Robby Gordon Eyeing Indy Return

Posted by Iannucci | 11/29/2006 | 2 comments »
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It’s been a few years since he actually raced at the track (he was rained out in the year of the Rainman, 2004), but Autosport says Robby Gordon is interested in returning to the Indy 500 in 2007.

"I have been offered a lot of rides for Indy," said Gordon. "Next year the race could be the most competitive it's ever been and that would be fun.

"Looking at the package for the Indy 500, every team will have the same tools to work with one engine manufacturer and one tyre supplier."
I’m thinking he was probably misquoted there, since the league has had one tire supplier for a while. Maybe he said “one chassis supplier” and the reporter was confused or deaf or both.

In any case, the combustible Gordon has always proven to be fun given his old-school approach to shooting his mouth off. Remember how he complained about Danica!’s unfair “weight advantage” even though he wasn’t driving against her that year? How about in 1999 when he dropped some live expletives over the air as he ran out of fuel before taking the white flag while leading the Indy 500? And his post-race interviews - oh, the frivolity!

Disclaimer: I’m not discounting his “weight advantage” argument. In fact, I’m not even going there.

Whether or not you would be cheering for the guy, it’s always fun to see drivers attempt the double of the Indy 500 and the 600 mile NASCAR race in Charlotte the same evening. Forget IROC – this is the truest test of cross-series driving ability any man or woman could attempt.

Unless of course you include the helicopter ride from Indianapolis to Charlotte, in which case a licensed chopper pilot like Mr Judd would probably win.

Fisher's Fun Diary

Posted by Iannucci | 11/28/2006 | 2 comments »
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I love that several drivers have online diaries designed to keep fans updated on what they are doing. Usually these are either a few sentences every week or a dissertation every other month. Still, it’s all info, it’s all love, and it’s all good.

But I want to take a moment to single out the latest entry from The Fisher Queen’s diary at, if only because it provided this shocking image.

On a more relaxing note, I was on the IndyCar Celebration cruise aboard the Disney Wonder that traveled to the Bahamas. We had an amazing time. Laura George did a phenomenal job organizing all the logistics and events for the trip … and what killer events they had planned. The first night Gene Simmons had a Halloween party to kick off the weekend. Andy and I went as a pair of dice. I know, it was a bit cliché, but it was easy! I believe Tony George dressed up as Gene Simmons … so as you can imagine, we all had a good time.
I am now wiping the coffee I spewed off the monitor.

IRL Seeks Daytona Race in 2008

Posted by Iannucci | 11/27/2006 | 0 comments »
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This isn’t exactly a secret and it’s been speculated since testing was announced at the track at the end of the 2006 season, but the Daytona Beach News-Journal has been the first to come out and say it.

After successful tests in the Daytona International Speedway, the Indy Racing League will also open the 2007 IndyCar Series with a preseason testing in DIS. By 2008, DIS and the Indy Racing League hope to have a race in Daytona during Speedweeks.
Speedweeks are a pretty jam-packed pair of weeks in February, but the IRL would be scoring big time if they can lock up participation in these festivities. Even though they would be racing on a different course from the NASCAR racers, the league would garner a sizeable audience during what has become the most popular race event in North America. League officials, teams, and sponsors would all be pleased.

BTW – It pains me to say that, but I can’t ignore the truth. The Daytona 500 is more popular than the Indy 500. But not in my house.

Now, inking a deal for Speedweeks isn’t all a bowl of cherries. Would racing on the undercard of the Daytona 500 give the appearance of secondary status? Well, duh. Does it give Uncle Sam, Well Done, et al two weeks to hobnob with the mega-bucks of NASCAR? You bet. Would it make the IRL look like a feeder series for NASCAR? Quite possibly.

But despite these concerns it would more than likely be a successful (read: profitable) event for the league, and in the long run profitability is more important than any appearance of subordination. More money draws new sponsors, owners and drivers – just ask those guys in the bumping behemoths.

Besides, if the IRL is going to keep ending the season in September then there is much to be gained by getting the IndyCar season fired up in early February.

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Iannucci | 11/23/2006 | 0 comments »
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Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans today, and may the rest of the world have a whole lot to eat as well.

This year our family is having a few friends over for the holiday, and as a joke we thought of having a plateful of White Castles waiting for them when they arrived. For those who don't know White Castles are these, umm, well...

The whole discussion reminds me of a funny video with Tomas Scheckter. A few years ago some folks from his team (then Panther Racing) decided to take the South African out for his first White Castle. Enjoy.

