The Silly Season

Posted by Iannucci | 9/13/2006 | 2 comments »
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Well, now that Danica! has unveiled her new ride for 2007 it’s time for the Silly Season to begin. With more drivers than teams, it’s like a big game of musical chairs this year. Make sure you have sponsorship when the music stops.

As far as teams and cars go, it’s up in the air. There is no word to indicate that Penske of Ganassi will add beyond their two cars each, and Andretti Green appears to be planning for four cars again. Rahal Letterman is a big question mark as they have one car (the Ethanol) with sponsorship, but will field more if other sponsors arrive. Fernandez Racing should have one car, but could more or even none.

Certain one-car teams such as Panther and Foyt Racing are considering adding a second car in order to increase their competitive abilities. There is no word on Vision Racing, but without sponsorship it seems unlikely they would add a third car. Other teams such as Dreyer and Reinbold and the oft-forgotten Helmegarn Racing may or may not be around in 2007. Roth Racing should be expected to continue to, uh, race next year.

So right now, it’s a big lump of goo.

As for the drivers, here are their plans for 2007 (as far as I know). This first list is of drivers who aren’t going anywhere.
Marco Andretti
Helio Castroneves
Ed Carpenter
Scott Dixon
Sam Hornish Jr
Tony Kanaan
Dan Wheldon

Take a moment and let that soak in. Six of the top seven drivers are known to be returning to the same team, which is a fantastic sign for all of those worried about any “abandon ship” experience other series not named NASCAR are suffering. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all of the top ten drivers this year return to the league for 2007.

As a bonus, I’ve even got nicknames for all ten drivers.

The point is the year-over-year retention of drivers bodes well for the league as continuity is a HUGE factor when attempting to expand the fan base. It’s a lot easier to sell the same personalities every year as rivals instead of trying to market new ones. Not that Danica! and Andretti 3.0 haven’t made an impact, but it’s much nicer to have them as additions instead of replacements.

Speaking of Andretti, an AGR representative has confirmed Michael Andretti is considering another run at Indy in 2007. Keep hope alive.

This second list is a bit uncertain. There has been some information published in reports by the Indy Star and TrackSide Online (sign up today), but for many of these drivers the future is still unknown.

Ryan Briscoe – based on his latest comments, it sounds like Ryan is done with ovals. A betting man would have him trying out for Champ Car (a.k.a The Dark Side), but he may find it difficult to get a ride there as well. If he is unsuccessful, he could appear for teams seeking the proverbial “road course specialist” for a few IRL races.

Jeff Bucknum – Earlier in the year it appeared Foyt Racing was excited about Jeff, who is no youngster at age 40. Recently though things have been mum about the team’s future, although that may be partially due to the overhaul the team is undergoing by selling their stock car assets and assigning management duties to Larry Foyt. It would appear Foyt Racing is Bucknum’s only chance at returning to the IRL.

Sarah Fisher – She did what she could with the two D&R entries she had in 2006 despite a two-year absence. It sounds like D&R would love to have her back, but I’m sure she would prefer to move into a better funded team. Still, if one can’t be found this team may stay together.

Dario Franchitti – Who knows. Mr Judd will be driving somewhere – barring further concussions – but that somewhere could be in the IRL or CCWS. Reportedly Dario does not enjoy racing on ovals, but expect him to follow the money wherever it leads. Besides, he would be a nice filler for one year before Jonathan Klein arrives (see below).

Bryan Herta – All signs point to the Invisible Man disappearing completely from the series (oh, har-dee-har) and reappearing in the American Le Mans Series. Danica showed up yesterday with a #7 on her new car so he's 99.9% done with AGR, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Kousuke Matsuura – For a guy who was fifth in the points after the opening weeks of the season, Matsuura’s stock has fallen like a brick. Reportedly Panasonic will sponsor the #55 for Fernandez again, but there may be a different driver (most likely a Japanese one) in the car.

Vitor Meira – Panther Racing and Vitor really want to stay together, and barring a complete failure to land sponsorship this team will stay together. Panther is reportedly looking to add another sponsored driver.

Danica Patrick – No mystery here. She’s the new darling of AGR, although probably third on their totem pole. Still, Motorola’s 21 Meeeellion Dollars will help buy her the best team available.

Buddy Rice – He sounds upbeat about his prospects and he probably does more league promotions than any other driver, but The Rainman has finished 15th in the points standings for two straight years. Yuck. Sure he won the Indy 500 in 2004, but he needs to find a sponsor who can remember that far back.

Marty Roth – Marty will be Marty, driving in his own series until he decides he no longer desires it.

Tomas Scheckter – It is thought he will return to Vision, although I am not sure if he is or is not a free agent. Regardless, he will be somewhere, although the Vision team seemed like a good fit for him this last season.

Scott Sharp – Here’s the guy who controls everything. He’s got sponsorships, although how much money is behind them is anyone’s guess. He could stay with Fernandez Racing, leave for another team or even start his own team. Once Scott decides where he is sitting, the rest of the chairs will start getting filled.

Jeff Simmons – He took over a unique situation with Ethanol as driver/spokesman after the death of Paul Dana and promptly crashed in four of his first five races. But Simmons turned it around and finished with six Top 10s in seven races, which may be enough to put him back in the Ethanol car for 2007. Then again, they could pick another driver.

Now, there are two other sets of drivers out there to consider. There are up and coming drivers like Jay Howard, Wade Cunningham and Jaime Camera who would make the jump from Indy Pro if they can find sponsorship. Based on what he has said, Indy Pro series runner-up Jonathan Klein wants to have another go at that series in 2007 before presumably moving up with the #27 Klein Tools IndyCar ride.

The other set is, well, has-beens. Drivers who have proven their abilities on the track but aren’t the flashy commodities they once were. This would include the Lazier brothers, as well as Arie Luyendyk Jr and Anthony Foyt. There was talk of putting Arie Jr in an inexpensive Panoz chassis with a low-budget team next year, but that has not been made official yet. Foyt could conceivably go back to driving for his family, but then again maybe not.

Of course, PJ Chesson is still out there.

If there is any information on any new teams or even a Cheever Racing resurrection, you know I’ll pass the word.

2 comments

  1. Evlk // September 13, 2006 8:42 AM  

    Cheever's going to drive the fourth AGR car next year...his official title is "blocking back/designated spinner".

  2. Anonymous // September 13, 2006 6:48 PM  

    Ahead of, or behind, Danica?