Best and worst of 2012 INDYCAR paint schemes (so far)

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 09: Charlie Kimball of the United States drives his #83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda Dallara DW12 during the Sebring Open Test for the IZOD INDYCAR Series at Sebring International Raceway on March 9, 2012 in Sebring, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By now, if you have visited this site more than once you know that I have this thing for writing (whether it's a good or bad thing obviously depends on your opinion of my mad skillz).

What you may not know is that I am also a graphic designer, and until recently designing race car paint schemes was one way I was keeping my family fed. In fact, I have been designing paint schemes for twenty years now - so I tend to be a bit, well, effusive about the subject.

In other words, I'm a total livery snob, and when I see one I don't like and say, "I could do better," I mean that very, very literally.

As the IZOD IndyCar Series prepares to kick off the 2012 racing season, we're beginning to see the results of a long off-season's work by INDYCAR's teams in developing their on-track brand. After the jump, I'll let you know which ones hit the slam dunk, and which ones bricked it off the rim.

(All livery images courtesy of INDYCAR from their exceptional Spotter's Guide, available for download at the new IndyCar.com)

The "Fast Five"

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Ed Carpenter Racing - Fuzzy's Vodka

There simply is no better example of a full embrace of a brand right now than the #20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet-Dallara. From the golf ball dimples to the clean, classic green-and-gold trimming, this is an eye-catching race car that is wholly unique and easy to spot on track. More importantly, it looks remarkable at variable distances - it rewards viewers who get the opportunity for a close-up without losing its brand impact on TV or from a distance.

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LotusDRR - Group Lotus

The best of the Lotus-branded Dallaras, Oriol Servia's #22 resurrects the classic John Player Special paint scheme of yore. The retro, old-school look looks as sexy and clean as it did back in the day, and it screams the Lotus branding in full voice. It is also proof that simple works if done right.

Pagenaud_medium

Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports - Hewlett-Packard/Magnolia

I'm a sucker for blue-white-black combinations, but I'm also very leery of powder-blue shades unless they're done right. SHM, thankfully, did it right with this well-trimmed paint scheme. It is simple, yet striking, and - perhaps most importantly - easy to spot.

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Team Penske - Shell V-Power/Pennzoil

It would be impossible to leave a Penske car off of any list of the best liveries in INDYCAR, simply because Roger Penske is a master of branding and his teams show it. All three Penske cars are distinctively-branded while still having the same visual design philosophy, and that is not an easily-accomplished trick. It is therefore difficult to choose between them, but Helio Castroneves' Shell V-Power car narrowly takes top honors. Unmistakable branding, strong colors without being overwhelming, and clean lines - selling the brand without being overbearing about it.

Hinch_medium

Andretti Autosport - GoDaddy.com

Like Team Penske, Andretti Autosport has a distinct visual style that immediately tells you the team to which the car belongs. Flashier than Penske's more conservative stylistic lines, they rely on more striking color combinations to grab the viewers' eyes. For 2012, Marco Andretti's RC Cola car made a strong bid for top honors, but the impossibility of missing "The Electric Booger" on the track put the GoDaddy.com car over the top. The eye-searing green, orange, and black is certainly not subtle, but of all the IndyCars on the grid this is the most memorably branded - and, after all, liveries are (or should be) about brand first and aesthetics second.

The Backmarkers

Sato_medium

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing - MI-JACK

Maybe I'm biased, but I don't remember the MI-JACK brand being so dreadfully dull in the past. In fact, MI-JACK branded cars back in the day were some of the most striking cars on the track with their gorgeous, vivid colors. This car? Imagine blowing off studying for an exam until 11:45pm the night before. This would be a similar result.

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KV Racing Technology - CITGO

I happen to love CITGO's color palette. I love the oranges, hot reds, and the white/blue that contrast the logotype from the color scheme. Which is why I am so aggravated about how KV Racing implemented it on E.J. Viso's car. It looks like the same kind of camouflage pattern they used to paint on aircraft carriers in World War II - which is not a good thing, because they painted those carriers that way so that enemies could not tell which direction they were going. Somehow, KV have made the CITGO brand look unremarkable, and that takes some doing.

Rahal_medium

Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing - NTB/Service Central

Yeah, I know I'm going to get in trouble for this one, but this scheme just doesn't work for me. I get the whole red-white-and-blue idea. But the way it's laid out... well, I'll be honest, it looks weakly-branded. And it totally wastes two brand palettes that could have made this car really stand out from the crowd. Hit up NTB's website to see the very strong white, blue, and yellow of their brand, then check out Service Central and see what could have been with the yellow, red, black, and white. In other words, there is no visual connection between the car and its sponsors' brand, which is about as fundamental a no-no as you can have in this business.

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Lotus-HVM Racing - Nuclear Energy

Sorry, Nate. I just can't get behind this paint scheme. It's nothing personal against you or Simona. But any time you mash together two disparate sponsors, you're going to have a challenge in reconciling the colors. Whoever designed this car didn't meet that challenge. I get why Lotus wanted to use the green-and-gold of its corporate paint scheme on this car, but I don't get why they couldn't have found a better way to incorporate it better with Nuclear Energy's distinctive patterning. At least they eventually matched the Lotus green with Nuclear Energy's - at one point, they had two different shades on the car. Extra points off for using black lettering on a dark green background on the front wing's Lotus branding.

Well, folks, that's it from me. I do have to add a caveat - these rankings are very relative. When assessing this season's paint schemes, the lowest grade I gave out of the entire field was a B-, so take that into account before you send me any hate mail about my lack of taste.

I'm sure you either agree (reluctantly) or disagree (vehemently) - so which 2012 paint schemes do you love or hate?

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