There have been many stories over the years and especially recently as to why there aren't more American drivers in IndyCar. Whether they represent the future or not, the present looks mighty good for American-born drivers in the only professional open wheel series based in North America.
Ryan & Ed
Ed Carpenter once again won the final race of the season - he was victorious at Kentucky last season - winning the Fontana finale, which is now Carpenter's second IndyCar win of his career. Carpenter won last year driving for Sarah Fisher but this year he started his own brand new team, bringing on Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka as a sponsor. Carpenter had three Top 10s this season - all on ovals.
But the more important story for American open wheel racing is Ryan Hunter-Reay and his gritty performance. Hunter-Reay had never finished in the top five in points let alone win a championship. He entered this year with only three IndyCar victories and two ChampCar wins over the course of eight seasons and had never won more than a single race in any one year. That changed in 2012.
He started his third season with Andretti Autosport, finally finding stability after a career that saw Hunter-Reay move from car to car. 2012 started okay with three Top 10s in the first four events but a 27th at Indy and two weeks later a 21st made this year seem like all the rest. But that quickly changed.
A week later at the Milwaukee Mile, Hunter-Reay qualified second and led the most laps while winning the race. The next week saw him win under caution at Iowa. Then two weeks later he led the most laps and was victorious in Toronto. Three wins in-a-row saw Hunter-Reay go from seventh to first in points - now he was a title contender. But less than stellar finishes at the next three races saw him fall and Will Power took a commanding lead in the points.
But a little rain thrown into the mix helped him win Baltimore and Hunter-Reay had drawn within 17 points of Will Power, who was first in the standings. Then Power crashed at Fontana. However, perseverance once again was Hunter-Reay's weapon and though he languished in the middle of the pack early on, he charged to the front when it mattered, finishing fourth and sewing up the championship by a mere three points.
So the 2012 IZOD IndyCar season ended with two Americans winning. Hunter-Reay is the first American to win the IndyCar title since Sam Hornish Jr. did it in 2006. Both Carpenter and Hunter-Reay are 31 so they still have some years left in their careers. But, are there any more young home-grown talents coming up through the ranks?
The young sons of famous drivers like Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are 23 and 25 respectively and at times have shown flashes of brilliance. J.R. Hildebrand had a heartbreaking crash in the final turn of the Indy 500 or he would have won the race last year. The 24 year old Hildebrand finished 11th in the point standings this season. 27 year old Charlie Kimball grabbed a podium in 2012 and rookie Josef Newgarden won Indy Lights in 2011 when he was only 20.
But the 2012 season belongs to Ryan Hunter-Reay who brought the stars and stripes back to IndyCar.
Sources - IndyCar, Racing Reference
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.