Heading into this weekend’s activity at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship is not the only honor up for grabs. The Rookie of the Year fight is still alive and comes down to Alex Lloyd, the British driver of the #19 Boy Scout of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, and Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, piloting the #78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing machine.
Coming into the 2010 campaign, many experts had already handed the Rookie of the Year honors to KV Racing Technology driver Takuma Sato. With his experience in Formula 1 and the advancements made by KVRT in 2009, it seemed likely that Sato would easily outperform the other rookies in the field, all of whom were considered too inexperienced and too underbudgeted to compete against the likes of a well-funded Sato effort. However, after 18 on-track incidents during the season, at least eight of which resulted in substantial carnage, Sato’s miserable season has been well-documented and he enters the season finale 46 points behind Lloyd and out of the hunt.
Alex Lloyd goes into the Cafés do Brasil Indy 300 with an 18-point advantage over de Silvestro and realistically should have little difficulty wrapping up Rookie of the Year honors with only a satisfactory race performance this weekend. As long as Lloyd starts the race and assuming he were to finish in last place, de Silvestro will need to finish sixth or higher to earn the rookie honors. de Silvestro’s best finish this season came at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where she came home ninth. However, her best oval finish was 14th at the Indianapolis 500, and the likelihood of her finishing in the top five seems remote at best.
Lloyd, the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion who had three career IndyCar starts prior to this season, had a difficult start to the year, finishing no higher than 18th in any of the first five races. However, after his stellar fourth-place run at Indianapolis, Lloyd backed up his effort with another top-10 finish at Texas. Since then, the road has been more difficult for Lloyd and his BSA/DCR team. A trio of top-15 finishes, buoyed by a 10th place run at Infineon Raceway, has been the best the group has been able to muster. To his credit, only three times since Texas has Lloyd finished in a worse position than he started. The team has admitted that getting a handle on the car during practice and qualifying has been difficult for them this season. If that team stays together next year, their experience at these tracks should help them improve their qualifying efforts and the results should start to improve even more for Alex.
When de Silvestro tested for HVM Racing in the off-season, veteran race engineer Michael Cannon was quick to praise her skills and speak highly of her ability to not only drive the car but to work with the team to improve the car’s performance. His words were quickly confirmed when Simona turned many heads at the season opener at São Paulo. After leading laps in the middle of the race, Simona soldiered home with a 16th place finish. Since then, though, the results have been difficult to come by, and Simona has managed only a pair of top-10 finishes on the year. The low point of the season came at Texas when a fiery crash (and a terribly botched rescue effort by the Holmatro Safety Team) left her primary race car in ashes and forced the team to resort to a significantly older and heavier chassis. Simona conducted herself admirably in the aftermath of the Texas fiasco and refused to impose further embarrassment to the IICS by making heated public statements. Her easy demeanor and pleasant attitude has made her a fan favorite, and rumors are swirling as to the bright future of the Swiss Miss.
Regardless of the outcome of this season’s Rookie of the Year battle, 2010 has brought many surprises. The IICS community will no doubt be following the future of this year’s entire rookie class as the silly season continues and the field begins to take shape for 2011.