The Slowest Silly Season In Years
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.