Silly Season So Far

Posted by Iannucci | 11/21/2006 | 0 comments »
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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.)

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.
Let’s back that up with AJ’s own words (or rather his lack thereof) from a recent teleconference.

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?

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.
Doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of unbridled enthusiasm to bring back Anthony.

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.

Hornish Last In His Second Busch Race

Posted by Iannucci | 11/20/2006 | 1 comments »
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Although he was able to pass a few drivers early on, Uncle Sam crashed on Lap 4 and finished last in his second Busch series race. NASCAR may be proving to be more of a challenge than he anticipated.

A couple of hours after qualifying 24th for Saturday's Ford 300 Busch Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sam Hornish Jr. was advancing through the field when his night ended much sooner than expected.

An incident on lap 4 of the 200-lap race sent Hornish to the 1.5-mile track's garage and eventually relegated the Indianapolis 500 winner to a 43rd-place finish in his second Busch Series event in as many weeks. (MORE)

Champ Car Races To Be Aired On ESPN

Posted by Iannucci | 11/17/2006 | 3 comments »
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You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars *next* year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years. - Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane
Yesterday ESPN announced a multi-year deal to televise Champ Car races on it's family of networks. No less than 11 of the races will air on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC in 2007, with the network taking over exclusive broadcasts in 2008.

Now before you do a spit take in disbelief that the network that covers the Indy Racing League would jump in bed the other open-wheel league, understand this is a different type of agreement. Whereas the IRL is paid at least something to televise their races (if only to allow coverage of the Indy 500), the CCWS has reportedly spent the last few years paying it's way onto TV. Previously they have been on SPEED, with league owners such as Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe, et al footing the bill to pay for two hours of coverage for their races in an effort to attract more sponsors.

Well, now they will get more coverage but at an even higher cost. The big brains at TrackSide Online have a whole lot more on this, but the estimate is a quarter of a million dollars per hour to be on any given network from the ESPNs. Say two hours per race, 11 races next year and you've got over $5M just for air time. Plus you've got equipment, crew, on-air talent and you're basically paying some serious coin for people to please watch the races.

Now consider that the heads of Champ Car are also going to be buying the new Panoz DP01 chassis they paid to develop and will couple it with their Cosworth engines for the purpose of renting to prospective team ownership. What you have is a series trying really, really hard to get anyone into their league. How far behind can no-meny down financing be with these guys?

Here's the money quote (pun intended) from Kevin Kalkhoven yesterday.

"I'm actually very pleased by the whole deal," Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven told's John Oreovicz. "It's a favorable long-term contract for both sides and it brings stability to our television package. Stability is very important to our future. For motor racing fans, it's a very good thing. There are two key aspects. To be on ESPN gives us access to U.S. racing fans. ESPN also offers a total package for sports fans, with the Web site and the magazine.

"If we can't have open-wheel unification, at least we can have a common broadcast partner. Once you get past that, the channel is outstanding in a lot of ways. Now, American open-wheel racing is at a place where fans can find it. Speed Channel [the previous broadcast sponsor] has become so NASCAR-centric that we were just a speed bump in their day."
I marked the important parts in bold, and even if I didn't you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure what this is all about. Kalkhoven went to Indy this year and was seen at IRL races on weekends Champ Car was racing. He has spoken publicly a lot more than Tony George about unification, and it would seem this move to ESPN would be for no other reason than to try to force the IRL's hand into a merger.

Seriously, the NASCAR comment is bogus since ESPN (the Engine Sports Programming Network) will be televising NASCAR next year. I'm confident they won't be putting open-wheel racing of any kind above stock cars on their broadcasts.

TSO says IRL officials are concerned but not worried about this development. Why should they be? Most American race fans have seen Champ Cars and they probably won't suddenly start watching a bunch of generally unknown drivers go around in a parade. It's not like Champ Car (or even the IRL) has another ten million fans in America who can't see the races.

The worst possible outcome for the IRL is that this forces a merger. ESPN is still paying for the IRL so they would presumably want that product to remain strong, but giving cable audiences all the open-wheel racing they can handle may create an urgency for a merger if only to avoid confusion. Then again, race fans may actually be smart enough to figure out which league has Danica and Andretti and which doesn't.

The best possible outcome for the IRL is that at some point Kalkhoven and his pals spend themselves into the ground trying to force a merger. It's a strange situation that the series that actually has a paid TV contract with the most famous race and well known drivers is NOT the one with the strongest financial backing. The Hulman George family is well off to be sure, but not like the Champ Car guys.

With this announcment Kalkhoven has fired a serious shot across the SS IndyCar and let them know he wants to merge these leagues and he will do everything in his power to do it. He knows what he wants and putting both series on the same TV networks is part of his plan to get it. Hey, you can't blame a billionaire for trying.

Ganassi Racing: Behind the Music

Posted by Iannucci | 11/15/2006 | 0 comments »
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If you have any interest in finding out what happens “behind the scenes” in the world of racing then SPEED is set to fix your jones. Tonight and tomorrow night the network will twice air “Racing Incorporated”, two one-hour specials showing the goings on of Chip Ganassi Racing and their IndyCar, NASCAR and Grand Am series operations.

“Initially, I needed a little convincing to green light this project,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “We, as an industry, have historically been very tight-lipped about how we do things. When filming started it took us beyond our comfort level, but as we became more and more at ease with the crew it became much easier to allow them the access that we did.”
I’ll have the DVR set to record. Anytime you have the opportunity to get Dan Wheldon and a microphone together you have the possibility for quality TV.

Report: Foyt Racing Chooses Manning

Posted by Iannucci | 11/14/2006 | 2 comments »
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TrackSide Online is reporting that AJ Foyt Enterprises is poised to name Darren Manning as their driver for 2007. No word yet on if there will be a second car for the Foyt team.

While you are waiting for the official announcement, do yourself a favor and sign up for TSO. That way, you'll know when I know and we can all know together.

UPDATE: It's official.

Notes From Phoenix

Posted by Iannucci | 11/13/2006 | 3 comments »
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On a personal note, these are a few things I noticed at the track this weekend but did not comment in my previous summary:

• I have never seen an IndyCar race at night in person, but the night racing actually made the Truck race on Friday more enjoyable than the Busch race on Saturday. The IRL is definitely doing the right thing by shifting some of their current races to the PM.

• The victory spinout thing is becoming parody. Johnny Benson won the truck race and almost pulled a Kanaan by wrecking during his donuts near the finish line. After inching his way out of the smoke he just created, he then drove down the wider but heavily-banked first turn to try some more. He got half a donut before he spun all the way down the track, nearly hitting the interior wall. This was the most amusing part of the race.

• I saw a Mitsubishi with the license plate “BOGOTA” in the parking lot, but was unable to locate one reading “DFIANCE”.

• Crystal Hornish was wearing jeans, but I don’t know if they were the “lucky” Rock & Republic jeans. Results would indicate otherwise.

• I mentioned Erin Crocker, who seems to be polarizing the fans. She was cheered loudly on introduction, but everyone I spoke with was unimpressed with her racing ability. At least she wasn’t booed like Kurt and Kyle Busch. For the record all of her pit stops were due to clutch problems, and her pit crew had to push her to start after every one. She owes them many beverages.

• I don’t know what “RaceGirl” is, but they have a pink car bearing Penelope Pitstop decals…and the driver is a dude.

• None of the fans I spoke with knew JJ Yeley or Casey Mears had raced IndyCars. Then again, I’m sure many IRL fans didn’t know that either.

• A local radio station actually had some Jamie Little wannabe interview me and my boy (and others) after coming out of the restroom. What did they ask? “Excuse me sir, did you wash your hands?” Nice. I said sure, and go ahead and confirm with my boy. I doubt they had a male equivalent sitting outside the ladies room inquiring about feminine hygiene.

• Speaking of the boy, for a series that tries to promote itself to the smallest of fans they sure have some adult-oriented sponsors. My kids and I could only go into about half of the promotional tents because so many were “18 and over”. Beer, liquor, chewing tobacco, tobacco substitutes and the local casinos all had significant representation. However, there was plenty of representation for my kids by the Army, Navy and National Guard. Come climb the rock wall and we’ll call you in ten years.

• All kinds of IndyCar shirts were being sold for $3 each at the “Blowout Sale” truck. Very sad, but still they make for excellent stocking stuffers.

• I think I spotted a relative of MoneyCJ wearing a t-shirt that said “I feel sorry for people who drink. When they wake up they know that’s the best they’ll feel all day.”

• Lastly, for the single guys out there: if you go to a NASCAR event looking for companionship then be sure to wear Dale Earnhart Jr gear. The majority of the quality members of the fairer sex were sporting the “8”, and there wasn’t even a close second place.

Hornish, Montoya and the Busch "Challenge"

Posted by Iannucci | 11/12/2006 | 4 comments »
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Since there is no IndyCar racing here in Arizona this year, I decided to take the kids out to experience some Good 'Ol NASCAR action this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Of course, I also wanted to see how Indy 500 Champions Sam Hornish Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya fared in their first and second respective Busch series races.

"One of the reasons I wanted to come over here (NASCAR) and try it was because I wanted another challenge, and today proved to be that," Hornish said.
Challenge is certainly an appropriate word. On Friday Hornish had some really dreadful practices. He would come out for a lap or two, then go behind the wall, come out a few minutes later for another lap, go behind the wall, rinse, repeat. He probably got less than ten laps in his Dodge Charger in between having all kinds of adjustments done. Keep in mind they had been testing the day before as well, so this final practice would normally be used for racing strategies and track management.

On the other hand, Montoya seemed pretty well set and was racking up as many laps as he could on Friday. He was clearly more comfortable with his setup as he qualified in eleventh, while despite all the stops Hornish managed to quaify 27th out of 43 entries.

Before the race I spoke with some fans about their impressions of the open-wheel drivers. My sample group included a broad section, from a middle-aged couple who were living in an RV in the parking lot to a young lady who was wearing a hat that said "Hey F*** A**, Buy Me a Beer". The subject came up when they asked me the standard NASCAR greeting: "who you rootin' for?" I said "no one, I just want to see how Hornish and Montoya do." Everyone - I mean EVERYONE - gave me a look at that answer because I was probably the only guy there NOT rooing for a particular driver. Maybe I should have said John Andretti.

Regardless, the concensus of my informal survey seemed to be that Montoya will do fine in NASCAR while Hornish's arrival was met with total apathy. NASCAR fandom is largely a meritocracy, so until Sam shows some strong finishes he's just another rookie driver to them. Evidently Montoya's ARCA run and strong racing in his first Busch race have already won their respect.

This was apparent during the driver introductions as Montoya recieved as loud a cheer as most drivers - and from what I could tell it wasn't just from non-caucasians. Hornish on the other hand was met with a mild golf clap, and I think I was one of the two people clapping. Sam looked uncomfortable, although that could have been because he knew he was in for a long day.

As the race progressed, it was very clear the two drivers were headed in different directions. Hornish brushed the wall early in the race and struggled all day, spending much of the early part of the race race staring at "Cheerios" on the back bumper of Erin Crocker. As a side note, Crocker made about 20 pit stops (that is not an exaggeration) and was still ahead of Sam for much of the day. He probably made only a handful of passes and appeared to be trying to simply avoid contact. Don't let the fact that he moved up to around 20th at one point fool you, because that was due entirely to other cars spinning or suffering mechanical failure. He wasn't passing anyone, and I don't remember the last time he had THAT kind of day.

Montoya on the other hand was driving exceptionally well. I say this not because he was passing a lot of people - which he was on occassion - but because he deftly avoided about four different accidents. Whether it was driving instinct or simply reflexes, I and others were extremely impressed at how he was able to keep the car in one piece on such a narrow track. He didn't have the fastest car, but he was nearly in the Top 10 for much of the day.

‘‘It’s tough passing these guys — they seem like they don’t see you, they just sort of play dumb,’’ he said, standing a few feet away from his battered No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge. ‘‘When you run up front, the guy up front runs a lot cleaner, a lot smarter. The guys in the back are just too dumb. I’m trying to keep the car in one piece and it’s very hard, because, yes, I am a rookie — but no, I am not a rookie.”
To try to get an idea of what was his biggest challenge I tried listening to Hornish on the race scanner, and it seemed he and his spotter were not discussing too much. Maybe they didn't want to overload the guy with info on his maiden voyage or maybe he just didn't feel like talking constantly about having a push in the car. By comparison Montoya and his spotter were practiacally a Woody Allen film, chatting all day long about the track and the other drivers around him. And yes, they were speaking in English.

When it was all said and done, Montoya finished in 20th after losing position late in the race while trying to avoid an accident. Hornish was not so lucky, as he was collected in a wreck not of his own doing with 20 laps to go to place him 35th. They will race against each other again at Homestead next weekend at the conclusion of the series.

While Montoya has decided to go the Cup route next year, Sam will be back in the IRL. If it's a challenge he wants then this weekend shows he will certainly have it if he decides to try NASCAR, but it should also be noted the additional road courses in the IRL's 2007 schedule will create a significant challenge to his defense of of the IndyCar series championship. In 2008, Sam will have to decide which challenge is more appealing.

