Let The Silly Season Begin
There are still four races remaining on the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, but that doesn’t mean that deals aren’t already in play for next season. It looks as if there will be the usual amount of turnover that we see each season, but the names being mentioned are some of the bigger names in the sport. This year’s silly season is starting off strong.
We all know that Danica Patrick is leaving at the end of the season. That was confirmed last Thursday, although there was absolutely no surprise whatsoever in the announcement. Her effects of her departure can be debated over and over. Am I a Danica fan? I think most people know I am not. But the perception of her leaving IndyCar does not help our sport in any way. Some will say that others will now be given more attention by the media with Danica gone. I say that the media attention will be less, with her out of the picture. Still, I’m not sure that she sold that many tickets or continuously brought new eyeballs to televised races recently. The main effect of her vacancy is that a decent seat has opened up at Andretti Autosport.
That was helped when GoDaddy.com announced they would continue as a primary sponsor of a car at Michael Andretti’s team for the next two seasons. The name being tossed around the most for that seat is Dan Wheldon. It makes sense on a lot of levels, but one thing I’m wondering about is engine loyalty. Wheldon has always been a favorite son of Honda. He gave them their first win at their own track at Motegi. He has always been considered “one of theirs”. Michael Andretti is strongly rumored to be linking up with Chevrolet for next season. It would be strange hearing Wheldon, the ever-popular pitchman, crooning about Chevrolet after hearing him tout Honda for so many years.
The defending Indianapolis 500 winner has a good bit more leverage than he did at this time last year. Last Labor Day, Wheldon was in the midst of suing Panther Racing for back pay and seemed certain to be headed elsewhere. The problem was; no one could guess where that was. As the music stopped playing last winter, Wheldon was the one caught without a chair. He claimed to be holding out for the right opportunity. When he signed with Bryan Herta Autosport for the 500, many laughed – including myself. When he found himself in Victory Lane at Indianapolis after a very strong month, no one was laughing.
He and BHA are keeping themselves busy while testing the new 2012 Dallara. I’ll no longer call it a safety cell since they’ll all carry the same aero kit for 2012, but that’s another story. Make no mistake; Dan Wheldon is dying to get back into a full-time ride. For the moment, it looks like that could be in a return engagement with Andretti Autosport. But things have a way of changing in the silly season.
Tony Kanaan was not expected to be in play a year ago, but we found out immediately after the season finale at Homestead that his days with Andretti were numbered. After being teased with a De Ferran Dragon Racing deal that never materialized, he ultimately put a deal together with KV Racing Technology just days before the season opener at St. Petersburg. He seems to work well with teammate Takuma Sato, but I can’t recall ever seeing him bond with KV’s other driver – EJ Viso.
As the season winds down, TK may be staring down the barrel of free agency again. Curt Cavin is reporting that Kanaan has already re-signed with KV, although TK denies it. Cavin’s reasoning is that they want to get Chevrolet and a sponsor on-board and get Sato re-signed to have a nice tidy announcement. At Kanaan’s age (he’ll be thirty-seven on New Year’s Eve), he probably doesn’t relish the thought of beating the bushes. Kanaan has elevated his new team. I would think Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser should do what it takes to keep Kanaan from going elsewhere. He has proven he still has some ethanol in the tank.
For a few weeks now, Helio Castroneves has been rumored to be in trouble at Team Penske. It’s hard to believe that a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 (all with Team Penske) would be in jeopardy just two seasons removed from his last Indy win, but the rumor keeps picking up momentum. There is also one fact that keeps getting brought up. For all of Helio’s success in CART & the IZOD IndyCar Series – Helio Castroneves has never won a championship.
Helio’s tax trial, from the fall of 2008 through the spring of 2009, took a lot out of him. Even though he was acquitted of the federal charges, new charges have arisen on a civil level. Whether those have taken their toll on him remains to be seen, but something has affected his driving this season. His results have been abysmal – most of them due to self-inflicted problems.
During Saturday’s qualifying show on Versus, Robin Miller mentioned that Honda might possibly field a team comprised of Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves as teammates. This would reunite the childhood friends from Brazil, who also came up together as teammates at Steve Horne’s Tasman Indy Lights team in the mid-nineties. The friendship suffered a blow a few years ago that stemmed from an incident at a season-ending race in Chicago. Helio was still alive for the championship. When he was about to lap Kanaan, he claims TK blocked him. It exploded from there. The two didn’t speak cordially for several years, but they seem to have patched things up somewhat lately.
As far as the Kanaan/Castroneves pairing goes – it seems a little far-fetched to me. But stranger things have happened. And it’s things like this that give this time of year its name – the silly season. Some rumors will become fact and some will seem comical a year from now. Stay tuned. It’s going to get a lot sillier.