The Slowest Silly Season In Years

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When Takuma Sato was confirmed in the No.14 ABC Supply Dallara for AJ Foyt Racing, it was the first driver announcement for the IZOD IndyCar Series in, well…forever. We all thought that when Graham Rahal was officially confirmed at his father’s team, that the dominos would all start falling in place. It didn’t happen.

In fact, Simona de Sivestro jumping from HVM to KV Racing Technology and Rahal’s movement had been about it for the silly season, before Sato’s long-expected announcement. Right now, there are still more questions than answers.

The biggest question is where will Ryan Briscoe land? With Hitachi moving their multi-race sponsorship package to the No.3 car of Helio Castroneves, it looks all but certain that Team Penske is planning to scale back to a two-car team, and that Briscoe is the odd man out. Some have strongly suggested that Briscoe is headed to the No.38 car vacated by Rahal at Ganassi. I’m not so sure.

Chip Ganassi has made clear on numerous occasions that whoever lands that ride needs to come with about $4 million in sponsorship. This is not a fully funded ride like the two Target cars are. This is a car for rent. If sponsorship cannot be found in some way for the No.38 car, I think Chip Ganassi is content to park it.

The last I heard, Ryan Briscoe does not have any sponsorship. Up until now, he never needed it. He always drove fully funded cars at Ganassi, Luczo- Dragon and Penske. That’s why it made sense to think Briscoe may be headed to Foyt, because that car is also fully funded. But somewhere along the way, the Foyt-Briscoe talks broke off and he was no longer in the mix. Curt Cavin reported Friday that Briscoe feels like he’ll have something to announce fairly soon. Let’s hope so.

Things have been strangely quiet in this silly season. When the season ended in Fontana on September 15, there was speculation that there was going to be all kinds of movement in the first few weeks of the offseason. It hasn’t happened. There has been much more movement within the INDYCAR front office than there has been among the driver’s ranks.

Why is this so? Is sponsorship not materializing with teams as was expected? Rubens Barrichello was expected to sign to drive a second car at Sam Schmidt’s team, but when sponsorship negotiations stalled – he opted for an offer to drive stock cars in his home country of Brazil.

Simona de Silvestro and Graham Rahal are both pretty much taking their sponsors with them to their new teams, while Briscoe’s sponsorship is staying with his old team. I’m not sure that I’ve heard of any new sponsors coming on board, which is a bit concerning.

There also seems to be an outside possibility that Team Penske could still run a third car, assuming sponsorship can be found. Would Ryan Briscoe still be considered for that ride or is his time done there? It’s odd that Ryan Briscoe’s name is mentioned in so many different scenarios.

As usual, there are still more drivers than available rides. It appears that James Jakes may be done at Dale Coyne Racing. If that team follows its usual pattern, they will wait until the last minute to announce plans for their second car, but that is still a car in play. Justin Wilson is confirmed to return in their first car.

EJ Viso is still working on a deal to form his own team. If that comes about, will this be a one-car effort or will his be a two-car team? There is talk that Andretti Autosport could add a fourth car. Common sense tells me that would go to Sebastián Saavedra, although I could think of others that are much more deserving of such a plum ride.

I’m not sure at this point that a second full-time car is going to happen at Sam Schmidt’s team. Simon Pagenaud could probably benefit from having a teammate, but he did quite well last season on his own. According to Curt Cavin, Foyt’s team will likely not have a second full-time car – but look for Conor Daly to possibly run some in the No.41 car at some point in the season. He did very well in his test at Sebring before Christmas.

A second car at Rahal’s team is somewhat iffy at this point, but I sort of get the impression that Graham may prefer doing it on his own this season – regardless of the benefits a teammate could bring. I’m not sure Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is in a position to be adding a second car for a teammate to Josef Newgarden. The Tennessee native could benefit from an experienced teammate, but I don’t know that they are capable yet of adding a second team without taking away from Newgarden’s effort.

Some of the drivers that we’ll hopefully see in an IndyCar either full-time or at least on an occasional basis include Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier, Pippa Mann, Conor Daly, Bryan Clauson and underrated veteran Townsend Bell – when he’s not reporting from the pits for NBCSN, a job he is very good at.

Things got quiet before Thanksgiving and stayed that way through Christmas. I expected a good deal of movement right after New Year’s Day. Now that we’re two weeks into the new year, the only new announcement has been Sato’s signing with Foyt – and that had been expected for several weeks. I’ve got to believe that some announcements will be forthcoming this week, or this could become one of the slowest silly season in years.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “The Slowest Silly Season In Years”

  1. The slowness of the Silly Season brings us to something you are not really touching on, George: car count for 2013. Don’t really have a dog in this fight, but this is starting to look like an indictment of the “pay to play” process that has been evolving in IndyCar. I think we are going to have a fairly low car count this year.

