Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is Panther Racing Making The Right Call?

Monday's discussion on this site centered around JR Hildebrand's options for 2014, so perhaps it's only fair that we turn our attention today towards his erstwhile employer, Panther Racing. Since Hildebrand has left Panther, they have employed two drivers in the car: Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe. Both are veteran drivers, and both for various reasons find themselves in a part-time situation in IndyCar at this point in the season.

This weekend, Briscoe has also been doing ALMS this season, and an event at Lime Rock for that series will preclude his participation in the qualifying session leading up to the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco.

Now, I'm not the principal for a racing team, and I've never worn a headset in the pits. I'm just an IndyCar fan, whose closest experience with getting in a race car will be bench racing over Saturday morning coffee. But it seems to me that if you're going to a brand-new track, an extremely distinct "roval" with speeds approaching those found at Indianapolis, you might want to have a driver who can reasonably commit to all the available seat time for the weekend. 

This isn't a knock on Briscoe, not at all; he's driving as much as he can, and I'm sure he's keeping his options open for 2014. I hope his auditions this year lead to something more solid next season. And it's true he did get seat time in a test with Panther at the track, so he won't be flying blind. But you're talking about voluntarily starting from the back--not because of an engine change, or because of playing it safe in qualifying, but because the driver in question can't be there. Meanwhile, you have a guy like Oriol Servia--an open wheel veteran, an extremely strong oval competitor--who could probably qualify you at least someone in the front half of the field. Instead, on an unfamiliar high-speed track, a team has elected to have to move through the maximum amount of traffic possible if they are to have a decent result. You've upped the probability of an incident, if nothing else.

And it isn't as if Servia isn't a known quantity to these engineers and this team. He was part of the Panther-DRR alliance in the first half of the year, snagged a P7 at Iowa, and is widely acknowledged as a super-sub, as a quick glance at his career stats will bear out. So why put yourself behind the 8-ball in this manner?

Maybe I'm wrong, and Briscoe cheerfully tears through the field on his way to a top result on Sunday. That would certainly be an entertaining outcome. But it's a head-scratcher, and more ammo for those who are already critical of Panther's decision-making processes on the year. "It feels like they're giving up," one online commenter said of Panther last night, when learning of their race decision. I don't think that's the case, but neither am I sure they're making the right call.

The Panther Racing guys will be sporting a special red, white, and blue livery in honor of the 4th of July holiday when they arrive at Pocono. Let's hope this decision doesn't consign Old Glory to a rough weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Head scratcher.... That's a very kind way to put it...