Getting To Say "I Told You So"

When I say that I’m not one to gloat or that I don’t enjoy saying “I told you so”; it makes me sound very mature, grounded and responsible. Those that know me know what a shallow and superficial person I really am. They also know that I take great delight in saying “I told you so”.

Many times over the last couple of years, few things have enraged a handful of readers than when I pick up the cause of two drivers that I consider some of the most underrated drivers in open-wheel racing today – Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia. Some of the nicer comments over the last couple of years claimed that I knew nothing about racing or that the sport has surely passed me by. Then there were the more pointed comments that suggested I submit to a mental evaluation.

Bruno Junqueira had an early out in FAZZT Racing’s second car in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and didn’t get to show much of his stuff. But those that were paying attention witnessed him putting that car in the field with literally no practice time. I still say he’s a good driver, and the pairing of Bruno and fellow Brazilian Vitor Meira will be one to watch in May.

But my gloating is actually centered on Oriol Servia. After three races, Servia currently sits in fourth in the points battle. Had he not gotten tied up in Helio’s overly ambitious move at Long Beach, he may even be higher. His pirouette in Turn One to rejoin the field with hardly batting an eye, was either masterful car control or just plain dumb luck.

Whatever the case, I think a large portion of the credit for the turnaround at Newman/Haas has to go to Oriol Servia.

Since the beginning of the season, the resurgence at Newman/Hass Racing has been well-documented and deservedly so. There have been many theories as to why they have rebounded after a couple of dismal years. Some point to the fact that Mike Lanigan is no longer in the picture. He has now teamed up with Bobby Rahal and David Letterman to form Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing. Others site the infusion of cash from Telemundo and Sprott.

Those are plausible theories but I tend to place most of the credit with the presence of driver Oriol Servia. So many times, we look at teams and envision a scenario where a veteran driver is paired with a rookie. When Tony Kanaan lost his ride in October, many thought a combination of Tony Kanaan and JR Hildebrand would be a great duo at Panther. The savvy veteran could get immediate results, while giving the rookie time to process everything and take advantage of the presence of an experienced driver.

Economics rarely allow ideal situations like this to occur. Teams are forced to take big checks from drivers they wouldn’t ordinarily put into their cockpits. In the case of Newman/Haas, however, the right circumstances came together.

James Hinchcliffe has been stunning, for the most part, in his two races for Newman/Haas. Although he made a rookie mistake on the first lap at Barber and was eventually taken out by the EJ Viso incident – he showed quite a bit of skill in his time behind the wheel in Birmingham. At Long Beach, he was nothing short of brilliant. Although he missed the first race, he has to be considered the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

But don’t underestimate the value of the presence of Oriol Servia. Although he garners little fanfare, he has delivered excellent results for every CART/Champ Car/IZOD IndyCar Series team he has driven for over the past eleven seasons. When he first came on the scene with PPI Motorsports in 2000, he was teamed with Christiano da Matta. He scored ten top-ten finishes, including a third place finish at Belle Isle in Detroit.

In those early days, he also drove for Pat Patrick, where he finished seventh in points in 2003, and the perennially under-funded Dale Coyne Racing where he scored a podium finish at Laguna Seca. His break came when he substituted for the aforementioned Bruno Junqueira at Newman/Haas, after Bruno’s season ending injury at Indianapolis. In a substitute role, Servia scored seven podium finishes in eleven starts, including a win. In those eleven races, he also had two fourths and a fifth place finish. Normally, ten top fives, seven podiums and a race win in eleven starts would draw a ton of attention. Servia was shackled with being the teammate to Sebastien Bourdais, who was in the midst of winning four straight championships.

For the next few seasons, Servia bounced between PKV, Forsythe and the newly re-named KV Racing of a now-unified series, then back to Newman/Haas. In that time he delivered many podium finishes and strong consistent results. Servia also delivered one of the more memorable drives of the 2009 Indianapolis 500. While driving for Rahal-Letterman, he drove a car reminiscent of a Dan Gurney livery of the late sixties. He carved his way up through the field, in a year that didn’t see a whole lot of passing at Indy, only to be sidelined by a fuel-pump issue. He finished out the 2009 season with Newman/Haas after Robert Doornbos left the team. After sitting out the 2010 season, Servia finds himself back at Newman/Haas for this season. So far, the results have been impressive.

With so many strong performances and results; oddly enough, Oriol Servia is never recognized for being more than a journeyman driver. I’ve never understood that. Is it because he doesn’t run his mouth or knock drivers out of his way on the track? Anytime I’ve expressed my views on Servia, there are always a few that will vehemently disagree, but never with facts – only raw emotion, along with a few expletives.

If I were ever lucky enough to win the lottery and start my own race team, there are only a handful of drivers that I would go after to build a new team around. Oriol Servia is one of those drivers. I like his low-key style. He doesn’t boast or brag, he just quietly delivers good results.

I think he is perfectly suited for his current role at Newman/Haas. At thirty-six, the bulk of his driving career is behind him. Clearly, the driver of the future at Newman/Haas is James Hinchcliffe. The way he drove at Long Beach, he may possibly be the driver of the present, as well. But the realities of being a rookie will catch up to Hinchcliffe at some point this season. When it does, he can draw on the wealth of experience that Servia brings to the team. In the meantime, Servia will quietly go about his business of bringing home solid finishes for the team – and possibly a race win or two.

