If I Were To Start An IndyCar Team…

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Most people have fantasized at one point or another about winning the lottery. Even if you’ve never bought a lottery ticket, you have probably allowed yourself to dream about the day that some huge unexpected windfall came your way. You’ve also probably thought about what you would do with such an obscene amount of money.

I know I have. Long before Tennessee got our own lottery in 2004, my job took me into Kentucky about once a month. When there, I would buy a few Powerball tickets, mainly because I could. In more than twenty years of small and sporadic lottery ticket purchases, I think the most I ever made off of any one drawing was $84. That’s not bad, but I’m sure I never came close to breaking even. Still, the allure of thinking “what if” has kept my interest going to where I’ll still spend a couple of bucks a month if I find myself in a convenience store.

Unlike most, I didn’t dream of buying a mansion, a yacht or my own private jet. I didn’t have ideas about vacation homes in Aspen or the Florida Keys. My fantasy was to start my own IndyCar team and go racing.

If you are a regular reader of this site, you are either a relative, a close friend of mine or you are a die-hard fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Chances are, if you have dreamed of the day a large fortune found you, you’ve probably thought more than once that you would take some of your newfound cash and start up your own IndyCar team. Be honest – you have. Haven’t you?

Throughout the decades of this daydream, I never thought for a minute that I was smart enough to run a team. I would go out and find the best people I could and get them to run it, especially since I had an unlimited supply of cash. My pockets would have to be deep because most people would not leave a stable race team for a comparable salary to go to one started up by a novice. I would have to pay way above market price to get Tim Cindric-like talent to even look my way.

But my ego would probably take over when it came to picking my driver or drivers of my brand new team. I’m foolish enough to think that I have an eye for talent when it comes to drivers – especially drivers you would want to build your fledgling young team around.

Obviously, the drivers would have to be available. In the early nineties, I never would have wasted time thinking I could get Rick Mears to come to my team. Instead, I would have set my sites on some one that I considered versatile and extremely underrated.

Back then, I would have tabbed John Andretti to be the driver for my new team. He was always my favorite Andretti. I always thought he was extremely talented and was one of the drivers that could get the most out of a bad car. And a new team owned by a brand new tycoon is likely to have some bad cars early on, right? Even when John moved to NASCAR, I always felt that he was more suited to driving open-wheel cars than stock cars – and I felt that his heart was in open-wheel cars as well.

Unfortunately, John spent most of his prime years in NASCAR. But my suspicions were proven true in 2008 to pilot one of Marty Roth’s cars at Indianapolis after a surprising and not so spectacular return to IndyCar with Panther Racing in 2007. Roth picked Andretti out of the blue on Pole Day to see what he could get out of Jay Howard’s car. He quickly got it up to speed and was the fastest of the non-qualified cars during the second week of practice.

John Andretti was also the first driver to do “The Double” in 1994. He drove AJ Foyt’s second car to a tenth place finish for the second year in a row before hopping on a jet for Charlotte. Oddly enough, that was his last Indianapolis 500 until his appearance in 2007. In the early nineties, Andretti even tried his hand at Top Fuel Dragsters in 1993. To say Andretti is versatile is putting it mildly. His last appearance in an IndyCar was the 2011 Indianapolis 500 when he finished twenty-second.

Unfortunately, Father Time has taken John Andretti out of the equation for my start-up fantasy team. He’s now fifty-one, and as much as I respect his abilities – he is simply too old if I were to strike it rich next week.

So out of today’s current group of drivers – especially those that are available and not under contract, who would you pick? It is currently a buyer’s market because there are a lot more good drivers available than there are seats.

There are several drivers out there that were labeled “can’t miss” prospects just a few years ago. The aforementioned Jay Howard is one, but how long has it been since he’s been in a car? Too long. Alex Lloyd is another one that falls into that category. Wade Cunningham was always considered the next big thing by many, but he never had me sold.

Although James Jakes showed improvement in is time with IndyCar, he’s another one that I never bought into. Some liked Bertrand Baguette but I could never get past his name. Rafa Matos was everyone’s pick for the next Brazilian to watch, but he seemed to regress from one season to the next.

Vitor Meira would fit most of my criteria. He is a solid driver who was never too flashy, but generally brought the car home in one piece in a high finishing position – even though he was never at the top of the podium. But he has never driven the DW12 and that would be a prerequisite for my dream team.

