Friday, March 2, 2012

The 2012 IndyCar Rookies: Who's Best?

When defending F1 champion Nigel Mansell came to CART in 1993, he was considered a rookie. According to Racer Magazine yesterday, Rubens Barrichello will spared that designation as he makes his transition to the IZOD IndyCar Series. That leaves Katherine Legge, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud as the apparent Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates.

(Note: There are a couple drivers, such as Luca Filippi and Pippa Mann, who may be doing "late start" sort of seasons, or might still have news for us yet down the road. We won't concentrate on them here right now, but can always come back when those scenarios play out, as we hope they do).

Last year's battle for ROY honors was a tight one, with James Hinchcliffe edging out JR Hildebrand for those honors. Is it possible we'll see something similar this year? I originally took a look at the potential rookie class back in November, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Looking at the 3 full-time rookies we know of, each of them could have their own challenges that might make this battle difficult to predict:

Is Pags our top ROY prospect?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
It seems offhand as if Simon Pagenaud will be the front-runner. He performed well in his limited opportunities last year, and the former Champ Car Atlantic and ALMS champ has been a highly regarding prospect and Honda favorite for a few years now. He'll be with the Honda-affiliated Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and may have a part-time teammate at some point during the season. I still like him as an early favorite, but with the reported blown engine issues Honda has had so far, will they be stable enough for him be tops of the rookie class?

Josef Newgarden's season was still in question until very recently; however, with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing securing a Honda engine and stating they will be running a full season, it looks like all system are a go for the '11 Firestone Indy Lights champ's rookie campaign. Newgarden was very sharp in Lights last year, and he's got the poise about him of a driver 10 years senior to his actual 21 years of age. All eyes will be on his team performs on the road/street portion of the schedule; if they look reasonably improved there, it could boost his chances of garnering those rookie accolades.

Katherine Legge raced in American open wheel since the 2007 Champ Car season, but no one is quite sure how her season will end up. As a driver of the #6 TrueCar entry for Lotus Dragon Racing, there's a pretty big question mark where that team and engine performance is concerned, even with the accomplished Sebastien Bourdais as a teammate. It sounds crazy to say a driver with her background both in and out of open wheel racing is the biggest enigma on this list, but it's true nonetheless.

Right now, I'd have to say my pick is Pagenaud, but I'm not ready to discount just about anything happening, given the unknown factors that we know will show up this year. If Newgarden wins, it would be a wonderful accomplishment for SFHR, and a good year from Legge could answer a lot of questions about where she is after a half-decade away from the sport.

So, I put it to you as a question going into the weekend: which driver will be the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year?

1 comment:

  1. I still think Newgarden has some surprises for people. I have no clue how Legge will do. She seems nice enough, but I'm just not sure how her skillset will translate at, say, Indy or Fontana.