Here on the 30 in 30, part of the plan was to share some projects that never quite made the light of day. In this case, applying the principles of FIFA and Madden’s “Ultimate Team” modes to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. I was going to make videos explaining this and showing off some of the cards, but sadly, I lacked the Photoshop/graphic design skills to pull this off. But I thought I’d share the script anyway so you can get a look at the concept! Enjoy, and see you back here tomorrow!

Well, this I thought would be fun. I’m a massive gamer in my free time, and I end up playing a ton of EA’s sports games. They often have rating systems for stats between 1-99. So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to apply some of that logic to racing game series? And this, this column was born!

So, why not start out with the spec Verizon IndyCar Series. And with most teams being equal in terms of performance (With Chevrolet having a slight edge all-round), the driver makes more of a difference, especially given the season calendar has a nice balance of road courses, street courses and ovals, so a great all-rounder stands out that much more! Remember, 1-99 is the scale here, and I’m taking a lot of these elements into account:

  • Road Course/Street Course/Oval Performances
  • Emphasis on the 2016 formbook with minor factoring in of previous accomplishment
  • Intangibles (Like Scott Dixon’s fuel saving, or Graham Rahal’s “Americana”.

Team Penske

#22 – Simon Pagenaud (2016 Series Champion – 5 wins, 7 pole Positions, 659 Points)

Let’s be real here. When Roger Penske said: “I’m firing my lowest performing driver next year” at the end of 2015, he was blatantly talking about Simon Pagenaud, who finished 11th overall last year, but dominated in 2016 to win the title by a whopping 127 points, including winning three on the bounce at Long Beach, Alabama and the Road Course of Indianapolis.

Now, I’m not going to immediately slot Pagenaud in at the top slot. I’d like to see if next year if he can continue his reign of terror. While his oval speed has definitely improved, a poor Indy 500 week and a silly crash at Pocono made the title a little closer than it needed to be down the stretch, but that demonic pace on street and road courses has to stick him right in the Top 3. I said on #Motorsport101 that if Simon could find an extra 10%, he’d be right there… Turns out, he did.

Overall Rating: 92 (95 Series Champion Card)

#12 – Will Power (2016 Ranking – 2nd, 4 wins, 2 Pole Positions, 532 Points)

Even with the horrendous bit of luck that Power had at this season’s finale at Sonoma, for me, Will Power is the fastest man in the sport for raw speed. Which kind of puts Simon Pagenaud’s season into even greater context when you consider he only had 2 Poles to Simon’s SEVEN. What stood for Power in 2016 was his resilience. He missed the opening round due to an ear infection but battled back hard to go on a tear in the middle of the season; including wins at Detroit, Road America, Toronto and Pocono.

Sadly, he only ever really had an outside chance at the end given he was taken out by Charlie Kimball at Watkins Glen and then a freak engine failure at Sonoma making the title gap WAY bigger than Will deserved. But this was another top tier season for Will, the 7th straight year he’s finished in the Top 4 overall, with only Scott Dixon having that level of consistency, and even, I think Will has him beat for sheer raw speed. Power is still one of the poster boys of the series for good reason.

Overall Rating: 93

#3 – Helio Castroneves (2016 Standing – 3rd, 2 Pole Positions, 504 Points)

Would you believe me if I told you it’s now been nearly 2 and a half years since Helio last won a race? You’d have to go back to June 1st, 2014 and his Race 2 win in Detroit for the last time Helio saw the chequered first – A run that’s included 7 second places. Poor Helio.

But despite the great hair, and lack of wins, Helio is still here, being a consistent supporting driver to the Penske effort, even if his ultimate pace in races may not be what it once was. But even if that’s true, the 41-year old Brazilian is still a top contender, and it’s hard to scoff at a guy who finished half the races this season in the Top 5. The biggest issue for me though, was his below par oval results, only finishing in the Top 10 once this year. And given Helio is desperate for Milk Jug #4, that may not be a good sign going forward.

But he still has magnificent hair.

Overall Rating: 90

#2 Juan Pablo Montoya (2016 Standing – 8th, 1 win, 433 points)

Monty started the year how he did in 2015, on top, with that brilliant St. Petersberg win… But it all kinda went downhill from there as Monty was never quite able to replicate the form that only just made him miss out on the title last year on countback.

Only 2 other podium finished this season, and no matter how you slice it, tying with the guy we’ve often nicknamed on the Podcast – “Slightly Above average” Charlie Kimball is never a good look. So much so, it cost him his seat at Penske, with Roger wanting a new exciting model in Josef Newgarden.