Chit Chat With Chip Ganassi

Posted by Iannucci | 11/09/2006 | 1 comments »
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This Q & A with IRL and NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi from contains a surprising amount of open-wheel related questions. It’s definitely worth checking out, although given the tone of this off-season you probably didn’t need to read this.

Q: Do you have plans to test 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in Cup or Busch this year?

Ganassi: We often talk about it. Dan knows that if he ever wants to, the opportunity is there for him to do it. He's one of the people that has a keen eye on Montoya to see what happens.

I know Dan has some goals he still wants to achieve in open-wheel racing. When he accomplishes those goals, we'll take another look at it.
Oh, man. I think I know how this conversation goes.

Ganassi: Hey Dan, you wanna drive a Dodge Charger?

Wheldon: Yeah right.

Ganassi: Come on, you’d make more money in NASCAR.

Wheldon: I’d get paid more in Formula One, Floyd.

Ganassi: Maybe, but Formula One doesn’t have Jamie Little.

Wheldon: Hmmm. Good point.

2007 Theme: 18 And Under

Posted by Iannucci | 11/08/2006 | 4 comments »
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Recent announcements of the signing of former Fernandez drivers by Panther and Rahal Letterman should be reason for excitement for IndyCar fans, but on closer inspection these signings have a bittersweet reminder: 2007 looks to have an alarming decrease in car counts.

Consider the math: In 2006, RLR had 3 cars, Panther had 1 and Fernandez Racing had 2. For 2007, those three teams are now two, and those 6 entries are now 4.

For the past year the IRL has postured itself to become the premier representative of open-wheel racing in America, assembling a tight and logical schedule around mostly oval tracks but also several well-known road courses. The schedule was intended to include as many parts of the country as possible while still being based primarily in the Midwest. Nothing wrong with building up the infrastructure for the next few years.

But while the focus in 2006 was on scheduling and to a lesser extent the conversion to ethanol, the league has been losing longtime participants at a stunning rate. As it stands today the Hemelgarn, Fernandez and Cheever teams have all mothballed their IndyCar operations, and the Dreyer & Reinbold team could end up doing so as well. Their reasons are all related to cost and sponsor benefits, and if there is any single thing that needs to be addressed in 2007 by Brian Barnhart and other league officials it is the cost/benefit analysis for remaining teams.

Last year there were 18-20 cars per race and anything less would be embarrassing, especially on the superspeedways. As of this moment there are but 13 cars announced for 2007.

Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing)
Dan Wheldon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing)
Helio Castroneves (Team Penske)
Sam Hornish Jr (Team Penske)
Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing)
Marco Andretti (Andretti Green Racing)
Danica Patrick (Andretti Green Racing)
Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green Racing) *not announced officially
Vitor Meira (Panther Racing)
Kosuke Matsuura (Super Aguri Panther Racing)
Scott Sharp (Rahal Letterman Racing)
Jeff Simmons (Rahal Letterman Racing)
Ed Carpenter (Vision Racing)

Now granted nearly all of the top ten drivers in the series are in those cars, but with so few entries you aren’t holding much more than an IROC race.

Truthfully, there will be more than these as a few other entries are expected. A second Vision entry as well as one from AJ Foyt Enterprises would bring that total to 15. Also, possible returns by D&R and Roth Racing would bump that up further. Foyt has even spoken of adding a second car for his team, which would bring the best case scenario to 18.

Eighteen - that’s the maximum.

Clearly this should be a wake up call for the league to figure a way to reduce the cost of participation, which now sits around $5M per year to field a full season entry. The problem is not that there are too few teams willing to participate in the league, it’s that a multi-million dollar sponsorship isn’t worth it to potential team sponsors. As several team owners have stated, for many events the attendance and television numbers aren’t at a level to justify the investment required.

While I have argued that Champ Car and the IRL are no longer battling for audience shares since the fan bases are different, I won’t deny the two are still competing for investment dollars. The problem of diminishing car counts isn’t just an IRL phenomenon, as Champ Car has similar issues. Just watch one of their parades and you will see only half of the 16 or so cars have sponsorships other than the team owners.

The difference is Champ Car has acknowledged this issue and devised a plan to deal with the problem. As reported before, the CCWS will be offering a chassis/engine rental option to potential investors to reduce the costs of competition. How well this plan works remains to be seen, but it beats just sitting around waiting for a miracle.

