Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Anyone who was being honest at the start of 2011 wouldn't have given Oriol Servia much of a chance of success this year. His team, Newman/Haas Racing, was far from the powerhouse operation that had won championships in the Champ Car World Series; and their decision to return to the veteran Spanish driver with whom they'd had success in 2005 and in four races at the end of 2009 seemed more like a 'play-safe' strategy than one designed to set the racing world alight.
How wrong we would have been, it turned out: Servia's unrelenting consistency and ability to stay out of trouble combined with the teams' reliability meant that Servia had found a place where his raw talent could also shine through. He finished every one of the 17 races of the 2012 season, 11 of them in the top ten for an impressive average finishing position of 8.9.
Servia was in the top five in the points after the first three races, and would stay there for the rest of the year before finally clinching fourth place ahead of more fancied runners such as Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal. And he did it with such deceptive ease: no dramas, just getting the job done.
Adding a win to the year's achievements proved a step too far in a season dominated by the Ganassi/Penske rivalry, but he had his moments: putting the NHR car on the front row for the centennial Indianapolis 500 and then going on to lead 18 laps during the race itself was a definite highlight. And then there was the controversial end to the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Servia surged past Ryan Hunter-Reay as the green flag came out, but the decision from race control was to end the race and declare the positions as they had been before
that final misguided restart attempt. If the call had gone the other way then Servia would have been the winner, but the team lost their appeal and had to settle for second place after all - a feat they then repeated at the maiden Baltimore Grand Prix later in the year.
With things looking so positive for Servia (and for James Hinchcliffe, who clearly benefited from having such an experienced team mate as he himself went on to win the Rookie of the Year title) it couldn't have been a bigger shock post-season when Newman/Haas announced that it was shutting down operations and would not be competing in 2012 because of the economic climate. That means for all his excellent work in 2011, Servia is once again out of a race seat next year. He deserves much, much better - and hopefully his performance this year will persuade another IndyCar team that this is indeed the case.
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
6. Ryan Briscoe
7. James Hinchcliffe
8. Graham Rahal
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand