The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season is completed, and among the top 10 drivers in the championship race was one French rookie with an impressive open-wheel background. Further back in the standings sat four other rookie contenders who endured much more trying seasons in the series. Here's a look at the 2012 rookie class in the IndyCar Series.
Simon Pagenaud - Pagenaud finished fifth in IndyCar points, ahead of names like Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan to name a few. His statistics were quite impressive for a rookie: nine top 10 finishes, including six in the top five, and 63 laps led; he was running at the finish of all but one 2012 race, and finished 16th at the Indy 500. The Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports driver got his start as many young drivers do today, in go-karts, then progressed to the Formula Renault Series before moving to the Champ Car Atlantic Series in 2006. Following 2007, which he spent in the Champ Car World Series, Pagenaud moved on to the American Le Mans Series, where he won the 2010 LMP championship with teammate David Brabham.
Josef Newgarden - Newgarden, the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champ, finished 23rd in points after missing a start due to injury. Newgarden's first season was a trying one for both him and team owner Sarah Fisher, who was putting together the team's first full-time run in the IndyCar Series. The 21-year-old driver had a season-best finish of 11th in the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, and a 25th-place finish in his first Indianapolis 500. Newgarden has raced in a number of series, including the Skip Barber Series and Formula Ford.
Katherine Legge - Legge, 26th in points, was one of three women competing in the series this season, but her dreams of a full-time season went south with the Lotus engine problems early in the season: her team, Dragon Racing, switched to Chevrolet engines, but could only get one lease agreement for the two-car team; Legge and her teammate, Sebastien Bourdais, split the season after the Indy 500, with Legge driving the oval track races and the Sonoma road course. On ovals, Legge's performance improved throughout the season, with a season-best ninth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, California in the series' finale. In 2005, Legge was the first woman to win a Toyota Atlantic Championship race, and the following year became the first woman to complete a full-time schedule in Champ Car.
Bryan Clauson - Clauson ran just one race in 2012, the Indy 500, for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, finishing 30th. Clauson's background, much like his team owner Fisher, is in USAC Midgets: he is a two-time National Midget Series champ (2010 and 2011) and also a two-time winner of the famed Turkey Night Grand Prix (2009 and 2010). Clauson has also raced in NASCAR's Nationwide Series, with one pole and two top 10 finishes on his resume.
Jean Alesi - Alesi also ran only the Indy 500, finishing 33rd with the Lotus engine program. Alesi is no stranger to auto racing, however: the 48-year-old French driver is a 13-year veteran of the Formula 1 circuit, with one win and 32 podium finishes to his credit.
Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.
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