Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Runner-up in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights series, Canada's James Hinchcliffe got a delayed start to his 2011 IndyCar Series opportunity when he was signed by Newman/Haas only after the first race of the season at St Petersburg had already been run.
He didn't make it to half-race distance in his deferred début at Barber Motorsports Park, but he then finished in fourth place the very next time out at Long Beach and went on to finish in the top ten again in the appalling wet weather conditions in Sao Paulo.
Suddenly, people were paying much closer attention to the Mayor of Hinchtown. There were two more back-to-back top ten finishes mid-season at Milwaukee and Iowa, and two more fourth place finishes at New Hampshire Motorspeedway and Kentucky, as he demonstrated a consistent improvement in performance as the season went on and his confidence and expertise grew.
The Newman/Haas team even managed to scrape together enough sponsorship money to include Hinchcliffe in the long-haul flyaway race to Japan in October after all - it not having been included in the original contract. Motegi wasn't a great result for him in itself, but without it his six point lead over JR Hildebrand in the battle for the Rookie of the Year would have been reversed and he would have ended up losing out for the accolade.
Having had such a good start to his IndyCar career while also establishing himself as a popular member of the IndyCar family, it was devastating to hear that he might now find himself without a seat altogether in 2012 after the news broke about Newman/Haas' exit from the series. Surely someone will recognise his talent and his sheer likeability and ensure that the young Canadian isn't out of work next year?
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
8. Graham Rahal
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand