Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Columbus, Ohio USA
Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing
Considering that he's only 22 years old, it's amazing to think that 2011 marked Graham Rahal's fourth full season in IndyCar (and that on top of a further season spent in the Champ Car Series in 2007.) But then, Rahal practically has race fuel pumping through his veins, thanks to his upbringing around the top circuits of the US and around the world, as the son of the legendary driver Bobby Rahal.
This year it was the son's turn to shine, thanks to a full-season seat with one of IndyCar's biggest and most formidable teams - Chip Ganassi Racing. He's clearly relished the opportunity that the superior team infrastructure and equipment has given him, but it would be fair to say that he hasn't entirely made the best of those this season with a disappointing number of finishes outside the top ten.
There have certainly been some high points: any doubts about his road course skills were banished when he achieved a fine second place in atrocious wet conditions in Sao Paulo, and he followed this up with a strong third place (behind Dan Wheldon and JR Hildebrand) at the centennial Indianapolis 500 in May. After that, his best result for the remainder of the season was a second place on the Milwaukee Mile.
But at times he seemed to be struggling with the idea that he was in a "support role" position to the star Ganassi drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and less than thrilled to be expected to defer to them and help them in their championship rather than necessarily being able to race for himself. Whether that's the case or not, it's an issue that the team will want to get resolved over the close season so that Rahal can concentrate on properly mixing it up with the top drivers in 2012.
Perhaps Rahal's finest moment this year came after the final race of the season and the tragic accident that claimed the life of Wheldon. Rahal's casual tweet about possibly auctioning off some of his sporting memorabilia to raise money sparked a huge global auction on behalf of the Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund and saw Rahal leading the way as it gathered momentum. For this alone, Rahal deserves kudos and a hefty bonus of extra "impressed" points from us all.
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand