The In-Season Silly Season

GeoThumbnail 
The silly season has been strange in the IndyCar series this year. While there aren’t many driver changes being discussed for 2010 that don’t involve Danica Patrick, the 2009 season has had more movement between teams than I can ever remember.

One of the latest involves the exit of the doorknob, Robert Doornbos. He is spinning his leaving Newman/Haas/Lanigan as a brilliant career move for him. If he were moving to Penske or Ganassi, he might have something there. But leaving a team such as NHL and moving into a second seat at HVM hardly sounds like a promotion. Granted, the season and a half the NHL has spent in the IRL doesn’t measure up to the standards they set for twenty-five years in CART/Champ Car; but you can rest assured, they will get it right. In fact, NHL is the party that has bettered themselves, as Oriol Servia will fill that seat at least for this weekend at Mid-Ohio. That’s quite an upgrade from Doornbos.

But this move was announced two days ago and it’s not even the most recent movement. Apparently, Alex Tagliani has left Conquest Racing. They in turn, have hired Ann Coulter look-alike, Nelson Philippe to drive at Sonoma and Homestead. He will take his "I Drive Green" sponsorship that he had at Indy while driving for …HVM.

Oriol Servia has been in the employment of three teams in the last two and a half months. In May, he drove for Rahal-Letterman. For the last couple of weeks, he has been serving in a coaching capacity at Andretti-Green. Now he will jump back in the cockpit, driving for NHL.

Paul Tracy ran at Indy for KV Racing Technology. The following week, he was driving a car for AJ Foyt with the full intent of beating the team he drove for just one week earlier. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way. One month later at Watkins Glen, he’s back in a car for KV, trying to beat Foyt. Confused? It gets worse.

Tomas Scheckter secured sponsorship from Mona Vie prior to Indy and hooked on at Dale Coyne Racing as a teammate to Justin Wilson. Now he still drives the Mona Vie car, but from the Dreyer & Reinbold stables. Speaking of Dreyer & Reinbold, Milka Duno drove for them in 2008. As the 2009 season neared, it appeared that she would be in a third car at NHL. She actually tested at Homestead in the spring with NHL. By the next test at Barber Motorsports Park, NHL was back to a two-car team. Milka resurfaced at…Dreyer & Reinbold.

Then there’s the saga of Ryan Hunter-Reay. This time last year, he was driving for Rahal-Letterman. When it became clear that RLR would not return, the league had to find a place for Hunter-Reay since he was the face of new league sponsor Izod. At the eleventh hour, he had a home in a second car at Vision Racing. Then through a series of unfortunate events, he landed at AJ Foyt Racing, on loan from Vision. Supposedly, Vitor Meira will return to the Foyt team for the final race at Homestead, but Foyt will run two cars if that happens.

In the meantime, with all of this shuffling of the same drivers within teams, one of the best available drivers continues to waste away on the sidelines. I’m speaking of Bruno Junqueira. All Bruno has done this season is jump into a second Conquest car at Indy with no seat time at all, and put it into the field – only to be yanked out in favor of his Conquest teammate Alex Tagliani. Bruno took the news like a pro and we haven’t heard from him since.

Drivers shuffling between teams are fairly common, especially in the second half of the season. But it usually involves one or maybe two drivers. I’m sure this is not a record number, but without doing some heavy-duty research – I cannot remember a season with this many in-season changes. Usually if a team makes a change, they yank a driver out and stick an available driver in. The one yanked out generally sits for the remainder of the season. This year, a driver is likely to be driving for a competitor the very next week. I miss the days when our thoughts were focused on where a driver might be headed next season, instead of next week.

I’m not sure if this phenomenon is a byproduct of the economy, of unification or if just the stars lined up this way for this season only. Whatever the reason, I sure wish we could start speculating on driver movements for next year. But that would involve speculating on Danica for 2010, and I’m just not in the mood to do that just yet.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “The In-Season Silly Season”

  1. Hey George,
    I remember this being the case with F1 in the late 80’s too – to be honest, I think it has to do with a mixture of re-unification and economy at the moment.