    What I mean is team’s are no longer bothering to try to secure sponsorships to fund their cars. The prevaling attitude seems to be, “eh, ya wanna drive? SHOW ME THE MONEY!!” (Yes, gratuitis Jerry Maguire moment) I can see telling a driver to bring some money with them, if for nothing else it shows the driver’s commitment to the sport. However, telling a driver “Hey go out and market yourself and bring me $6 million” is another matter entirely.

    Imagine this scenario, “Hello, M&M Mars? Yes, my name is Conor Daly and I race in IndyCar and I need $6 million to sponsor my ride. Conor Daly. C-O-N-O-R…hello? Hello?”

    When teams turn down an international star, who brought a lot of outside attention to the sport, telling him he needs to bring $4 million to be considered for a ride at all, that tells you all you need to know. How can some of the much less known drivers stand a chance?

    Yes, the economy sucks and times are tough, but your team should have a marketing/sales person/team out there hustling for you. Sponsorships aren’t going to fall from the sky and having only 15 cars running around the tracks isn’t going to attract a large viewership or more sponsors either. The teams need to rethink how cars are funded so as to keep not only an attractive number of cars zooming around the tracks, but also how to have the best drivers in those cars.

  2. Not only a lack of driver news, but a lack of buzz about Indycar in general. I realize this is the slowest time of the year, but talk about falling off the map. I could see the new leadership at Indycar meeting for coffee and donuts each morning to reassure themselves that everything will be just fine when Turbo is released.

  3. And …….. What if Ryan lands at Andretti and then wonder what Ryan could bring to Andretti technically from Penske ?

  4. From what I am reading in many many blogs, “Turbo” had better not be a flop!

  5. billytheskink Says:

    So it’s really more of a “sensible season”.

  6. I agree with Tad, the teams should “each” have a marketing guy to call on potential sponsors. Frankly, the marketing dollars of a corporation like Mars is huge and 5 to 6 million is not much in the sheme of things budget wise. They just have to believe in it. Has anyone tried?

    A question that I have is, if you give Chip the money to run his car does he still tell you what to do or can you chew HIS ass out? Just asking.

  7. Just saw Curt Cavin’s post outlining 22 cars worth of teams have applied for the Leader’s Circle spots. Among those 22 cars were a TBD third Penske team (a landing spot for Briscoe or Roger trying to keep some other team from getting that cash somehow?) and a TBD second car at Coyne (be that Jakes or otherwise). Not included in that 22 were a 4th Andretti car (which I’d be sort of surprised to see as a full season effort, anyway, after the success of a consolidated 3-car operation last year), a second Dragon car (Katherine, we can all imagine) potential second cars at Schmidt/Hamilton, RLL or Foyt (be they part- or full-time, should they happen), or a potential 4th car at Ganassi (not that I see that happening, anyway).

    So, just for the record there, we have 20 drivers confirmed for 2013 and potential seats for 8 more. Should even half of those “potentials” come to fruition, we’ll see a grid almost exactly the same size as what we saw last season. I think we can put off worrying about 15 car grids for another season or two…

    On the other hand, point taken about being a slow off season. It’s sort of an interesting thought exercise to think about how IndyCar could be in the news for these few months, should Randy not have been fired, leaving a months long hole in the PR area while new folks are brought up to speed. Time will tell if that was a good idea or not (I think not, since I just have a very hard time imagining 2010-2012 going a whole lot smoother in anybody else’s hands), but changing horses midstream like that sure did IndyCar no favors in any aspect.

  8. Savage Henry Says:

    To follow on some other points, it has to be very difficult to sell a potential sponsor on Indycar when nobody (outside of George) has talked about it for 4 months. Add in the .2 TV ratings and you have a near-impossible sale. It is kind of unnerving to have the top, big-name teams hanging back to see if any money shows up.

    The series needs something to create a buzz. “Turbo” sounds great, but does anybody think that Indycar has a plan to make the most of it? I don’t. Hopefully the new brain trust is behind the scenes working up some boffo marketing blitz to capture the public interest. Unfortunately, I think that instead they’re sitting around waiting for their high-priced consultants to come back with the silver bullet. Those kind of consulting shops aren’t known for creativity or media savvy. Instead, they are known for org structures and accounting tricks.

    Ok, I’m bummed now. When is the Daytona 24? I need to see some racing soon.

  9. Daniel R. Says:

    I think the 22 teams that applied for TEAM funding give us the best idea of where silly season is going. The fact that Ganassi did not apply for a 4th car, but Penske applied for a 3rd tells me Briscoe has a better shot with his old ride than a new one. From what Curt Cavin has said, it seems additional cars at Dragon for Katherine Legge and some other team for EJ Viso are fairly likely. That should make car count 24, which would be a healthy number for the series.

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