Simona de Silvestro would be another possibility. She has a lot going for her, but I want someone a little more seasoned. The same goes for Conor Daly. Ryan Briscoe is probably available. He’s seasoned and is a proven winner, but he’s mostly driven for top teams. He wouldn’t be happy in a start-up role. Pippa Mann seems content to pursue Indy-only rides at this point. She’s never driven an IndyCar on a road course and has not turned right in a car since her Indy Lights days in 2010. That’s too long. JR Hildebrand has potential, but he would be a project. It would take a lot of work to get more than two years of John Barnes out of his system. Besides, I think he has a future at CFH Racing. Sebastian Saavedra? You’re kidding.

As I’ve tossed these possibilities around, I already know who I would get as my current day John Andretti. He once won the Indy Lights championship and was a race winner in Champ Car. He is a savvy veteran who has proven time and time again he can get every ounce out of a car that just isn’t that good. And he’s been in a lot of cars that just weren’t that good.

His biggest problem has been he’s been unlucky. He has very poor timing. He has found himself in fill-in situations, where many times he out-performed the primary driver. He has also driven in one-off situations at Indianapolis and excelled before a mechanical gremlin ruined his day. This driver has also found himself on a team that ran out of funding early in the season and had to shut down; once again relegating him to fill-in status. Finally, this driver was a Champ Car driver that came over in the unification with IndyCar in 2008. He finished higher than any of the Champ Car transition drivers in the final points standings by placing ninth.

If you haven’t yet figured out who I’m talking about, it’s Oriol Servia.

Oriol Servia has shown grittiness and determination and the ability to make the most out of a bad situation. He has never complained when he had every right to. All he does is pull his visor down and drive.

He sold me in 2009, when he had no ride for the season and had a one-off with Bobby Rahal’s team which was an Indy-only team that season. The two idle parties got together and ran a car with a livery reminiscent of a Dan Gurney Eagle from the sixties. Servia qualified twenty-fifth, but during the race drove like a man possessed and was running consistently in the Top-Ten before his fuel pump sidelined him on Lap 98.

Later that season, he stepped in for Robert Doornbos at Newman/Haas for four races. In that four race stretch, Servia had finishes of eleventh, sixth, seventh and fourth. For that performance, he didn’t even sit in an IndyCar in 2010, before returning full-time in 2011. That year, he was driving for a very underfunded Newman/Haas team that was merely a shell of its former self. But he fought and scrapped his way to a fourth place finish in the standings behind Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Scott Dixon who were all in cars with substantially larger budgets.

As luck would have it, Newman/Haas closed up shop for good before the next season started. Servia was out of work, yet again. He joined Dreyer & Reinbold for 2012, in an effort that lasted a few months before they were forced to merge with Panther. That partnership dissolved about a year later, when Dreyer & Reinbold closed up shop for good after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. He ran a partial schedule this past season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan that consisted of only four races. The best he did was a seventh place finish at Long Beach, a twelfth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and an eleventh place finish in the Indianapolis 500. Still, Servia managed better finishes than his fulltime teammate Graham Rahal in three of the four races he drove in 2014.

The Verizon IndyCar Series is filled with stories of talented drivers that get on with the wrong team at the wrong time. But I’m not sure there is a more vivid example than Oriol Servia. Aside from the four races this past season, Graham Rahal was Servia’s teammate at Newman/Haas. He said this past year that Servia was the best overall teammate he has ever had. So you know his status is not due to his ability to get along with his team.

So, if any of you happen to hit the Powerball or Mega-Millions jackpot or if an unexpected large inheritance suddenly puts a lot of commas and zeros in you bank account – the urge might strike you to buy a Dallara and the appropriate aero-kit and go racing. If you do, I strongly suggest you pursue Oriol Servia as your driver. You wouldn’t regret it. What about your pick?

George Phillips

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18 Responses to “If I Were To Start An IndyCar Team…”

  1. To directly answer the premise: He’s got zero reason to leave his current ride, and demonstrated that by signing up again last August, but: Josef Newgarden.

    Most likely I’d end up kicking in part ownership of the current CFH (formerly SFHR) rather than try to lure him “away”, but seriously, Josef to me has demonstrated himself to be the real deal.

  2. Oh, BTW, just as an aside: I hate to say it, but I think only the biggest Powerball jackpots could realistically start and keep a team running for several years. Yeah, a smaller one might last a year or two, but it’d be **spent** by the end of it.

