One of the most frustrating parts of being a fan of a series as deep as Indycar is seeing all the talented, experienced, and proven drivers who are relegated to the sidelines. One of my favorite drivers is Oriol Servia, who recently found himself out of work when Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing ceased operations after Indianapolis-a victim of lack of sponsorship.
While he has filled in part-time after Panther Racing let JR Hildebrand go, I think Oriol deserves a full-time ride in the Indycar series. A look back on his career shows a knack for getting great results even in underdog situations:
He scored podiums and top 5s while driving for PPI Motorsports, Sigma Autosport, and PWR in the hyper-competitive 2000-2002 CART seasons. For the rest of the decade, he was a fixture in the top 5, highlighted in 2005 by a win at Montreal and 2nd place in the championship.
In the 2008 season of the united IRL series, he was again a regular visitor to the top 5 while driving for KV, but was unemployed at the start of 2009. He impressed at Indianapolis that year driving for Rahal, but his march to the front was ended by an electrical problem that put him out around the halfway point.
Oriol returned to Newman-Haas for four races at the end of 2009-which produced finishes of 11th, 6th, 7th, and 4th. Unfortunately, he wouldn't compete in Indycar again until 2011, when he ran the entire season for Newman-Haas. The 2005 win excepted, this might be the high point of his career: Three podium finishes, including a 3rd at Milwaukee and a 2nd at Baltimore. He was the first to take the checkered flag at New Hampshire, but the appeals surrounding that infamous officiating fiasco ended with the win in another driver's hands. At the end of 2011, he had finished 4th in points, beating a list of rivals that included Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan.
2012 looked full of promise, but Newman-Haas shut down before the season began. Oriol landed at Dreyer & Reinbold, where he made the best of the boat anchor Lotus engine. After switching to Chevrolet power and teaming up with Panther, he scored a shocking 4th place finish at Indy, and backed that up with several more top 5s. 2013 hasn't gone as well, splitting seat time with Ryan Briscoe in the Panther entry since Indy.
Servia's good results almost always seem like a surprise at the end of the race. He spends most of the running distance mid-pack, adjusting the car and strategy until he's in position when it counts. It's always fun to keep an eye on him throughout the race and watch him quietly move up through the field. That's what he did at Indy this year, spending much of the race making progress through the bottom half of the top 10. My race-watching companion commented, "He's running a very Oriol Servia race."
In the "relatability" category, his engineering education (rare in race drivers) is something I can identify with. If I had the opportunity to talk to a driver about the technical aspects of the sport, he'd be my first choice.
Finally, Servia is one of the few drivers who seems to have a brand for himself. His helmet incorporates the Spanish flag and his countryman Salvador Dali's art. It's frustrating that none of the merchandise available utilizes any of this. If it were geared more toward the driver and his own personality instead of just slapping his name and the number '22' on the shirts and hats, I'd be more inclined to pick some up. (Which is part of the reason I want to make my own-see my Kickstarter for more details and a chance to play a part!)
Oriol Servia is a great driver with a proven track record, and I'm mystified as to why he doesn't have a full-time ride. Hopefully that will be rectified soon.