Random Thoughts On The Silly Season

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While a couple of teams have made moves to either bolster their driver lineup or at least shore it up – others continue to have question marks.

The last two weeks have seen Team Penske add Simon Pagenaud to their stables in expanding to a four-car team for the first time ever. To make up for the loss of Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports made a firm offer to James Hinchcliffe – which was more than he had in hand from his former team, Andretti Autosport.

Now we sit and wait to see who makes the next move in this silly/offseason. It’s pretty well accepted that Ryan Briscoe is out of his ride at Ganassi after just one season into his second stint there. It’s also pretty well understood that his seat will be filled by Sage Karam, who dazzled everyone with a superb drive at this year’s Indianapolis 500, starting thirty-first and finishing ninth in his rookie outing. It was even more impressive considering that he did so as a high school senior.

So what happens everywhere else. We know that Rahal Letterman Lanigan will be doing well to field just one car next season, since they lost the hefty National Guard sponsorship due to public and political pressure. We also know who that one seat is reserved for, so we won’t waste time discussing that situation.

We also know that AJ Foyt wants to expand to two cars next season. One will presumably be for Takuma Sato, with the other one heavily rumored to be going to Jack Hawksworth. That does not mean there will be an extra car on the grid next season, because Bryan Herta Autosport – Hawksworth’s former employer – is rumored to be iffy at best, to answering the bell for 2015. If that’s true, it’s a shame since Herta was able to convince Dan Wheldon to sign with his team for a one-off effort at Indianapolis. That, by the way, led to Wheldon’s second win at the famed oval.

There is one available seat for someone bringing sponsorship at KVSH Racing, and one seat that is currently not completely funded at Andretti Autosport. I’m assuming that means that Sebastian Saavedra is out at KVSH. That’s no surprise, and in my opinion – no great loss, for KVSH or the series. To me, the most intriguing of the remaining seats is the No.27 at Andretti. Then there is always the question of who will be driving for Dale Coyne.

Quite honestly, I don’t know who might go where. But since this is the offseason, it’s always fun to speculate about next spring as we watch the leaves change in front of us.

There are two drivers that I’d like to see be given a shot at Andretti, both of whom have languished the majority of their careers in inferior equipment. One has paid his dues far more than the other, but the other would be very interesting to see what they did in a top ride. I’m speaking, of course, of Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro.

Simona is much more of a long shot, and I don’t know if she is even interested in returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series. But her stint as an “affiliated driver” at Sauber in Formula One has already come to an unspectacular close. As far as I know, she has no plans for 2015. I know the series would benefit by her return, but who knows if it will happen.

If it did, I’d like to see her get a ride with a team of the caliber of Andretti Autosport. She spent three dismal seasons at the under-funded HVM Racing, before one season as Tony Kanaan’s teammate at KV Racing Technology. During her time at HVM, she had the displeasure of having the woefully underpowered Lotus engine in her car. After Indianapolis, she had the only Lotus in the field – giving some the perception that she could not drive. When she moved on to KV, it appeared to be a good move on paper. She would get the Chevy engine and be driving for a supposedly better team. But KV is generally filled with drama. Kevin Kalkhoven did not seem interested in the team at that time and aside from Kanaan’s “500” victory, the team was stuck in reverse.

If Simona left IndyCar with a bad taste in her mouth – who could blame her? Her four years here certainly did nothing to boost her confidence. When the F1 deal with Sauber came along, the Swiss native jumped at it. But now that that opportunity has gone away, I’m wondering if she would be willing to give the American open-wheel series one more try – provided she was with one of the top teams. I’m not sure how interested she is in running ovals, especially the superspeedways; but if she was – I would be curious to see how she could do in a top ride.

But if that unlikely scenario didn’t unfold, I’d like to see Justin Wilson get that seat. He has languished at Dale Coyne, Dreyer & Reinbold and a watered down Newman/Haas team, since joining the IndyCar Series in 2008. Still, he has earned three wins in the series driving for lesser teams – after giving RuSPORT four wins in Champ Car.

At the age of thirty-six, time will begin to run out for the likeable Brit before too long. If he is going to ever drive for a top team – now is the time. He has proven his ability on the track as well as off of it. You will be hard-pressed to find a driver in the paddock that is more fan-friendly than Justin Wilson. He also has a reputation as being a terrific teammate. Word has it that he is unselfish and his only agenda is helping his team win. He has earned this chance and I’m hopeful that Michael Andretti will reward him with a well-deserved top ride.

