Here’s a rumor Panther Racing owner John Barnes would rather not hear. Even though My Name Is IRL endeavors to be a Robin-free zone (still waiting on that “Dario to Champ Car” report to play out, Robin) this possibility has too many implications to ignore.
The idea that Hideki Mutoh could join Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti next year at Andretti Green Racing may sound a little off the wall, but not if you’re Honda.Those who’ve read this site know how strongly I feel about Mutoh’s abilities, but it might be all roses if this union of Mutoh and AGR comes to pass. Despite the implication of how much Honda would love to see a Japanese driver in Victory Lane – and make no mistake, Hideki could very well do that in an AGR car – it would be coming at the expense of Panther Racing, one of the last stalwarts remaining of the pre-Big Three IRL era. If John Barnes can’t find a replacement for the Super Aguri sponsorship then his car count could reduce again despite the benefits of the new payout plan.
Since the beginning of its assault in open-wheel racing in this country, Honda has subsidized several Japanese drivers in CART and IRL with nothing approaching success.
But Super Aguri and Honda have never had a countryman in a top-shelf ride and Mutoh looks like a gasser, at least in Honda’s eyes. He was eighth in his IndyCar debut at Chicago after a couple of IPS victories. (MORE from SpeedTV)
But an even larger issue looms: Recall that Aguri Suzuki was a Formula One racer, so should Mutoh reach any kind of early success then he could very well be pegged by Suzuki – as well as Honda – to be whisked away to Aguri’s struggling (as in no Top 5s in 34 entries) “Super Aguri F1” team. As much as it hurts to lose talents to The N-Word it would be no different to see a Mutoh use successes in an IndyCar as a springboard to F1. Leaving is leaving no matter where you are going, and if that happens then AGR is left once again trolling to replace exported talent. (Presuming Marco and Danica don’t go anywhere either, which is not an entirely safe presumption.)
“Andretti Green Racing – from here to anywhere!”
Whether this deal happens or not it’s fairly certain Mutoh will be in an IndyCar next year, and that alone is worth looking anticipating. Jeff Simmons seems to be the only driver to recently advance out of the Indy Pro ranks despite there being about a half-dozen drivers right now who could be competitive in the ICS if rides were available, so the development of drivers like Alex Lloyd and Mutoh is an overdue revelation. It’s just discouraging to see the IndyCar series used as a stepping stone of driver development as well.
Then again, I probably shouldn’t put all these “if”s together from something Robin said.