Thursday, March 24, 2011

IndyCar Drivers: So Who’s Left?

Note: Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Streets of St. Petersburg preview! Make sure to subscribe to IndyCar Advocate (or make us a regular internet stop), because we’re going to have you covered all season long.

The always-volatile IndyCar offseason has settled down after one last giant eruption this week. Tony Kanaan got his ride with KV Racing. Paul Tracy’s in with Dreyer & Reinbold for Indy and probably several other key races besides. The merry-go-round at Coyne and Conquest has settled, with Sebas Bourdais and James Jakes in for DCR, and Sebastian Saavedra as Conquest’s only driver at the moment.

Rafa Matos squeezed in for at least one race with AFS Racing, a late entrant to the 2011 grid. No one’s sure what happens after St. Pete with AFS; perhaps Matos gets more races, or perhaps they go in another direction.

So who’s still out there?

It might help for a moment to put the seats we still know of into focus. Conquest Racing has indicated they may have another car on the grid as early as the Grand Prix of Alabama (you may recall they did something similar last year, starting three races in with Bertrand Baguette). Dale Coyne still has a seat open for the oval races Sebastian Bourdais won’t be running. Panther Racing could have a second car on several of the ovals. The chances of Dragon Racing doing anything this year seem to have greatly diminished, with several individuals from DeFerran Dragon having already signed with other teams.

Martin Plowman has indicated he’s still trying to get a deal done by Indy. Plowey tested with Coyne in the offseason, and while that’s still the most likely projected seat for him, it should be interesting to see if any other opportunities pop up.
Plowey: Still Working

Alex Lloyd doesn’t sound like he’s got much money, but he’s still in the discussion for Dale Coyne Racing. Given his past performance, if nothing else, it’s quite possible he finds a seat for the Centennial 500. In the meantime, he’s pulling duty as a driving coach in Indy Lights.

Yes, Milka Duno could return for the ovals with Coyne. We will see.

Pippa Mann, like Plowey, is hoping to put together an oval program in time for Indy. She’s tested with Conquest, but I would watch around the time of Barber to see if Conquest announces anything else for that second car. The type of program announced might give us a good idea if Pippa’s odds at Conquest are looking up.

Dan Wheldon still has no ride, and it sounds like he’s turned down several opportunities. There’s any number of team Wheldon might end up with as a partial schedule; for now, he’s apparently comfortable to bide his time, waiting for the right deal. We should know more after St. Pete.

Tomas Scheckter is still out there, but it looks like this season will be the same as many seasons for TScheck: a decent ride at Indy while subbing at a few more races here and there. Tomas is exciting to watch on the track, but those moments will likely be scattered through the schedule.

Scheckter: How Many Races?
Bertrand Baguette impressed in what began as essentially a zero-expectations role with Conquest for 2010, but so far the Belgian has been able to get a deal together to return to countryman Eric Bachelart’s team. Right now, it sounds like he’s working on something for Indy, but he could be a late starter, not unlike last year’s campaign.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the question of James Hinchcliffe. Is there anything else this rookie needs to do to prove he needs to be in the IZOD IndyCar Series? He’s outgoing, charismatic, and drove the wheels off the car at the Barber test. He’s won in Indy Lights, narrowly missing a title in the same. Newman/Haas wants him in the car. The fans want him in the car. I’m fairly certain the series wouldn’t mind it, either. But, as we all know, the sponsors need to want it, and that’s still a work in progress. Hinch paired with Oriol Servia could give Newman/Haas a great 1-2 punch as they aim for a renaissance in 2011. Let’s hope a sponsor steps up and in the process gains an excellent spokesperson for their product.

In any case, while we get ready to enjoy one of the deepest, most talented fields top to bottom in years, there are still drivers out there, fighting to make the dream happen. Whether they join us by Indy or Las Vegas remains one of the big question marks of the young year.

(Images Courtesy of IndyCar Media)

2 comments:

  1. I really liked this breakdown of who is still out there. I think Lloyd did a great job for Coyne last year and if Coyne is really looking to up his game he should put him back in the car for Indy. Lloyd drove a smart race and was helped by attrition but showed me he can drive.

    I hope Hinch is in a car soon, he is impressive. I also think Dan Clarke is ready.

    The newbie I am most looking forward to is Pagenaud in the Highcroft entry at Indy. I can see that team be really good in 2012 with an ORECA aero kit and Honda engine.

    Looking forward to your posts from St. Pete, enjoy the weekend.

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  2. Thanks! Pagenaud's going to be extremely interesting to watch. I wonder about ORECA in 2012, too, and if we might see Pagenaud and Bourdais in that kit!

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