Obviously, if that were to happen – it would create at least one opening at Dale Coyne. If Ryan Briscoe is truly out at Ganassi, the seat at Dale Coyne may be his best shot to continue driving in the series. If he doesn’t go there, I have an idea that Briscoe’s time as a full-time driver may be up – and I consider that unfortunate. He is a good driver and a great guy to have on the team. But this is a business and great guys sometimes finish mid-pack. He has talent, but sometimes appears to lack the hunger to really be aggressive to make things happen. Generally those drivers wind up in the back of the grid or walking the paddock carrying a helmet bag.

The second car at Dale Coyne generally goes to the highest bidder, so who knows who that will be? This past year it was Carlos Huertas. In 2013, it was a revolving door after the money ran out for Ana Beatriz. For two years prior to that, it was James Jakes. We probably won’t know who will be in either car until about a week before the season starts. That’s the way Dale Coyne works. Personally, if she could come up with the money – I’d like to see Pippa Mann be given a full-time shot at Coyne; but I don’t even know if she’s interested in pursuing a full season anymore. She may be more focused on the Indianapolis 500 at this point, because she’s got a pretty good gig with the IMS Radio Network.

Notice I’ve not mentioned names like Conor Daly, Zach Veach or Gabby Chaves. Some are putting Veach at Andretti as a replacement for Hinchcliffe, but I’m not so sure. Other than Marco, I can’t recall Andretti running a true rookie full-time in the series. Even Carlos Muñoz waited a year after Andretti gave him a shot in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. I’m not sure Veach gets the call with no experience.

Conor Daly seems to be on everyone’s short list, but it doesn’t seem to happen for whatever reason. He has a world of talent and seems to be a good guy. With Derek Daly as his father and Doug Boles as his step dad, he certainly has the pedigree. I would have thought he would have a plum full-time ride by now, but it hasn’t happened. If Wilson doesn’t get the seat at Andretti – Daly is my choice. I say that just in case Michael Andretti is looking for an overage blogger in Nashville, to tell him how to spend his money.

So as you can see, I really have no clue how this offseason will play out. How about you? Here’s your chance to sound off. The various opinions on this is what makes the offseason so interesting every year.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Random Thoughts On The Silly Season”

  1. Would like to see Simona come back, but Wilson definitely deserves a shot in good equipment at this point…

  2. Thanks for the silly season overview. Looking at the schedule, this silly season will go on longer than most. And for that reason, I hadn’t expected so many seats to be filled at this time already. That’s good for IndyCar.

    Anybody knows how that test of Gabby Chaves with Schmidt went? If they like him and he can come up with a budget, there might be 3 Schmidt cars next year. I think that would be great because Schmidt is a really good team.

    It would be nice if Simona made a comeback. If she does not want to run the ovals, she could share the ride with an oval specialist, like Ed Carpenter has done with Mike Conway. It won’t be Ed though, because he’s got JR Hildebrand lined up for either a 2nd car or as a replacement for Conway. But we will only know what Conway decides to do when the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2015 schedule comes out because of his other job in sportscars. JR is an allrounder and would deserve a full season ride. Here’s hoping CFH find the sponsorship to give him one.

    I feel KVSH is a much stronger team now that James Sullivan is amongst the owners. I have no idea, though, who could be their 2nd entry for next year. They need somebody with at least a partial budget and somebody whose skills are more on the oval side of things. Who might fit that bill?

    It’s rather likely AFS Racing will be back with Sebastian Saavedra but in partnership with another team. But which one? Herta? Rahal?

    Speaking of Rahal, if they get their budget together, Graham will be back but he certainly needs a different crew chief to talk to over the radio than his dad. That off at Sonoma proved this, which happened after Bobby told him he had to give up his lead to pit. The only way this team might not run Graham next season is if at the last minute, a pay driver is needed and found.
    That may or may not be good for the team.

    Herta certainly will find a pay driver, I hope. Or is there a chance they move back to IndyLights with the new car arriving next year?

    If Justin Wilson is not available for Coyne next year, and reportedly, he wants a move, I’d recommend Oriol Servia for the Boy Scouts Of America car. He is the allrounder which Coyne needs. I hope Carlos Huertas can find a budget for at least the road & street courses because he really did a good job this year. Maybe he could share the ride with Pippa doing the ovals?

    Now that there is a Brazilian race again, where are the Brazilian drivers? There was a rumor a while ago that Vitor Meira wants a cameo in that race. But how about Bia/Ana Beatriz? She has enough knowledge of the current car to step right in.

