It’s often mentioned that qualifying, especially in road racing, is very important and critical to garnering the most points. Still, an ability to charge through the field and pass people becomes the best asset a driver can have, if they want to improve their chances of winning and/or gaining the most points as possible. That’s where the hard-charger comes in.
Considering the competition gets stiffer every year, being able to work through the field is more important than ever before. IndyCar has a balance of street courses, road courses, large and smaller ovals. Each takes different skill sets but in the end, the drivers that can navigate through large packs, will be the top hard-chargers.
What’s a hard-charger?
But what is a hard-charger? Simply, it’s those drivers who show the most improvement average-wise, from where they qualify to where they eventually finish. So, if a driver qualifies 20th but ends up in the top five that would constitute an excellent hard-charger.
This average doesn’t take into consideration good qualifiers who effectively don’t have to charge through the field because they are already near or at the top. That’s another category we may visit but this is strictly for hard-chargers improving their position from qualifying.
And who are those hard-chargers after five races in 2013? Here they are from fifth to first and note: we’re only considering those who have raced all year. Their average improvement from start to finish is listed at the beginning of each narrative.
Sources IndyCar, Racing Reference
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5. Scott Dixon
4.4 – One of the best drivers in IndyCar, the two-time champion has shown a real knack this year for moving through the field. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has not had a banner year so far but Dixon has been able to improve from his starting position in every event but one. In fact, at the season-opener at St. Pete and later at Long Beach, Scott made up 15 spots from where he started on the grid. That’s amazing considering both are street courses, which are normally the toughest races to pass. Dixon has had several poor starting positions so far this season with his worse career average to date; yet he’s hanging on to the Top 10 in the standings. If and when his team gets their issues worked out, he will be one tough driver to reckon with.
4. Justin Wilson
4.6 – He may be driving for an underfunded team but the veteran certainly isn’t acting like he’s affected by it here in 2013. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Wilson started 14th, dropped to near the back of the pack but managed to work his way all the way up to fifth when the yellow and checkers flew (see related articles). Plus, Wilson has had a very solid year and if not for pushing too hard in Brazil and hitting a tire barrier, he might be in the top three in points. As it is, he sits sixth and if the just concluded Indy 500 is any example, Justin and his Dale Coyne Racing team aren’t going anywhere … except up.
3. Josef Newgarden
5.2: The second-year driver for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing hasn’t had as good a year as the team would have liked – when it comes to qualifying. Newgarden has begun every event this season outside the top 15 with mechanical problems hurting their chances at the St. Pete season-opener and again at Indy this past week. Brazil is where Josef really took over as a hard-charger. Sitting shotgun on the field with the help of cautions, he worked from 25th and last place, all the way to the top five. In fact, he was second late in the race, battling Takuma Sato for the lead before eventually falling back to fifth. The flair for passes seems to be Newgarden’s past, present and future.
2. Marco Andretti
5.6 – The current series points leader appears to have a special year going so far. Andretti was picked by some, including yours truly, to win the Indy 500. Marco seemed poised to possibly win the Indy 500 and he certainly had the car for it but timing helped to deter the young Andretti. However, he is undaunted this year and it looks like he may be the driver to beat in 2013. Marco doesn’t have a win yet this season but two podiums and every finish being seventh or better shows what’s in store for the Andretti Autosport driver. One of those sevenths occurred after he started 25th at Long Beach before charging up the ladder. Always considered a hard-charger, he leaves a little in reserve now, so Marco Andretti may have the entire package to win the championship.
1. Simon Pagenaud
7.6 – Last year’s Rookie of the Year has been rock steady after a poor finish in the season-opener at St. Pete where he ended up a dismal 24th. Since that mechanical issue in Florida, Pagenaud has four straight Top 10s for his Sam Schmidt Motorsports prepared Honda. If you watched any IndyCar races last year and this, you wouldn’t be surprised by Simon appearing at the top of this list. Known as a street and road course expert, he showed at Indianapolis that he can pass with the best of them on ovals too, improving from a 21st starting position and working his way to eighth at the checkers. Unless Pagenaud improves his qualifying, don’t expect him to budge from the top spot among hard-chargers.