Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Look At The Leader's Circle

The Leaders Circle program, as it exists for IndyCar, isn't for everyone. Also known as TEAM money, it's just over $1 million per entered car that finishes high enough in the standings. In 2012, it went to the Top 20 cars from the previous season. For this year, it was expanded to 22 (the 19 highest-finishing entries from the previous year, plus awards for 3 other full-time teams). No one can be quite sure just what the cutoff will be for 2014, but the thinking is, Top 20 will be safe, at the least.

$1 million isn't going to fund an entry, but at a time where sponsorship throughout all motorsports is especially challenging, you can believe it can mean a big difference. So, where would the current crop of IndyCar full-timers stand if the season ended today?

The first thing to remember is that Leader's Circle is based on the car entry, not the driver. So, if I field the #00 IndyCar Advocate Racing Special and employ a dozen different drivers, all that matters is the total number of points scored in the #00 car. 

With that in mind, the Top 19 car/driver combos appear to be on pretty firm ground, and full-time for the remainder of the season, barring some crisis. Those would be: Castroneves (#3), Hunter-Reay (#1), Andretti (#25), Dixon (#9), Hinchcliffe (#27), Kanaan (#11), Pagenaud (#77), Wilson (#19), Power (#12), Sato (#14), Franchitti (#10), Kimball (#83), Carpenter (#20), Viso (#5), Newgarden (#67, points from his #21 at Indy will count towards the entry, too), Rahal (#15), Jakes (#16), De Silvestro (#78), and Vautier (#55). If your favorite driver or entry is in there, congrats, they're probably safe--but we'll need to revisit Simona and Vautier in a minute.

Where things get interesting is with the #4 entry of Panther Racing, and the #18 car of Dale Coyne Racing. 

To date, Panther Racing has had three drivers in the #4 car: JR Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, and Oriol Servia. Dale Coyne Racing has had Mike Conway, Ana Beatriz, and Pippa Mann rotating into the #18 ride. Counting only points scored in the aforementioned rides, the points shake out as followed:

Panther Racing #4
Hildebrand 79
Briscoe 57
Servia 39
Total 175

Dale Coyne Racing #18
Beatriz 72
Conway 85
Mann 21
Total 178

If we insert those combined entrant points in the standings, suddenly things look like this:

17) Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing #16 190 points (Jakes)
18) Dale Coyne Racing #18 178 points (Beatriz/Conway/Mann)
19) Panther Racing #4 175 points (Hildebrand, Briscoe, Servia)
20) KV Racing #78 171 points (de Silvestro)
21) Schmidt Peterson Racing #55 158 points (Vautier)

So, perhaps the bottom of the order isn't as settled, after all! Granted, with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing currently on the sidelines, and with the usual shakeup due in the offseason, chances are these teams will all end up with some Leader's Circle funding. Still, you wouldn't want to chance it, would you?

How the rest of the season plays out for the two rotating-seat cars is going to be particularly interesting. Briscoe and Servia are likely to be joined by more tryouts, and Dale Coyne Racing still has events at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Baltimore to fill. Coyne also has Mike Conway to run Toronto and Houston, and if he unloads like he did at Detroit, that's a big plus for the #18 crew. For Panther, it's hard to believe the team is in this position, but they have not had much to celebrate since parting ways with Hildebrand (Servia's performance at Iowa as perhaps the lone exception).

Really, the entire field is still primed for some big shakeups from week to week, but the battle to finish as high as possible among the latter half of the Top 20 should be really interesting, especially as questions remain as to just who will be rounding out the rosters for both the 4 and 18 cars.

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