Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Sausalito, Calif. USA
Our rundown of the Top 10 IndyCar Drivers of 2011 as decided by the votes of Crash.net
readers starts with a bang with the driver who so very nearly won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 race - only to spectacularly lose it on the very last corner.
It's one of the iconic moments of the entire IndyCar season: JR Hildebrand running well out in front, no one close to him and only one bit of slow lapped traffic (Charlie Kimball) to navigate around. Hildebrand played safe and gave Kimball a lot of room ... and in doing so, drifted too high up the track into turn 4 and out onto the marbles. After that, it was a one-way trip into the wall. Despite the shock of the moment, Hildebrand still had the presence of mind to keep his foot on the throttle and keep the wreck moving over the finish line, but by then he'd been overtaken by Dan Wheldon and had to settle for the runners-up spot.
Given what we now know of how the season ended, you could almost believe that it was the hand of fate intervening to give Wheldon his second Indy 500 victory. But what a crushing blow for JR, the sort of cruel twist that can easily overshadow an entire career if you're not careful, and he did well to recover himself and carry on after such heartbreak.
But even so, the rest of Hildebrand's season didn't exactly go to plan: a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee sustained during a media appearance for corporate sponsor shortly after Indianapolis plagued him for the rest of the season until he could get it seen to by surgery. And he would end up losing out to James Hinchcliffe by just 6pts for the title of Rookie of the Year after he himself was one of those to be hospitalised following the dreadful events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the final race of the season in October.
Still, it's been an impressive début year for the Californian - and no wonder that his team have exercised their two-year option to make sure he stays with them through to 2013. There's every chance that over that time he could prove to be one of the new stars of the future for IndyCar, and it should be fascinating to see how he grows in ability and confidence.