Who Chip Ganassi Should Target
Now that we’ve had almost a week to digest the significance of Dario Franchitti’s retirement and the effects of his departure on the IndyCar Series, speculation is rampant on who might fill his seat. Chip Ganassi held a press conference last Friday, where he indicated he isn’t ruling out the possibility of moving newly signed Tony Kanaan into the No.10 Target seat vacated by his friend. That would leave the No.8 NTT Data car with a driver to be named.
As a Tony Kanaan fan, that would be ideal. I’m slowly adjusting to the fact that Kanaan has moved over to the “evil empire” that is Chip Ganassi Racing. While that move is best for his career, it’s still an adjustment for us fans that have made it a passion to root against the Target cars. Nothing against Target, mind you – in fact, I much prefer shopping at their stores over other retailers. They are clean and neat, while sometimes offering much better prices than Wal-Mart without having to endure the…umm, interesting scenery that some Wal-Mart customers offer.
But as a lifelong fan of Team Penske, it’s hard to pull for the team that is your biggest rival. It’s sort of like a Yankees fan pulling for the Red Sox in the World Series. You may really like some of the players, but it goes against your DNA to pull for their team.
But being a fan of TK, I think I’ve moved beyond that. I had already come to the realization that I was going to have to pull for Ganassi. Now I may actually be cheering whole-heartedly for a Target car. If Kanaan does move into Dario’s old ride in the No.10 Target machine, who goes into the No.8 NTT Data car?
That sound you hear from north of the border is James Hinchcliffe pounding his head against the wall for having already signed a deal with his current team, Andretti Autosport, thereby taking him off the market. After being a Chevy team for the past two seasons, Andretti is switching to Honda power for 2014 – mainly because after Ganassi switched to Chevy for next year, Honda was desperate to be aligned with at least one top team. I know a Honda won the championship this past season, and testing results from Sebring this week were good, but if I were a driver given the choice – I think I’d take the Chevy. The Mayor of Hinchtown has been noticeably quiet this past week.
The list of names we’ve heard in the past week has been endless. I’ve probably seen or heard up to twenty names mentioned, but only a handful makes sense and has any real possibility of happening. Some of those I’ve heard that won’t happen include Mike Conway, who has since signed with Ed Carpenter Racing to drive in place of Ed on road & street courses.
Other curious suggestions I heard included JR Hildebrand, who needs to prove himself again prior to landing in a top seat; Sam Hornish, who has squashed those rumors himself; James Jakes, who has yet to sell me, even though he had a better season this year; Danica Patrick…please; Oriol Servia, who may be a little long in the tooth – especially considered he would be paired with a soon-to-be thirty-nine year old Tony Kanaan and veteran Scott Dixon who has driven for Ganassi since 2002.Simon Pagenaud, who I think has deep roots with Honda, and Ana Beatriz, who won’t get it…just, because.
Names that make the most sense start with Justin Wilson. The affable Brit has more than proven himself worthy of a top ride. He is smooth, consistent, very talented, great with fans and a sponsor’s dream. However, when his engineer, Bill Pappas, left Dale Coyne for Bobby Rahal’s team, rumors started flying that Wilson would eventually land there too. I think those are more than just rumors and I expect Wilson to land as teammate to Graham Rahal, where I also expect him to outperform his new teammate.
Another name that makes a lot of sense is fellow Nashvillian Josef Newgarden, who (I believe) is under contract for another year with SFHR, but then again – contracts were made to be broken. If he could be nabbed, it would be good for both parties, except SFHR.
Martin Plowman has also been mentioned as a possibility. Unlike Hildebrand, Plowman does not have a history of brain-fades in the cockpit of an IndyCar – albeit he only has three starts, none in a DW12. There is already a relationship with potential G2 teammate Charlie Kimball. The two were teammates in Indy Lights for AFS-Andretti Autosport in 2010. Plowman finished third in the championship, while Kimball finished fourth. Since then, Plowman has kept himself busy racing in ALMS and also won his class at Le Mans this past summer. I think this is a distinct possibility to watch for – in the No.8, but not the No.10 Target car.
But if I were Chip Ganassi, the driver I would be doing my best to land would be Ryan Briscoe – for either the Target or NTT Data car. He should move mountains to rescue Briscoe from the abyss that is Panther Racing. It was a foregone conclusion that Briscoe had won the Panther/John Barnes audition sweepstakes this season and would drive for them in 2014. But that was before the National Guard announced they were leaving Panther for Rahal-Letterman-Lanningan. Barnes is appealing, but I don’t expect there to be a change of heart. The National Guard announced they were leaving for a reason. I suspect those reasons are still there.
No one seems to know if Briscoe is still available or not. At this point, it is debatable if Panther will even be able to answer the bell for 2014 without the lucrative National Guard sponsorship. If Briscoe had already signed a contract with Panther, John Barnes should do the right thing and release Briscoe from his contract, with such an opportunity awaiting him while Panther’s future is unclear. But then again, John Barnes does not always do the right thing. He normally just does what’s best for John Barnes.
Assuming Briscoe is available, I would think he would be Chip Ganassi’s first target (pun intended). He has a past relationship with the team. Not only did he drive the No.8 NTT Data car to twelfth place finish in this year’s Indianapolis 500, he also drove a third full-time Target entry for Ganassi in 2005, as a rookie teammate to Scott Dixon and Darren Manning.
Those were lean years for Ganassi. They were running the woefully under-powered Toyota engine and the Panoz chassis, which had quickly fallen out of favor with most teams that were running it. Before Briscoe’s season came to an early end in a horrifying crash at Chicagoland, his best finish for Ganassi was an eighth place finish here in Nashville. While recuperating, he learned he would not be returning to Ganassi for 2006.
After Ganassi parted ways with Briscoe, Toyota and Panoz – they enjoyed much better success. Briscoe went on to enjoy success with Team Penske from 2008 through 2012. In that span he won eight races, twelve poles and finished third in the 2009 championship. However, his failure to win that 2009 championship kept him on thin ice throughout the remainder of his tenure at Team Penske. He was eventually the odd man out, as Penske condensed to a two-car team for 2013. Curiously enough, Team Penske will expand again for 2014 as former Ganassi driver, Juan Montoya, joins The Captain’s organization.
Ryan Briscoe is not a perfect driver. He is subject to the occasional brain-fade where you wonder what in the world he was thinking about. He tore up his share of equipment at Penske, but seemed to get that out of his system as he got older. But he is very fast and talented, when focused. He is also very likable and is great with fans. He has earned his stripes and is befitting for another top ride in this series.
Whether he ends up in the No.8 or the No.10 – Chip Ganassi should do whatever it takes to get Ryan Briscoe in his stable.