Right now, no one except Rubens Barrichello definitely knows his plans for 2012 (and Rubens might not know yet himself). The news that Barrichello was testing with KV Racing next week set the INDYCAR community on fire. Although Barrichello has said his wife would not want him to run Indy, even the thought of Barrichello running a partial schedule is enough to raise eyebrows and get people talking. Would he actually join his friend Tony Kanaan for a season with KV Racing? Or is this simply a test, an interesting footnote to what will become the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season?
To put this in perspective, Barrichello is not the second coming of Nigel Mansell, a F1 champ moving on to contest American open wheel racing. He doesn't need to be. He is a multiple race winner, a fixture in F1 for the past two decades, and yes, by all accounts one of the most affable F1 drivers you’ll meet. 322 starts, 11 wins, 68 podiums, and a lifetime of experience working with new race cars. Oh, and as of yesterday, he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 million Twitter followers. No INDYCAR driver, not even Danica Patrick, can touch that (she falls short by around a million or so, just for reference).
I’m not saying if Barrichello jumps to INDYCAR, ratings will double and bleachers will magically be packed. But it would be another bit of intrigue, another competitor, one that has known victory in the world’s top level of motorsport. And it wouldn't take a huge number of those followers paying attention to INDYCAR for a change to see some manner of positive effect for the Series.
Although the remaining seats in IndyCar are drying up quickly, there remains potential for adding much vibrancy to the Series on top of what is there. Barrichello, the F1 import that could give KV a “dream team” duo. Paul Tracy, ready for one more try, still brash and acerbic. Rookies like Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann, social media and fan-savvy drivers looking for the chance to prove themselves. Free agent veterans such as Tomas Scheckter, Vitor Meira, and Buddy Rice, waiting to see if they get another shot at glory, or if the DW12 signals the end of their active time in INDYCAR.
It's too early to get our hopes up for Barrichello's participation in INDYCAR for this year. If it's just a test (and right now, there's nothing to suggest it's anything other than that), no harm done: it's already stirred up some interest in the Series as a nice bit of free publicity. But if he does join the IZOD IndyCar Series, it would likely be the crowning driver storyline in a season that should be chock full of them already.
And yes, he'd be one heck of a rookie.