Now, Montoya is still an awesome talent who can drive anything and I’m sure he’ll be back next year, but his top flight days may be over, especially given he just turned 41 next month. Could next season be the one where the wheels REALLY fall off? I hope not, for the sake of our own entertainment! Please, let us not forget he nearly did the unthinkable and lead the 2015 title campaign from start to finish just 12 months ago. At Age 40.

Overall Rating: 88

Chip Ganassi Racing

#9 – Scott Dixon (2016 Ranking – 6th: 2 wins, 2 poles, 477 points)

Would you believe that this was the first time since 2006 that Scott Dixon finished outside of the Top 3 in the Championship? A decade of consistent brilliance from the Kiwi, and he just wasn’t quite his usual supreme self this season. Now, to be fair, if a few incidents had gone his way, his season could have been a hell of a lot brighter. The Carpenter Clash in Texas. The engine failure at Road America. The narrow “pit exit” controversy at Long Beach. The race win cruelly taken away from him at Toronto. When his wife Emma goes FULL Ayesha Curry and declares the series rigged, and he absolutely shits the bed at Mid-Ohio, his most dominant course, you just knew it wasn’t his year.

But hey, a 16 second win at Watkins Glen was vintage Dixon at his very best. When he’s at 100%, he is absolutely untouchable in the series, and I consider 2016 to be an unfortunate blip for the man who I feel, is probably the best pound-for-pound driver in the series, and one of the very best in the world, period.

Overall Rating: 93

#10 – Tony Kaanan (2016 Ranking – 7th, 461 Points)

Okay, gonna be real here, if you told me in March that TK would only finish 16 points off his teammate, I’d have laughed at you. But this was without a doubt, TK’s strongest year since having Dixie as his target. In the second half of the season, only title rivals Pagenaud and Power out-scored the Brazilian, who finished in the Top 5 on 5 occasions, including a Road America showdown he was very unlucky to lose against the aforementioned Aussie, and the 3rd in that unreal finish at Texas.

Tony’s now in a similar boat to Helio and Monty. Solid all-rounder, but now winless since Fontana 2014 and at he’ll be 42 on New Year’s Eve, it makes you wonder just how long TK feels he has left. But if this season was anything to go buy, the “Iron Man” of IndyCar still has a bit of fire left to give.

Overall Rating: 86

#83 – Charlie Kimball (2016 Ranking – 9th, 433 Points)

Can’t lie to you folks, Charlie Kimball was pretty darn good this season, as much as my jokes on the Podcast calling him “Slightly above average”. I have now since upgraded him to “Decent”. This was Kimball’s best IndyCar season to date, and he reminded me a lot of Marco Andretti last year. Maybe not as high an upside on the finishes, but he showed excellent consistency, finishing with 11 finishes out of 16 in the Top 10, with 5th places at Indianapolis and another strong 500 showing.

He still has a couple of silly moments in him, like the Power incident at Watkins Glen, but the #83 just went about its business all season long and didn’t really do much wrong this season. Maybe next year Charlie can really build and challenge for more podiums like he did at Indy, and in 2015.

Overall Rating: 84

#8 – Max Chilton (Rookie) (2016 Ranking, 19th – 267 Points)

A baptism of fire for Max Chilton in his rookie season, but really, not a bad first season. He survived the bitchfest that was Graham Rahal to finish 7th in Phoenix, and had another Top 10 finish at Watkins Glen. And to be honest, Chilton really didn’t do much wrong in his first season otherwise. It’s always hard to get a grasp on a newcomer into the series, and look forward to seeing how Chilton adapts and grows in Year 2.

Overall Rating: 78

Andretti Autosport

#26 – Carlos Munoz (2016 Ranking – 10th, 1 pole, 432 Points)

Y’know who Munoz reminds me of? Sergio Perez in F1. Same number of senior podiums too, with 7. Seemingly has a knack sometimes of being in the right place at the right time, and this was another very solid season for the 24-year old Colombian. And who’d have thought he’d finish as Top Andretti this season?

In only his third full season with the outfit, he finished agonizingly close to the 500 again, had a pole position in Texas, and showed his oval speed can be up there with anyone in the series. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that his spot in the team is at risk due to his Dad pulling his sponsorship, because the man may be your best shot of a 500 win if you’re a top-team right now. And that in itself is valuable. His upside is immense, I just hope he can start to get that consistency up, and has less days like St. Pete at the start of this season.