So with the 2007 about to begin, now would be the time to put the financial wizards in the IRL together and come up with some creative ideas for the resuscitation of Fernandez, Hemelgarn, Cheever, etc. It doesn’t matter whether that means the IRL starts their own rental program, or partially subsidizes teams without sponsors, or offers to have bake sales, or whatever. To date the only cost-saving innovation I have heard of is a slight reduction in cost for the 2007 Honda engine, but judging by the loss of teams that appears to be little more than spit in a bucket.

As a fan I can see the league has taken great steps in recent years. They have created a logical schedule, they have retained their premier teams and drivers, and they have implemented innovations of safety that will pay dividends for years. They have done this while still keeping the integrity of their incredibly exciting product. But all of those gains will go swirling down the drain if they end up featuring a series of races with just eight Penske, Ganassi and Andretti cars.

On that note, I refer you to Pressdog from last July.

Leaders of the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series vowed today to match each other's shrinking entry count car-for-car.

The estimated 34,292 race fans who still pay attention to open-wheel racing in America have noticed that car counts for both series have dropped steadily this year. Both Champ Car and the IRL currently field about 18 cars. (Actual numbers fluctuate from day to day based on the work load of bill collectors.) Officials from both series vowed not to fall behind in the de-escalating cart count shrinkage race.

"Were here to compete with the IRL," said Rufus McEnders, Director of 'Competition' for Champ Car. "So if the IRL loses a car, by God we'll lose a car too. No way are we going to let them lose cars faster than us." (MORE)

Sharp, Simmons Announced By RLR

Posted by Iannucci | 11/08/2006 | 0 comments »
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From today's Indy Star.

Scott Sharp was confirmed as the new Indy-car driver at Rahal Letterman Racing, part of a two-car effort that includes Jeff Simmons.

Sharp will bring Patron tequila sponsorship to Bobby Rahal's team. Simmons' car will again be sponsored by ethanol.

It’s All Wrong, And It’s All Here

Posted by Iannucci | 11/07/2006 | 2 comments »
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At first glance, this cringe-inducing photograph brings visual representation the Worst Case Scenario for IndyCar fans. The three-time series champion and defending Indy 500 winner shows off his shiny new NASCAR ride, leaving behind the series he practically owns for the sake of more exposure, more races and lots more dollars.

Aaaah! My eyes! MY EYES!!!!

However, Uncle Sam has commented early and often that this is nothing more than a diversion, a pastime in between IRL seasons that allows him to address his racing curiosity. While this in no way means he won’t someday end up bumping the behemoths full-time, it does mean that he’s staying in the IRL for at least one more season.

Besides, Roger Penske seems like a fairly loyal guy, and I doubt he would displace Ryan Newman or Kurt Busch just to give a ride to Hornish. I suppose The Captain could add a third car to his Cup stable, but that ain’t happening according to Don Miller who runs Penske’s NASCAR operations.

"Next year we are looking at some things, bringing in Sam Hornish (from the Indy-car world) to do a lot of Busch stuff. We're going to get a little deeper with our people. Maybe that's where some of these rumors are coming from - people asking to come over here and work for our third Cup team. But we're not going to have a third Cup team in 2007."
Regardless, this picture represents the full total of IndyCar drivers that fans in Arizona get to see this year. The IRL race at PIR was wiped off the schedule in 2006 and will not return in 2007. That sucks. But an Indy 500 champion – two of them in fact – will be making an appearance this weekend in the Valley of the Sun, racing their way through a Busch series event.

So yes, I will be there watching, hoping what I see is a novelty instead of some glimpse into the future. The ironic thing for me is that two of my kids are finally old enough to take to the races, but the first racing action they get to see is NASCAR. Life can be cruel, but if it’s the worst thing that happens to us this year I’ll be fine.

If there is any justice to be gained in this scenario, it is this: My five-year-old son loves this show called The Backyardigans, and his favorite character is “Pablo”. The boy wants to see Tony Stewart race because he always sees signs with his big, smiling face at the Home Depot Kids Workshops, and I’m OK with that considering how impressive Stewart was in the IRL. But I’m also confident I can get him to cheer for 2000 Indy 500 champ Juan “Pablo” Montoya as well - on name alone. Sure, Montoya doesn’t look much like a singing blue penguin, but at least he’s an open-wheel guy who stands a chance of wreaking havoc in the NASCAR world.

There may not be any actual open-wheel cars racing here this weekend, but we shall be supporting the current and former open-wheel drivers nonetheless.

