Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A First Look At 2013 IndyCar’s Silly Season

With the final checkered flag waved, trophies and oversized winner's checks handed out, and an action-packed season in the record books, we shift gears to looking at the 2013 Silly Season. It might seem early, but the deals and drama that will determine who will get a seat for next year are already in motion.

Yes, we're going to get a lot of speculation, on this site and others. This opening article, as a way of kicking things off, is justa general overview. It's Silly Season; part of it is just a fun guessing game, but there's also the pursuit of rumors, doing your homework, and keeping your eyes and ears open. Sometimes you find out big news, sometimes you're dying to share something but can't, and yes, sometimes you whiff, as hard as you try to get it right. I can tell you when we get into the heat of Silly Season, we'll mess up at least a few times. But that doesn't mean we won't try to give the best, most accurate information we can. That's just the nature of Silly Season--even "done" deals can be undone, and the best sources can fail.

It’s quite likely we could see an increase in teams “buddying up” in terms of sharing resources for the 2013 season. It will bear watching to see if one-car teams such as Ed Carpenter Racing do indeed either expand within their existing team structure, or form a partnership of some degree of the Panther/DRR deal we saw this season. It appears the majority of potential additions to the field in 2013 are more along the lines of a couple of one-car teams expanding to two-car operations.

Just as the “Wheldon seat” was the most-discussed seat available before the 2012 season, the third seat at Roger Penske’s crew is tops in discussion in the early stages of 2013 planning. While it sounds as if Briscoe has at least some shot of returning to the team, speculation has run wild, with references to suspended NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger rampant, although that ultimately seems unlikely at best. If Briscoe doesn’t return, the most likely course of action still seems to be that Penske will return to their old two-car ways.

AJ Foyt Enterprises has a difficult road ahead, with another season of a few promising results and many rough ones. To complicate matters further, driver Mike Conway is done with oval racing, which seems to suggest his future with the team is limited at best. Wade Cunningham filled in for Fontana, but any long-term involvement of his with the team remains a big question mark.

As we can say in annual fashion, nothing is written in stone for Dale Coyne Racing at the moment. James Jakes’ future with the team is questionable, and we wait to see if Justin Wilson keeps the successful relationship with engineer Bill Pappas going into next year. Wilson’s name has been hot in free agents discussions the last couple of years, but after a big win at Texas and several other highly competitive races, there’s definitely some inducement for him to stick around.

Chip Ganassi’s crew has had their last race with Graham Rahal, who appears primed to move to his father’s team. Multiple candidates have been mentioned to team up alongside Charlie Kimball’s car, with everyone from Ryan Briscoe to Memo Rojas to Takuma Sato having been mentioned. This is perhaps one of the biggest wait-and-see seats out there.

Dragon Racing has an option coming up with Sebastien Bourdais, and it remains to be seen if Jay Penske’s crew can bring the talented Frenchman back for another year. Katherine Legge’s future is also a bit hazy, with nothing definite, and the TrueCar sponsorship a bit of a cipher in terms of long-term prospects.

HVM Racing is finally, blessedly free of Lotus, but their engine affiliation for 2013 has yet to be determined. One thing is for certain: the Nuclear Clean Air Energy sponsorship has to be tired of poor results, and their contract appears to be up after next year. No one doubts Simona’s talent, but perhaps no driver as urgently needs to show results next season. There's at least a possibility this entry could be a joint one with KV next year.

KV Racing could be seeing a drop in car count for 2013, unless they partner with another team. Tony Kanaan looks to remain with the team, but Rubens Barrichello is perhaps gone to Sam Schmidt’s team, and EJ Viso is considering starting his own team. Viso could partner with a current part-time team in the effort, making him among the most likely candidates to give IndyCar a brand-new full-time team in 2013. Overall, we'll have to wait to see if the rumored HVM/KV joint effort or partnership transpires.

Sam Schmidt’s team appears primed to pair Barrichello with Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud, but it is not yet finalized. If it does happen, it will be curious to see how the expansion goes with Schmidt’s crew, which has run additional cars (part-time) before to mixed reviews.

Michael Shank Racing is one of the most intriguing teams on this list, and perhaps one of the most difficult stories of the past year. Michael Shank’s crew didn’t have the funding for a full-season ride, but by the time they were ready to run Jay Howard for the Indy 500, there was no engine lease to be had. It seems possible Shank’s team could team with an outfit to make it happen, but their participation for 2013 remains tentative at this point.

For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, it appears to be a homecoming for Bobby Rahal’s son, but it remains to be seen if Takuma Sato re-ups with the team as a second driver. Rahal has made no secret of their desire to expand, and although there were too many on-track incidents, Sato certainly had the speed to compete on a variety of courses.

Among the Indy Lights drivers, Tristan Vautier will look to move up after being Lights champion, but Esteban Guerrieri could also make the jump, depending on how the landscape looks. He was definitely close to doing so 2011, with serious negotiations in place with KV Racing. Additionally, Sebastian Saavedra should run at least a partial schedule once more with AFS Racing.

Certainly there’s more, and conventional wisdom will almost certainly be stood on its head a half-dozen times before all is said and done, but for now, it looks to be another very busy offseason for IndyCar, and those of us that follow along.

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