1. Dario Franchitti
After a year away, he returns with a different team and does the same thing he did in 2007 - claim the title. The league's best driver is at the zenith of his career.
It took Franchitti no time at all to settle into life at Ganassi (the team he had battled against for so many years), or to shrug off his ill-fated NASCAR stint and get back into the swing of single-seaters. He made fewer mistakes than his title rivals and although it was a fuel-saving strategy that clinched the championship for Franchitti at Homestead, it was his speed all year that put him in a position to do so.
2. Scott Dixon
Lost in all of the talk of Dixon's greatness is his ability to learn from team-mates. Dan Wheldon made him a better oval racer; Franchitti made him a better tactician.
Dixon was widely written off after the uncharacteristically disastrous start that saw him just 17th in the standings two rounds into his title defence. A typically no-nonsense victory at Kansas thrust him back into contention, and he didn't look back after that. Would have been just as deserving a champion as his team-mate.
3. Ryan Briscoe
Some look at the Australian's 2009 effort as an opportunity missed; Briscoe sees it as an opportunity to perfect a game that's getting better with every season.
This was his first shot at the IndyCar title and his first season as Penske's unofficial team leader. There were blips - crashing at Richmond was costly and shunting in the Motegi pitlane just as he was about to take a race lead that would have probably made him champion was disastrous - but on balance this was the year that Briscoe stopped being a rising star and became an established top-line driver.
4. Helio Castroneves
Was this a triumphant return, or did Castroneves fall apart down the stretch? Indy 500 prize money, amid a difficult season, tips the scale toward triumphant.
To even be in championship contention, as Castroneves was for a while in mid-summer, after starting the year in a court room was a remarkable achievement. Penske deserves huge praise too for having a car ready for Castroneves to race in Long Beach within minutes of the not guilty verdict in his tax evasion trial. The second half of his season was disappointing, though, and he has two very tough team-mates to handle in 2010.
5. Danica Patrick
The late-season managerial shake-up at Andretti Green Racing sealed her decision to stay, but the NASCAR sidebar is about to begin. Showed she's still a force.
Patrick promised at the start of the year that she wouldn't let speculation over her future distract her, and even as the NASCAR rumours became deafening, she got on with the job in hand and emerged as the highest-placed non-Ganassi/Penske driver in the championship, ahead of even her illustrious AGR team-mate Kanaan. The noise over her future meant less attention than usual for her on-track achievements, yet this was definitely her most impressive season yet.
6. Will Power
Stepped into a difficult situation as a temp at Penske, then he raced his way into a permanent position with a win and two poles in six races before injury.
Power started the year knowing that he could be ousted by an exonerated Castroneves at any moment, and that there were no guarantees he would race at all after that happened. But he was adamant that even being on the sidelines with Penske was a better career option than racing elsewhere, and his gamble paid off. Probably would have been a title contender had he raced for the full season.
7. Graham Rahal
Turned the corner on ovals with Newman/Haas/Lanigan and served notice he'll contend for future championships. Enormous talent is on even footing now.
Rahal might not have produced the victories or title challenge he had hoped for in 2009, but he became a consistent frontrunner among much more experienced opposition and teams with greater resources. He also put 2008's string of crashes behind him.
8. Tony Kanaan
Went without a win for the first time since he moved from Champ Car to the IRL in 2002. Hard to believe this nightmare will last much longer for the ever-popular 2004 champion.
Having turned down the Ganassi drive to stay at AGR, it must have been tough for Kanaan to watch his friend Franchitti take the title - not that the Brazilian would ever voice that frustration. There's no doubt he could have matched Franchitti's achievements in the Ganassi car, though. Hopefully the Andretti's squad major reorganisation will bring Kanaan back into contention, and the arrival of Ryan Hunter-Reay will restore the spirit of the team's glory days.
9. Justin Wilson
After being relegated to IndyCar exile, the lanky Briton won for Dale Coyne Racing. The depth of talent in the series far outweighs the quality of some of the rides.
This was arguably the best season of Wilson's career. He wasn't the first big name to end up at Coyne, but he achieved far more in adversity than his predecessors had. Watkins Glen wasn't a one-off performance - Wilson was a contender for victory at the majority of street and road course events. And great strides were made on the ovals too. Along with Power's career lifeline, the Wilson/Coyne alliance was the feel-good success of the season.
10. Mario Moraes
Erratic early on, but he sharpened his skills throughout the '09 season. By the end, he was a formidable force on both ovals and road courses with the KV team.
Moraes leapt into the deep end when he came to IndyCar in Coyne's second car last year as a 19-year-old with only a few years of Formula 3 under his belt. Representing KV alone for most of this season was another big challenge, and then he suffered the huge blow of the death of his father, who had been a massive influence on his career. He showed great resilience and maturity thereafter, and ended the year on great form.
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