Through three races, this season hasn’t developed into the Penske/Ganassi runaway that many predicted. I fully expect one of those two teams to win the championship this season, but the chokehold has already been broken with Mike Conway’s Andretti win at Long Beach. I think another team or two can sneak in and take some wins this season. The way Newman/Haas has performed so far this season; I look for them to be in position to win a couple of races in 2011. If Servia does win this season, just don’t expect him to do a lot of boasting about it. But you can count on me saying “I told you so”.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Getting To Say "I Told You So"”

  1. Travis R Says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have never really paid much attention to Servia until this year. I didn’t know much about him. He has been quite impressive this year, and I do like his easy-going, low key attitude. It’s nice to see Newman-Haas seemingly moving forward this season as a contender again.

  2. So, if Servia was in the #3 Penske car he would be staring at the Borg-Warner Trophy and combing his hair while getting ready for his bas-relief sculpture. Maybe so. Hinchcliff has definitely caught my eye with his driving and attitude, so he might want to clear a spot on his mantle for the “Rookie of the Year Award.”

  3. I was thinking about Servia a while back and realized in a ten year career, I don’t think he has ever had two full consecutive seasons with a single team. That may be part of the problem with his lack of recognition. He is one of those guys that gets results far beyond what is expected of the car. Newman/Haas this year should be an example to every team that is sick of loosing to the big two. You can spend years toiling in the back wasting your ride-buyer’s money, or you bite the bullet and hire the best drivers you can get, put the right team together, and race. If they can afford to keep it together, in a year or two, there will be sponsors all over these two cars, and they will be championship contenders. They were nearly out of business last year. I know it’s easier said than done, but KV are you watching? (I know you made a huge step in the right direction with Kanaan)

    • Uh, oh, I’m ranting. Sorry. Foyt, Panther, KV, D&R, you guys should all be this good. Some of you have longer-term, loyal sponsors. They have to be looking at Servia and Hinchtown right now and questioning that investment. Newman/Haas is embarasing you right now, at least on the roads and streets. Maybe Penske/Ganassi dominance has given you an excuse to be mediocre. Maybe you should rethink some or your goals and expectations. You’re all shooting at being the best of the rest, and NH is not. I think some of that comes from standards set during their heyday. Time to look deep inside and step up mid-packers. I don’t think your excuse is as good as it once seemed.

  4. I remember that whenever a Champ Car team needed a driver RIGHT NOW, they’d hire Servia and he’d put in a good performance with less than a week to prepare. Like TK at St. Pete.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Servia’s career has been one of solid, steady performances. Remember his 1999 Indy Lights championship was won despite no race victories.
    He’s never been a spectacular driver, but he’s become one of the best at putting a car in good spot on the grid, keeping it in one piece, and finishing much higher than he started. Quiet, consistent, and very good… he’s like the Wes Unseld of current IndyCar drivers.

    No one should be selling Newman/Haas short, either. While they aren’t quite the team they were in CART, they still have one of the best staffs in the series. There’s a reason they were the first former ChampCar team to win after reunification and are, thus far, the only former ChampCar team to have won a pole.
    Pairing a team like that with a driver like Wilson, Rahal, or Servia is almost a guaranteed best-of-the-rest trophy, and sometimes a best-of-everybody trophy.

    • Damn! Here, I was going to be a smart guy and get all “remember the 1999 Lights championship!” only to find Mr. Skink beat me to it by a solid hour and change.

      I think that Servia is like the ultimate #2 driver in IndyCar’s history. He isn’t going to win a whole lot of races, but he is going to bring the car home every week at exactly the pace that the car is capable of, while never ever overstepping the car’s boundaries or making stupid mistakes. More often than not, that’s good for a top-10, and a good chunk of the time, that’s good enough for a top-5 or even a podium. If IndyCar had an F1-style teams championship, Oriol’d be the first guy I’d want to lock down, because he’s going to haul home the points every week while the team’s rabbit goes out and tries to knock down all the walls in an attempt to win.

      People will complain, I’m sure, that racing is about winning, and winning alone, and that’s why we shouldn’t like guys like Servia. I’d reply that most of the time, racing is about finishing, and then you worry about winning. Servia is a “finisher”. And a damn good one at that.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    I agree with your opinion of Oriol Servia as a driver George. However, his skilled move at rejoining the field immediately following the Power/HCN dustup at Long Beach came at the expense of Vitor who had to brake hard and downshift to avoid hitting Oriol. It is good to see the resurgence of Newman/Haas.

    Bruno Junqueira’s amazing qualification was one of the highlight’s of last year’s Indy500.

  7. Rick6343 Says:

    Thank you, George, for giving a shout out to two of my favorite under-appreciated open-wheel drivers. Ten years ago Servia caught my eye by peforming consistently well in less-than perfect equipment. My partner in race-watching and I also spent the first half of the ’09 500 cheering on his fantastic drive.
    Bruno had the misfortune of being one of the Guys Who Replaced Montoya and Vasser, then of being Bourdais’ teammate, and finally getting hurt at Indy. He was pulled out of the car he qualified in ’09 in favor of Tagliani, but was rewarded with a ride as Tags’ teammate last year. As you mentioned, I think he turned the 7th-fastest qualifying lap with 7 laps or fewer on track.
    I’m cheering hard for these guys and am glad I’m not alone,

  8. As usual, I’m coming late to the party: 12:50 a.m. Thursday.
    I said previously that I was never a Junqueira fan; I had my favorites, and he always looked distressed and sounded whiny while playing second fiddle in TCGR then N-HR. Nonetheless I could never deny his talent and skill.
    And in his comeback year, reentering the car that Servia had pedaled to second in the championship, Junquiera had the WORST luck. He didn’t have a Cinderella comeback year but was SO snakebit that I felt sorry for him.
    Regarding Servia: I can’t add anything to what y’all have said. I’ve thought that sponsors of KVRT, N-H, or De Ferran/Dragon, ought to want wily veterans such as Wilson, Kanaan, Servia, or Hunter-Reay plus young guns such as Vernay, Hildebrand, or Hinchcliffe.

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