    However, like the current circuit situation, I believe it to be temporary and we see things calm down over the next few years. However, until then I think this may remain a common sight for the next couple of seasons

  2. I don’t think it has anything to do with mergification. It’s all the economy.

  3. John McLallen Says:

    I think that Bobby D just had a snit-fit.

  4. Too many experienced drivers, not enough money or seats.

    I wonder if the move of the Acura ALM’s teams to the IRL next year will be a significant impact on the car count? The reports I have read would seem to indicate at least 4 new cars in the field. If Penske goes to a 3 car operation (big if) and Ganassi brings the Princess on board, there’s a potential for some 26 – 27 car fields. Of course, all of that could be offset by AGR cutting back to 2 cars, and some of these back marker teams (HVM – DRR) cutting back as well.

    Regardless of what happens, with some small signs of improvement in the economy the good news is that the IRL seems to have survived. Car counts and sponsorship can only increase from here.

    How’s that for a glass half full view of the situation?

    • I’m not going to posit whether IndyCar racing offers a good return for marketing dollars invested by sponsors during the current television distribution, but I’ll agree with you that top-tier open-wheel racing has to be on the upswing, post-unification, and that the field will only swell.

  5. HVM may be an upgrade for Doornbos. We all know chemistry is everything and things clicked for him with these guys in 2007. HVM may be a backmarker, but Micheal Cannon is the man (Allmendinger, etc. w/Forsythe). These two clicked and Doornbos looked liked a future Champ Car star winning twice with an underdog team. NHL may be light years ahead of these guys, but there was obviously no chemistry. Those familar with Doorbos’s work expected MUCH more from him this year.

  6. jerrycruz Says:

    Man, oh man! I agree with you George…Bruno Junqueira is the best driver out there without any ride. I have always though what a great career Bruno could had if he did not suffer the back injuries at Indy. It would do him justice if you could write a column for him, soon, while we are at that point were teams need to fill seats and look for the future. I’m a IRL guy since 2001 (coming from CART as a Penske and ovals fan) and I think he still has a future on IndyCars from what I have seen the last 8 years. He has the skills and the winning attitude to ride on top equipment.

    Think about this opportunity! As always, great blog.

  7. J Wilson Says:

    I don’t think leaving NHL is such a bad move. They aren’t the well-funded team they were in CART, etc. NHL seems to laying their chips on young Graham. I hope all these guys do well no matter where they end up.
    PS. No reason to call him “doorknob”. Kind of a goofy thing to say…. but that’s just me.

  8. Hey, “doorknob” isn’t necessarily a bad thing to call the guy. Personally, I’ve been calling him “Bob Doorknobs” since his F1 days, simply because it sounds great and that’s what his last name almost is (adding a letter and switching two others). It’s no Giovanni Lavaggi (literally, “Johnny Carwash” in Italian), but it’s not bad.

    As for the musical chairs, I don’t think it’s surprising. There are 10 or so drivers with bags of money of varying sizes, and so when one driver gets laid off at one team, another team is going to want what’s left in that bag of money, especially if it’s a bigger bag than the one that their current guy has. As the economy improves, and teams start to attract bespoke team sponsors, this situation will improve as well.

    • Hahaa… the memories – Speedgeek, do you remember the enigmatic Jean-Denis Deletraz as well??
      Lovely drivers with plenty of cash, but never F1 drivers..!
      :)

      • Leigh, you mean “Alcatraz”, as I think derek Daly used to call him? I remember him fondly. I always enjoyed guys who made it to F1 yet flunked my “have I heard of you before?” test. That’s a pretty tough test, too, since guys like Max (or Massimiliano, as he still was then) Papis, Andrea Montermini, Memo Schiaterella and Noberto Fontana all actually passed that test. Aaaaaahhh, the gold old days… :)

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