Although much off the silly season was placed on hold waiting for Scott Sharp to make his decision, the last few weeks have featured a flurry of chair-swapping in the IndyCar series. Here’s a brief summary of where things stand.
Rahal Letterman: As the best available driver, Scott Sharp is as good as it gets for RLR. He can still race well, although driving over a hundred oval races in the last ten years appears to have left him with the same road-course affliction as Uncle Sam. Still, he’s an asset in many ways beyond his driving. Additionally, the team retained Jeff Simmons and his brain full of Ethanol knowledge for 2007. This looks like a good move as well considering Simmons was arguably the most competitive RLR driver towards the end of 2006.
Panther: They did what they needed to do (keeping the Mirror Man) and what they wanted to do (landing a sponsored second driver) to keep them nipping at the heels of Penske and Ganassi. While much discussion exists about Danica! possibly winning her first race in 2007, Meira has to be considered a better bet for a maiden win. Matsuura is what he is, and even with Panther I don’t expect him to set the world on fire. He’s been driving fulltime for three years as a mid-packer, and even with the Panther team behind him it would be a surprise for him to appear in the top 5 of any race. However, the Aguri financing that accompanies Matsuura is fantastic news to a team that was selling parts to keep racing last year.
Foyt: Darren Manning – interesting choice. On the one hand there are critics who will see the outspoken Englishman as heading towards an inevitable conflict with Super Tex. On the other hand he was possibly the best guy willing to drive for Foyt, and having a year off might make him even more motivated to prove his worth. I still think Manning crashes too much – which is especially painful for a single-car team - but a year away from the IRL may makes Manning more appreciative. We will find out in 2007.
An interesting point about the Foyt announcement was that they mentioned focusing on Manning in the “primary” car. Foyt Enterprises has sold off it’s NASCAR shop and they have spoken about fielding a two-car team. I have read speculation that either nepotism or familiarity would mean any secondary car would be driven by Anthony Foyt (a.k.a. AJ IV). However, Curt Cavin would seem to think otherwise.
Question: Was the falling out between A.J. Foyt and A.J. IV so severe that they will never team up together again in the IRL? Also, will Foyt's team ever be competitive again? (Jim, Atlanta, Ga.)Let’s back that up with AJ’s own words (or rather his lack thereof) from a recent teleconference.
Answer:: I don’t know if you can say never, but it’s not likely anytime soon. The race team is seeking a more experienced driver for 2007, someone hungry like Townsend Bell, Darren Manning or Tomas Enge. As for IV, he won’t land an open-wheel ride of significance until he improves his road-racing skills.
Q: What about A.J. IV? Has he given any thoughts to coming back to Speedway cars, and do you have a leased car in which you could stop George Snyder?Doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of unbridled enthusiasm to bring back Anthony.
A.J. FOYT: George, he's like A.J. Foyt, he's not on the uphill climb anymore; we're all on the downhill run. No, I really don't know. I told George, I was teasing him last year, I could put you in a car in qualifying, but first of all, the cars are not big enough, for me and George.
Those were the good old days, I'll agree there, but those days are long gone, you don't see that no more.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time today.
As for remaining rides:
Andretti Green: Mr Judd still hasn’t formally announced an agreement with AGR, but it’s gonna happen…right?
Vision: We’ll assume Ed Carpenter George will return to Tony George’s team. The second ride would appear to be going to Tomas Scheckter, but nothing has been announced. There has also been mention that Vision is speaking with Buddy Rice, but who knows if that’s for a second or even a third car. Rice finished 10th out of 18 cars in his Champ Car audition in Mexico, but he finished one position behind rookie teammate David Martinez – who was also auditioning for the single available Forsythe ride next year. Keeping an Indy 500 champ in the IRL would seem to be a logical move for Tony George. At the same time, Scheckter had more success than Rice in 2006, so you it would be a difficult decision to throw him overboard.
Dreyer & Reinbold: Who knows. Could be one car, could be Champ Car, could be Sarah Fisher, could be they’re still trying to line up sponsorship to support whatever decision they make.
Cheever, Fernandez: don’t ask.
One last thing to note: I haven’t seen a word printed about NEW ownership of any kind – not even from George Foreman. While the IndyPro series is expanding, the IndyCar series looks to be hanging on to car counts by its fingernails. Eighteen cars continues to be the magic number.