Matsuura, Meira Signed With Panther

Posted by Iannucci | 11/06/2006 | 2 comments »
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Just posted on the Panther Racing site:

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 6, 2006) – Two-time IndyCar Series champion Panther Racing announced today a partnership with Super Aguri to run former Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Kosuke Matsuura during the 2007 season.

Super Aguri Panther Racing will field Matsuura in his familiar No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Honda Dallara alongside talented veteran Vitor Meira, who finished fifth in the championship standings last year. Matsuura earned both the Indy 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2004, and has collected 17 Top Ten finishes in an Indy-car career highlighted by a personal best finish of fourth place at Kentucky Speedway during his first season.(MORE)

Rice Already Loves Champ Car

Posted by Iannucci | 11/06/2006 | 2 comments »
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After having a single day of practice, Buddy Rice has decided that he wants to switch to Forsythe Racing…like now. Eurosport has the quotes.

"I don't know what Gerry is thinking for next year but, after just one day with this team, I know I'd love to drive for them next year," said Rice. "I just need to do my job and the rest will take care of itself…I was super impressed with this team and their professionalism made the transition easy."
Clearly The Rainman is just trying to demonstrate enthusiasm and show a great employee he would be, but who can blame him? The truth is Forsythe is one of the top rides in Champ Car and he would stand a lot better chance of scoring wins with them than he would by hooking up with any of the currently available rides in IndyCar. After the last two season he’s endured, a win of any kind would be especially appealing to him.

I don’t want to see Rice go, but snagging the Forsythe ride vacated by NASCAR-bound AJ Allmendinger is far and away Rice’s best bet for 2007.

The larger concern is if this is a developing trend. While the top drivers in the IndyCar series will all be returning in 2007, the likely reduction in car counts means that there will be guys like Rice, Ryan Briscoe, and perhaps others who migrate to Champ Car (or any other series) for next year. There are more drivers than rides, so the issue is one of basic math.

High costs, lack of parity, poor marketing, etc - you may now start flogging your favorite horse.

Foyt Considering Darren Manning

Posted by Iannucci | 11/06/2006 | 1 comments »
Bookmark and Share is reporting that Foyt Racing is looking to replace Jeff Bucknum with a more esperienced driver, and supposedly the guy on the top of their list is former Target Chip Ganassi driver Darren Manning. The report also states Foyt is looking at Tomas Enge and Townsend Bell as possible drivers for the team in 2007.


I mean no disrespect to the drivers mentioned above, but are these the top drivers available? Is Larry Foyt not concerned with accident rates?

Darren Manning: 24 starts, 0 wins, 6 accidents (25%)
Townsend Bell: 12 starts, 0 wins, 4 accidents (33%)
Tomas Enge: 17 starts, 0 wins, 7 accidents (41%)

This is odd to say the least.

Oops - Danica Not Yet Driving

Posted by Iannucci | 11/05/2006 | 2 comments »
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Remember that bit a few days ago about Danica! participating in the testing of a Daytona prototype? Yeah, well, umm, on second thought...that little deal with Howard Motorsports ain't happening.

“Howard Motorsports was recently informed that Danica Patrick is not available to participate in the upcoming test at Daytona International Speedway due to unforeseen circumstances. Prior to filing the entries, the team had every assurance that Danica would participate, and based on conversations between Danica and members of Howard Motorsports, Danica was excited about joining the team once again after making her Rolex 24 At Daytona in the team’s No. 2 Callaway Golf Pontiac Crawford earlier this year. Unfortunately, entities outside of Danica and the Howard Motorsports team have determined that she cannot participate in the test.

“We are disappointed to say the least, as we truly enjoy working with Danica and her family. The entire Howard Motorsports organization was looking forward to having her as part of an extremely strong driver lineup in our cars."
I'm guessing those entities would be lawyers, probably for AGR.

Besides, having Danica!, Katherine "Unbreakable" Legge and Rolex series regular Milka Dumo all at Daytona might be some sign of a racing apocalypse.

Franchitti and NASCAR

Posted by Iannucci | 11/05/2006 | 0 comments »
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Do you ever feel like just starting a wild rumor? Check this single line from a recent NASCAR wire story.

...IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti watched the final Cup practice from the top of one of Richard Childress' haulers...
Hey, you never know. But you thought for a moment it could happen.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Drinking And Driving Don't Mix

Posted by Iannucci | 11/05/2006 | 0 comments »
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Toronto's Paul Tracy may have to miss the final Champ Car race after breaking his right shoulder blade in a drunken joyride in a golf cart near Las Vegas last weekend.

