Thursday, December 6, 2012

IndyCar Notes: A Plethora of Updates

There’s been a lot to cover these past few days, so if you’ve missed some of the more recent developments, let’s go over them:

-The Takuma Sato/Foyt Racing deal mentioned by Marshall Pruett earlier this week would no doubt result in some hilarity, but I admit, I’d be surprised if that were the choice. I really thought Sato might end up elsewhere, but there is the Honda connection, of course. If Sato’s funds, combined with the ABC Supply money, gets the #41 entry onto the grid, that will be fantastic. Conor Daly’s test with Foyt is cool in and of itself, but there are many drivers we’d all love to see in a seat. Foyt might be one of the best chances to add a seat for next year in a still-stabilizing grid scenario…

Meanwhile, we Sato fans wait. We know--we just know--that one day, some day, Taku will not only finish the race, but win. Laugh at us, scorn us, but one day, on the last lap, he'll have a collision--with victory.

-Tristan Vautier’s seat fitting at Sam Schmidt Motorsports raised some eyebrows, and perhaps even throws further into question Rubens Barrichello’s joining that team. Neither driver seemed to have particularly rosy funding news, at least publicly, so this will remain a wait-and-see until we firmly see something more concrete out there. It would be extremely interesting to see how a 2nd SSM entry would play out, and if it could match anywhere near the strength of Simon Pagenaud’s car this past season.

-I like the basic look of Andretti’s line up for next year, but there remain some question marks. The return of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe looks great, and I’m happy to see Carlos Munoz return for another year of Lights with the team. Zach Veach should be interesting to watch, to figure out just where he’s at in terms of development, and Shelby Blackstock has been a pleasant surprise as he moves up the ladder to Star Mazda. We’ll still wait and see what’s remaining for their USF2000 slots and their other potential Star Mazda ride, but you have to wonder where Sage Karam fits into all of this. I would like to see him back for one more year of Star Mazda, personally, but I would say that of Zach Veach, as well. There’s also still the possibility we see a smaller team pair with Andretti for some manner of program for next year (ala Conquest this year), so I don’t think the book is closed on their announcements just yet.

-Am I ok with Ryan Hunter-Reay running the #1 car next year? The answer is a resounding yes! The #1 is a fine tradition for a champion, and I'm pleased that Andretti and RHR feel the same way. We’ve haven’t had that since Sebastien Bourdais’s ChampCar run, so it’ll be nice to see it return. The way I look at it, the team and driver have earned it. It’s a proud symbol of that accomplishment. Hopefully, the trend will continue in 2014—whether RHR or another driver wins it all.

-As for Marco Andretti moving to the #25 from the #26, perhaps it'll do him some good, and put the demons of this past season(s) to bed.

-Let's state the obvious: Fuzzy's Vodka has been a very, very good partner so far in IndyCar. Their sponsoring of the Triple Crown for next season is another great sign that they continue to increase their involvement. They've already been in Victory Circle once with their driver; now they'll have even more airtime.

-Here’s some fun trivia for you: assuming he drives the entire 2013 campaign for Panther/DRR, this will be the first time Oriol Servia has driven two consecutive complete seasons for the same team since he ran in Indy Lights. He’s done 1 season, even 1.5 seasons with just one team, but never two full seasons. (We’ll count his time with DRR before the merger as the same team). Hopefully, the quintessential veteran journeyman driver has found a home.

-Finally, I wanted to make a brief comment on the upcoming change of ownership at Star Mazda: USF2000 owner Dan Andersen looks to take over, and I’d call that about as close to a best-case scenario as I can conceive for the junior open wheel ladder. Andersen has done a fine, conscientious job with USF2000, and I’d look forward to that same level of expertise and excellence once the ink is dry and he assumes control there. It was disconcerting to hear of the Star Mazda upheaval, but it sounds as if it will all end well. Thank goodness—racing as good as that needs a stable platform and stage.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts On Tony Stewart & The Indy 500

We're probably supposed to be cynical about Roger Penske's offer to Tony Stewart to run the Indianapolis 500 next year; certainly, it doesn't sound probable. Yet it has enough of an intrigue factor to have been a leading headline on the main page of ESPN over the weekend. So why does this possibility continue to excite and draw attention?

I believe one of the biggest items is simply this: among North American drivers, Tony Stewart seems to be a throwback to a time where drivers would compete in midgets, open wheel, stock cars, and whatever else happened to be available with equal aplomb. In a time where it seems like many drivers do not have the interest or at least opportunity to drive outside 1-2 disciplines, Stewart retains the perception that he's an "old school racer" in a modern world. I'll let you judge the veracity of that statement, but I think that's the angle many take when they think of Stewart.

Of course, Stewart has also largely remained in the good graces of IndyCar fans, even as he made the full-time transition to NASCAR following a successful USAC and Indy Racing League career. A USAC and IRL champ long before he became one in NASCAR, he is still remembered as an excellent racer, especially at the Indianapolis 500, where he was seemingly always in the conversation for a victory.

We've always had teases from well-regarded drivers in others series coming over to race IndyCar. In some cases, such as that of Rubens Barrichello, it materializes. Others, like Jimmie Johnson, will remain mere lip service or joking asides on social media. Yet the thought of Stewart, paired with Penske, not only has the attraction of Stewart's racing legacy behind it, but an avenue to see one of the favorites--an Indiana boy, USAC and open wheel champion-come home once more, even if only for a single 500-miler.

Now, there are a hundred reasons why the Penske/Stewart run at Indy probably wouldn't happen. But I firmly believe that Tony Stewart would not only be welcomed back with open arms, but is enough of a pure racer to maximize what he could get out of a quality ride like Penske's. May is a long way off, but in a single statement, Roger Penske gave us even more to consider-even if it remains only a fun, improbable, tantalizingly ideal possibility.