    What’s that old joke? How does one make a small fortune in racing? Answer: Start with a large one. (*rimshot*). It’s funny because it’s true, right? 😉

  3. With unlimited cash, why limit yourself to 1 car? I would definitely choose Servia or Tagliani for Car 1 and a young hotshot like Conor Daly or Alex Rossi for car 2

  4. I like Servia, and I might add him for a 2 car team, but for a 1 car team he’s just not exciting enough. My personal preference for a 2 car team would probably be Simona and Karam, with Servia as a part time third car/advisory role. If Ganassi did not release Karam, then I’d pick Hildebrand. While lacking a full time veteran is a risk, Pagenaud and Sam Schmit as well as Herta and Hawksworth and Sarah and Newgarden have been alright without a more experienced driver around them.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    There are reams of paper in my closet covered in drawings of the fictional Indycars and Champcars I dreamed of owning and running back when I was growing up. As I recall, then-Atlantic stars Buddy Rice and David Rutledge were popular picks to drive my cars, covered in sponsor logos that ranged from IBM to Sanford Pens to STP to Smith Corona. This is not to mention the cars scribbled on paper or built with Legos containing entirely fictional drivers and sponsors racing in entirely fictional series…

    Now, as then, I would probably look to hire recently successful ladder series drivers; a guy like Karam, Daly, Dempsey, Veach, Chaves, Brabham, or Harvey.
    Among free agent veterans, Servia or Briscoe is probably the best pick. I’d still be quite willing to give Buddy Rice a full-time shot.

  6. With permission of his daughters, I would try to restart a famous team and call it Newman’s Own. The cars would of course be called the Sockarooni Specials powered by Ford/Cosworth engines. I would hire Kyle Larson, Justin Wilson and Simona.

  7. if i had the money to start a team id bring mike hull to be team president and larry foyt as gm. my crew chief would be rick rinnaman. hopefully it could be a two car team id have oril servia as my lead driver and bryan clauson in the second car so he could lear from servia. then when oril retires id bring in chris bell to fill the second seat and put fans in the seats.

  8. Someone needs to talk to the lady that just won $90 million in the powerball…….

  9. This is something that I too have dreamed about before!

    Were I to come into that sort of money I would likely try to buy an existing team that already has an infrastructure and personnel in place. The best bet would be a TUSC team running prototypes. Then expand into IndyCar using drivers who bring their own budget to fund the team through it’s growing pains and once a good program is in place, then throw open the doors to any driver regardless of their ability to bring a budget.

  10. If I were to pick drivers I would look at Alexander Rossi and maybe Max Chilton. Young shoes who have great potential. However, if I won the lottery I had rather invest in Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing and see Ed win the 500 and then I would have a winning owner’s ring and a Baby Borg!

  11. Good post, but as Garrison Keillor once said – The Lottery is a special tax on people who were no good at math.

  12. CFH Racing would have to become CFSMe Racing. I’d partner simona and newgarten, then run danica in the double.

  13. I agree with billytheskink that Buddy Rice still got what it takes to win races. His most recent appearances in the 2nd Panther entry were quite impressive given the long break of no racing which he had had before. I understand he refused to drive Schmidt’s bump day/carb day/race day only entry two years ago, but I feel he would have deserved another attempt in the Indy 500 in a full-month entry that year. Yet, I’d only hire him for the ovals and let somebody else run the “twisties”. Another driver I’d hire for the ovals would be Bryan Clauson. His one attempt at Indy for Sarah Fisher’s team was quite impressive. With both him and Newgarden being rookies at the time, it was quite impressive to see how quick the two of them got up to speed and remained there throughout practise. I’ll be cheering for him in next year’s 500 (among others).

    Alex “Pink” Lloyd, I’m afraid, has pretty much retired after the ill-fated Las Vegas race of 2011. I support him in this decision. Together with his wife, he is raising several children. And to be honest, after having seen that fateful race live on a webstream during the middle of the night here in Europe, I still prefer to meet friends (or to go to sleep) when certain oval events are on, because it reminded me of how valuable it is to be able to spend quality time with people who are dear to me.

    If I as a team boss would go for two specialists of the different disciplines sharing a ride, here’s a much overlooked driver who I’d pick for the road and street courses: Giorgio Pantano. He did pretty well in his few outings for Ganassi.

    Simona De Silvestro is also an obvious choice for the “twisties”. Maybe she could share a ride with Pippa Mann or Bia Figuereido doing the ovals? That would be a sponsor’s dream for sure. Yet, I still hope Simona can land a fulltime ride somewhere.

    Servia and Briscoe are the obvious choices if a new team were looking for an allrounder. In fact, I hope Servia gets the #98 BHA seat. I’d also put Townsend Bell in that category, even if he might not want to lose his TV gig for a full season ride unless it pays better.

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