Tracy, who currently lies fifth in the championship standings, said the incident occurred last Saturday night.

"Sorry to say it was self-inflicted. I was at a party and had had a little too much to drink, and we thought it was a good idea to go out on a golf cart and try and jump sand dunes with it," said Tracy, who is due to race next Saturday in Mexico City. (MORE)

More Than 5 Quick Questions: Scott Dixon

Posted by Iannucci | 11/02/2006 | 0 comments »
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More Press but still all Dog.

The Iceman himself chats with The P-Dog about Formula One, beer, and peeing in the suit. Sample this.

pressdog: You seem eerily calm before, during and after the race. What's up with that? Do you go back to the trailer and scream and yell and fist pump when nobody is looking or is the calm guy just the Real Scott Dixon?

Dixon: That's just me. I don't take life too seriously...we don't get out of it alive.
Kiwis are centered.

AGR News: Franchitti Stays, Herta Goes

Posted by Iannucci | 11/01/2006 | 0 comments »
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So much Andretti Green news I don't know where to begin.

Let's start with Dario. Confirming much speculation from people not named Robin Miller, Curt Cavin relays that Mr Judd will return in 2007 to race with AGR. Speculation revolved around whether he would race in the IndyCar series or the new American Le Mans entry for AGR. The surprise answer is: BOTH.

I'm guessing he's getting a raise for that bonus work.

In a related move, by taking the helm of the fourth AGR entry (along with Rocky, Andretti 3.0 and Danica!), Franchitti has effectively ended the IndyCar career of longtime AGR driver Bryan Herta. The Invisible Man will not retire from racing though, as he will be the primary driver for the AGR ALMS entry.

Maybe they should just keep all five drivers and draw straws each week. Short straw goes to ALMS and the rest get the IRL cars.

As if that wasn't enough to talk about, Michael Andretti will be, well, talking on a new weekly XM Radio show. USAToday reports the appropriately titled "Andretti Green Racing Hour" will debut in February and will feature Andretti 2.0 and his cavalcade of drivers.

"Racing fans across the country will now not only be able to get behind-the-scenes access to races and rivalries, but The Andretti Green Racing Hour will provide the ultimate access into the lives and unique personalities of each of the drivers," Andretti said Tuesday.
I know they have like half the drivers in the series, but let's hope they mix in some other personalities from around the league. Well Done, Spiderman, and the Fisher Queen all deserve some air time. Better yet, get Jeff Simmons in the booth to talk to Danica about her "unique personality" - Good times, my friend.

Dark Days For Fernandez Racing

Posted by Iannucci | 11/01/2006 | 0 comments »
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Fernandez Racing co-owner Tom Anderson puts the odds at "80% or better" that his team's driver duo...will be back for 2007.
That's from a July 18th story in USAToday. Unfortunately for Anderson, it would appear the odds have since dwindled to nothing.

TrackSide Online, SpeedTV, and the Indy Star all have various versions of the story, but it appears that "80% or better" would currently describe the likelihood of Scott Sharp joining Rahal Letterman Racing. Reports concur that announcement cannot be far away, noting that RLR recently hired away two of the Fernandez engineers.

Additionally, the Super Aguri franchise seems to be moving towards Panther Racing. This would not only allow Panther to field a second car, but also provide a highly visible sponsor in the form of Panansonic for the vehicle. Kosuke Matsuura is thought to remain the designated development driver, although that is still uncertain.

It's not all bad news for Fernandez, as all systems are go for their entry in the American Le Mans sports car program with what's left of their team. No word on who that driver will be. For now, hope still springs in the smallest of ways for Tom Anderson.

"We're not offering any of our IRL equipment for sale at this time," he said. "If something happened and we found a sponsor, we could repaint the cars and be ready in 14 days."

Sarah Fisher Finally Wins

Posted by Iannucci | 11/01/2006 | 1 comments »
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For the first time in a long while, it appears The Fisher Queen had a competitive ride.

Pressdog reports (reports? reports!) that Sarah Fisher and her fiancé teamed up for a victorious run in a 100 mile karting race in Norway.

Wait a minute - shouldn't a race in Norway be in kilometers?

At any rate, congratulations to The Fisher Queen. Considering the way the last few years have gone she would deserve congraulations for merely beating the Pressdog in a bumper car race. And you know she could.