    Also, EJ Viso was really impressive in Hinch’s car during testing at the Indy 500 this year. Might we see him in a car of his own there next year?

    Everybody talks about Karam replacing Briscoe at Ganassi even though it’s not official yet. Briscoe surely is also in the running for that open Andretti seat. He might even get it because his track record on the ovals is better than Wilson’s.

    I believe the story of Foyt’s #41 full time when I see it at the season opener.

    And what’s happening over at Dreyer & Reinbold?

  3. I hear James Jakes is back for sure so I am wondering if that is Herta’s savior. Saavedra out makes me happy, what a useless driver he is in the series. I have never been sold on Ana Beatriz or Pippa Mann either honestly and Ryan Briscoe ahs had his shot, many of them. Buddy Rice was a better driver and never had the shots that Briscoe had so I bid him farewell also at this point.

  4. I think it’s Daniel Abt in the 27. He’s testing with Andretti at Barber in a couple weeks, has run pretty well in GP2, and has a decent budget behind him. He seems to be pretty jaded about the F1 world and looks to be trying to find his way stateside.

  5. Hard to make predictions in this series if one is not an insider. Sorry to see Briscoe without a ride, if that is his situation. He seems to be a good guy. As you say George often nice guys finish mid- pack. Justin Wilson is another favorite of mine I would really like to see do well. His personality as well as Briscoe’s are rare. If given a solid opportunity I think Wilson could do great things.

    I am kind of surprised Conor Daly is as low as he is on the fan pole. I am also surprised Sage Karam finished 9th at in the Indy 500. I was there and I forgot he was even in the field. Finishing 9th is noteworthy. I can’t believe he is only in high school.

    I an not looking forward as usual to the long off season. It would be nice to be surprised by some marketing or a t.v. ad here or there during the winter. What are the chances?

    Aero kits will be an anticipation this off season and another issue to ponder will be the survivability of ovals and how did they become an endangered species.

  6. I would love to see Simona with Andretti but I don’t expect it to happen. Her manager seems to want the kind of control that I doubt Michael , Ganassi, or Penske would give up. I don’t think she is afraid of ovals. She had some decent runs in 2013. Just needs more experience and a better team behind her. Simona is my favorite driver and my fingers are crossed that she will come back.

  7. It’s a shame that so many marketable and/or talented young drivers will never find a seat in this series. It’s almost a waste of time to make improvements to the ladder series when there’s no where to go at the top of the ladder. I don’t see how the series expects to prosper when there’s no room for growth.

  8. Well said “redcar”. RLL especially disappoints when it was rumored Conor Daly was slotted last year then did not materialize. How can you prove yourself without a chance to execute? Money drives a lot of things, but with a chance to run, Sage Karem proved his worth. I am hoping that “Team USA”..aka Carpenter/Fisher/Hartman racing take in Daly without Conway signing. Another American never ever hurt this series.

  9. I am always keeping an eye overseas. There are only so many F1 seats. There seem to be many GP2/Formula Renault 3.5 guys who have some financing. There will also be some kids who lose their F1 ride too quickly. It takes a special person to be able to make the switch because of the ovals. George has called out many who bail on the last race in Fontana. Mike Conway’s fears are well documented as well. Obviously the F1 guys have to take a hellova pay cut.

    Kevin Magnussen’s father races sports cars in the US. It sounds like KM is done at McLaren after just year one.

    Jenson Button also may be out at McLaren. I think he would just retire but I would love to see him try IndyCar.

    Jean-Eric Vergne may be done at Torro Rosso. He could also go to WEC or DTM.

    Pastor Maldonado has a huge budget but no one likes him so he may be available. I really hope he stays away from IndyCar.

    Fernando Alonso would be Ganassi’s hail mary. He may be left out of F1 for a year. Would he spend it in IndyCar? This is obviously a dream, but man it would be fun. Does he have a sense of history or a pure love of racing?

    Daniel Abt was mentioned above and Sam Bird has been rumored before, both could make a run at an IndyCar seat.

    I really hope IndyLights can turn into the series it and the Atlantics once were. Sage Karem winning a championship in a seven car field is a joke. GP2 and Formula Renault are great feeder series but lack the oval experience IndyLights provides. The road to Indy has a huge hole right now and it shows on the track and in the driver market.

  10. Wilson would be a great addition to Andretti.

    But IndyCar can’t keep relying on 35 year-olds., we need more rookies and young drivers like De Silvestro, Karam, Hawksworth, James Davison, Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves.

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