If I Were To Start An IndyCar Team…
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?