Overall Rating: 85

#27 – Marco Andretti (2016 Ranking – 16th, 339 Points)

Where did it all go belly-up for Marco this season? After a solid 2015 campaign where his consistency was the best in the field, this year Marco has really struggled. For perspective, Marco was 5th worst of all the full-timers in the series, and two of those below him were Rookies. His best finish was 8th at Sonoma to close out a pretty miserable season.

Marco may have to count his blessings he’s with his Dad on the team, otherwise he may have lost his job by now. There’s no excuses for 16th overall in your 11th season, especially when a lot of his potential has failed to materialize, even more so when you consider he’ll be 30 when next season rolls around. The talk of the switch to the Herta car never came to fruition, but that may be for the best for Marco, because the talk became clear this season that many in the series are starting to run out of patience.

Overall Rating: 81

#28 – Ryan Hunter-Reay (2016 Ranking – 12th, 428 Points)

Captain America had a poor, yet somewhat weird season too, by his standards. No-one in the series scored more points on ovals this season, and on track, it LOOKED like he was demonic out there. His performance to come back at Pocono from the back, to a lap down, back to 3rd again, was as good as anyone’s in the series this year. His restarts on green flags? Ridiculous. Should have been right up there during the 500 too before he was tagged by teammate Townsend Bell. But his road/street form this year was almost non-existent, probably the biggest victim of Honda’s struggles.

It’s hard to score Hunter-Reay. I agree with Paul Tracy, he’s an elite driver now. He can win every given race, and has won everything you can win in the series. The problem is now, we have to evaluate him in the context of the elite in the field, and RHR just wasn’t on that level this year, and other drivers in the field, at least to me, have been torched for far less. But on his day, MAN… He can destroy people. Looking forward to seeing him hopefully bounce back.

Overall Rating: 89 (91 Rated “AJ Foyt Award” Card)

#98 – Alexander Rossi (2016 Ranking: 11th, Indy 500 Champion, Rookie Of The Year, 430 Points)

Wow. All I can say off the bat here is, Formula 1’s loss, is America’s gain. What an incredible Rookie season for Alex Rossi. The greatest compliment I can give to the young American is, he drove like he’d already been here 4 or 5 years. He was brave, he was bold, he stood up to experienced racers like Tony Kanaan and reaped the eventual rewards. Oh, and he won some race in May. It helps.

And with a 3 year extension in his back pocket, he’s here to stay. I’m more excited to see this man’s development in the series more than anyone else in the field. He’s already an upper-midfielder, and he belongs, right here. Long may his rise to the top continue, as arguably, a Top 3 open wheel American, and he’s exactly what the series needed.

Overall Rating: 84 (87 Rookie of the Year Card, 90 Indy 500 Winner Card)

Schmidt Peterson Motorsport

#5 – James Hinchcliffe (2016 Ranking – 13th, Indy 500 Pole Sitter, 416 Points)

It’s been an incredible 2016 for Hinch but not in the ways you may expect. And for me, in a similar case to RHR, the results don’t quite tell the full story, as for me, this was Hinch’s strongest season yet. The miracle pole at the Indy 500 was an incredible thing to watch a year on from his near fatal accident, as well as three other strong podiums in Toronto, Indianapolis and that heartbreaking 2nd by 0.008 of a second to Graham Rahal in that sensational Texas finish. Much better qualifier too, often ending up as top Honda. Yet, it still feels kinda harsh to say he finished 13th overall, and he had some pretty rotten luck. Losing half his Texas points because of the Domed skid. The 2nd he lost out on in Watkins Glen because he was half a tank short on fuel, and being taken out of Detroit.

It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, but The Mayor of Hinchtown’s return has been a shot in the arm for SPM, and the series as a whole, and I think he has a solid foundation to build on for 2017.

Overall Rating: 86 (89 Indy 500 Pole Sitter Card)

#7 – Mikael Aleshin (2016 Ranking – 15th, 1 pole, 347 points)

Mikael had a frosty return to the series, pissing off Sebastian Bourdais to the point which he said: “This is not going to be a bloody repeat of two years ago”, a sad reference to his horrific crash in 2014. But a 5th placed finish on his full-time was a good place to start for the Mad Russian. His first half of the season was pretty awful, but he really shone in the 2nd half, his first career pole position in Pocono, a race he’d later finish 2nd in, as well as the highlighted unfortunate victim in the pits at Mid-Ohio, where he was almost nailed on for at least a podium there.

Mikael for me, has earned his spot, and I think he has way more ultimate pace in him than James Jakes ever showed, and the new up and coming fan favourite is taking steps in the right direction, I just hope like his teammate, he can build for next season.

