2013. Were they just off again in 2014? Graham thought that Bill Pappas was the answer after a test in Sebring.

It was clear to RLLR that change was necessary, so they fired their engineering staff, including Pappas. Now where do they go? No engineer is going to want to get poached if they see what happened over the last two years.

And at what point does Graham either move on and try his hand somewhere else? Or does Bobby make the move to go with a different driver? If the team has another rough season in 2015, I think something will have to give.

Graham Rahal - Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America

2014 Grades so far:
Mike Conway - B+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D


Stay tuned for P18 Takuma Sato!

-Matthew Hickey

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