And the Nominees Are…

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RACER.com released the online ballots for Racer of the Year voting this week. There are six categories, with IndyCar drivers being eligible for four of them. Those four are 2013 Racer of the Year, 2013 Road Racer of the Year, 2013 Oval Racer of the Year and the 2013 Racer Rookie of the Year. I had some initial emotional & personal choices for these categories but I want to look at these candidates from more than just my own opinion – let’s look at their stats for this past season, their raw talent, their consistency and of course, their results. I am hoping for this article to be a bit more interactive than my past few weeks of writing. I want to hear from you, the readers… I’ll give you my take, bringing to the table who I think are the best contenders from IndyCar for these categories but then I want to hear what you think! Did I get it right? Am I way off? Who are YOUR picks and why? Make sure you reach out to me on Twitter or right here on More Than a Fan: Wheels, through the comments section below. Let’s get a discussion going and hash it out… with or without the actual hashtags… your call! Here we go…

2013 Road Racer of the Year

James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon are the two drivers I see being most reasonably in contention for this title, from the IndyCar series. The first reason being that of the entire 2013 field, these two landed on the podium the most times and with the highest percentage of those podium visits being at the very top with a victory. Hinch found himself on those steps 3 times this season for road races, taking the P1 spot in both St. Pete’s (his first IndyCar career win) to kick off the season and again in Sao Paolo, Brazil where he led only the last lap. In this writer’s opinion, he took the checkered in one of the greatest IndyCar passes in history, hugging the wall and making his way past Sato in the very last turn and grabbing the victory in stunning fashion. That’s a finish I won’t forget for a long time… how about you?

Scott Dixon had just as impressive a season on the road courses and street circuits – landing himself on the podium four times with half of those being at the very top of the steps. His style in winning was just as noteworthy as Hinchcliffe’s – taking the win in both races of the doubleheader in Toronto (ironically, Hinch’s home track) which created a 3-race winning streak for him, having won at Pocono the weekend prior. While Pocono is obviously not taken into account for the Road Racer noms, it must be acknowledged since it was the first in Dixon’s back-to-back-to-back victories in 2013. Three IndyCar race wins in 8 calendar days is not a stat that many drivers can claim.

2013 Oval Racer of the Year

The IndyCar drivers I would nominate for this award would have to be Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Both of these drivers ended this season with matching numbers for oval tracks – four podiums including one win a piece. While their consistency and “luck” seemed to be just about on par with one another for the entire season, there are things that separate these two. Ryan was coming into this season as the reigning IndyCar Series Champion and while he did not find himself in contention at the end, his passion and drive never ceased, he constantly strives to be the best at what he does, showing emotion and his “human-side” while still maintaining composure and professionalism which is certainly commendable.

Tony, also a very stand up guy tends to tune in more to his good-natured joking in times of stress or bad luck, as it were. This is noticed and related to by a very large majority of the IndyCar audience. Perhaps that is why it is no wonder why just about everyone was ecstatic when TK finally got to sip that milk in victory circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May. As previously mentioned, while the stats for ovals ended up tied for Tony and Ryan… the magnitude of Tony’s singular win this season at the immortal Yard of Bricks brings so much excitement back into our minds, so many smiles to our faces and the memory of that moment has been forever etched into our minds. Tony’s win was the fan’s win as well – it’s one of the only Indy’s I can remember where, even if your favorite driver didn’t win, you were still extremely excited that Tony did. I mean look at him… how could you be upset?!?

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2013 Racer Rookie of the Year

There are really only two IndyCar nominees for this category – Tristan Vautier & Carlos Munoz. While Tristan was the only full-season rookie in IndyCar for the 2013 season, it can be argued that Munoz made the bigger impact. Vautier is the quieter driver – personally & professionally. While he remained relatively consistent throughout the season, this safer route led to lower finishes in the pack, only skimming his way into the Top 10 once – at Barber in the second race of the season.

Munoz however… is anything but quiet. Rarely does a driver make 3 appearances in the course of an entire season and yet still make himself a household name. That’s quite a feat! I will never forget when this fresh-faced rookie was interviewed after his first IndyCar Series race. First of all, it’s worth noting that his first time racing competitively in a DW12 was at the legendary Indianapolis 500. After qualifying on the front row in P2, he finished in the same place, earning a podium on his first attempt at the cruel-mistress-of-a-track, standing with the likes of Tony Kanaan (the 2013 Indy 500 Champ) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (the reigning IndyCar Series Champion)! The interview I mentioned was one of a very cool, calm and collected Munoz, expressing to the media his disappointment in himself for not winning when he was so close and nearly had the opportunity. At first I thought this was a pretty arrogant comment for a first time IndyCar driver to make… he should be thankful that he was offered a ride at this track for THIS race and should be nothing but proud of the drive he made that day. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized – he’s a racecar driver, they (for the most part) are meticulous to a fault, they rip apart the drive they completed even when they are the victor, there is never complacency in racing… only room for improvement. That’s not to say that these men & women shouldn’t enjoy the moment and revel in the opportunities that they are given, but I can understand why Carlos said what he said now, and in all honesty, I respect him for it. Challenging yourself and never being satisfied with the status quo is what drives us all to be better versions of ourselves… and Munoz continued to prove that point at the finale in Fontana. His aggressive driving eventually led him to finish the race in 23rd place, but WOW… his maneuverability skills for fighting his way through the field was finely noted and if he was treating that California course as his audition stage, it certainly worked… he recently signed on as a full-season driver with Andretti Autosports for the 2014 season.

2013 Racer of the Year

This one was tough but I narrowed it down to four drivers from IndyCar who I think should be considered for this title. James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay & Scott Dixon. Breaking it down by the numbers is a good place to start and for you to see a portion of the method to my madness. In the 2013 IndyCar season, my Racer of the Year nominees finished up with results that looked a little like this:

  • Hinchcliffe: 4 podiums including 3 wins – For the season, he holds the highest percentage of wins when capturing a podium spot
  • Castroneves: 5 podiums including 1 win – Completed every lap in the season up until the last couple of races and stayed in contention for the Championship up until the very end of the finale race in Fontana
  • Hunter-Reay: 6 podiums including 2 wins – Most podiums of any IndyCar driver in 2013
  • Scott Dixon: 5 podiums including 3 wins – Ended up clinching the 2013 Championship as the points leader

Let me know what you think of these results, my “nominees” and how heavily the stats weigh into your decision on who should receive the title of 2013 Racer of the Year! Obviously, I am only making the argument for IndyCar drivers, as I do not follow the other series religiously. I’d love to get your feedback & opinions from across the board though, so let’s hear it!

And of course, be sure to really make your opinion count by voting on RACER.com! Polls are open until Midnight on January 6th, 2014… winners will be announced in the Spring 2014 Racer Magazine as well as online.