Overall Rating: 83

Rahal Lannigan Letterman Racing / Ed Carpenter Racing

#15 – Graham Rahal (2016 Ranking – 5th, 1 win, 484 Points)

The fiery Ohio native had a very consolidating season to back up 2015, where he very nearly won the Championship as an independent, before the French armada of Vautier and Bourdais put that dream to bed. But with back to back years as top Honda in the Championship, I think it’s fair to say that Graham Rahal has now truly become an elite driver in the series, a guy who can win any given race on any given day, and not to mention, one of the most aggressive and fastest drivers in the field, oval, road or street circuit. And he’s still one of the younger drivers in the field at 27!

Count em’ – 8 times he finished in the Top 5 this season, including 4 podiums and that legendary fist pumping win at Texas. The sky is the limit for Graham and it’s all the more impressive when you consider he’s pretty much on his own out there. He’s going to be a perennial contender for years to come. How did this guy go 126 races without winning again?

Overall Rating: 88 (90 Special Top Honda card)

#16/20 – Spencer Pigot (2016 Ranking – 21st, 165 Points)

It’s been a baptism of fire for the 2015 Indy Lights Champion. But I think in the long run, he’ll have benefitted from it. He was in a difficult situation with RLL for his compulsory 3 drives, a team where you were pretty much expected to roll over for Graham, but Ed Carpenter sat him in the 20 car for 7 rounds of the season, and had a couple of flashes of brilliance, his 7th at Mid-Ohio and 9th at Road America being the standouts.

I hope Spencer returns, it would be very harsh if he isn’t back for 2017, as he was solid on occasions, but it’s a cruel sport out there at the best of times and I think he was just starting to get into it towards the end of the season.

Overall Rating: 79

#21 – Josef Newgarden (2016 Ranking – 4th, 1 win, 502 Points)

I have no problem saying this right here and now – Josef Newgarden is the future of the Verizon IndyCar Series. He was my breakout star of the year in 2015, and has followed it up with another awesome season, one where he had to battle through adversity in the second half after that brutal broken collarbone and wrist he suffered in Texas. And despite that, he had THE best drive of the year, leading 282 out of 300 laps to win in Iowa, a series record, while lapping half the field. He is ridiculous at his very best.

For the second year running, he’s been fast, right up there, and ultra consistent in all three forms of the series, and had his best 500 finish too this year, in 3rd. And now he’s at Team Penske. That’s a terrifying thought for the series going forward, that Roger already thinks he’s better than Montoya, one of the most versatile drivers of this generation. He was a little below par on the streets this year, but if he can string just a little bit more, he’ll truly be in title contention again. Look out folks, this man is a star.

Overall Rating: 89 (92 Record Breaker Card for Iowa)

AJ Foyt Racing

#41 – Jack Hawksworth (2016 Ranking – 20th, 229 points)

Jack has the unfortunate distinction of being the lowest ranked regular season driver, and sadly he also went full Esteban Gutierrez, failing to finish a single race inside the Top 10. Jack’s gone on the record talking about how frustrating his time was with the team, and while Foyt was no race winner this year, even Sato managed multiple good finishes. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you complain when you’ve had little good to speak about in your IndyCar career to date. Another ugly British exit for the series.

Overall Rating: 77

#14 – Takuma Sato (2016 Ranking – 17th, 320 points)

“Not Now Sato” is somewhere in No-Man’s Land here. Thoroughly beat his teammate, and even had three Top 6 finishes in St. Pete, Long Beach and Toronto. But it’s another case of the lack of consistency dragging him down the board, 4th from last of the full-time runners. A year where Sato didn’t really do much wrong, but there wasn’t a massive amount of “right” either, especially for someone expected to spearhead the team.

Overall Rating: 81


#11 – Sebastien Bourdais (2016 Ranking – 14th, 1 win, 404 Points)

As KV Racing seemed to fall apart at the seems in 2016, Sebastien was the glue that held it altogether, as he carried the team to a solid season all things considered. Heck of a Detroit win too. Seb for me, still stands as one of the guys who can win any given race when the cards fall in his favour, and with a rumoured Dale Coyne Racing move on the cards, maybe the better resources can make Seb a true team ladder again that can pull DCR up the rankings. The fact he finished in the Top 10 ELEVEN times last season was very, very impressive.

Overall Rating: 85 (86 Detroit Winner Card)

Oh yeah, and Conor Daly gets a 99. Because Conor Daly. That is all.