Rampant speculation

Posted by Iannucci | 11/20/2008 | 20 comments »
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OK, remember how our new buddy Kevin Lee of the IMS Radio Network warned a few weeks ago about stuff you read on blogs? How it may or may not be true? Well, this time that's the case because in the interest of conversation I'm just going to throw something out at you. If I were Robin I'd be running for a microphone and a TV camera right now, but I'm not so I'm attaching a humongous disclaimer.

WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

Alright, now that we have that out of the way we can continue. Here's the deal: I've recently been told by someone who is a lot closer to the goings on of the IRL than your humble host that in lieu of the recent decision to deny Helio Castroneves a delay from his schedule March court date that Team Penske has already decided lock up a different driver for the 2009 season. Could this mean they think the trial will drag on for months? Could it mean they think the evidence against Helio is rock solid? Could it mean he's agreed to plead guilty? I have no idea on any of those.

But wait, there's more. I was also told that the driver that Penske is eyeing is Vitor Meira and that they are negotiating with Foyt Enterprises to buy him out of his newly signed contract. Does this mean Foyt will let Vitor go? Would Tony George try to influence this decision? Who would replace Vitor at Foyt? Sorry, I haven't got a clue.

Once again, WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

If this in fact true, and really considering all we've read I don't think this is an entirely a shocking chain of events, it would demonstrate three key points.

1. Roger Penske is most concerned with winning the Indy 500. While the idea of finding a replacement for Helio has been water cooler material for weeks, most of the conversation has focused on drivers like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Oriol Servia or Justin Wilson. Those guys are good drivers, but that's in the context of the entire IndyCar season. Quick question - how many times has Roger Penske won the Indy 500 as an owner? I know many of you know the answer is 14. Now how many "series championships" has he won? Yeah, I don't know either.

That's because it's all about Indy, and since it's all about Indy you go for the best guy there. 2005 winner Dan Wheldon is locked up with Panther, '04 winner Buddy Rice hasn't, well, looked that great lately, and the last two winners are racing for Big Chip. And Sam Hornish Jr still likes gunning for the Top 30 in stock cars, thank you very much. So of the drivers remaining you gotta look at Vitor who finished 2nd twice in the last four years. In fact, he's never finished worse than 12th at the Brickyard, so he's probably the best option if his current owner is willing to consider negotiating his release.

2. Helio's legal prospects do not look good. There's no way to sugar coat this, because you know The Captain would rather go to Indy with a two-time winner driving his car, but if he believes Helio isn't going to be available then it leads to wondering about what Team Penske knows.

Recall that when the news first broke about Helio's tax evasion indictment that Team Penske was listed as being asked to provide evidence. That's probably because they were writing the checks, but we don't know what else. As bad as the thought about Helio going to trial is then dare to ponder this: Helio is not a US citizen, so if Helio is convicted he faces the likelihood that he will be deported. For good. Whether or not he goes to jail. I'm sure it's not his biggest worry at the moment but let's at least get this out there - his IndyCar career could be over RIGHT NOW.

If you happen to have any, please pass the Excedrin...OK, once more, with feeling. WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

3. Tony Kanaan is silently weeping. Let's not even get into his personal loss relating to his longtime friend and/or rival, but rather consider how his gamesmanship in silly season played out. Depending on who you believe Kanaan may have been angling for a ride at TCGR or he may have been simply using the negotiations to leverage more money from AGR. The entire issue is clouded because if he had gone to Ganassi he would have been #2 to reigning champion Scott Dixon's #1, and equipment aside Kanaan's not a #2 type of guy.

However, had he known what was going on with Helio, he likely would have been the guy on the top of Team Penske's list today, and he's definitely be top dog next to Ryan Briscoe. As good as Vitor has been at Indy, Kanaan has set a record by leading the race in all seven of his attempts. Sure, he's still winless at the Brickyard, but you know next May just like every other he's going to be a betting favorite (and fan favorite) no matter how his month goes. If he were available one would suspect Roger would be all over him like white on rice.

Again, these are a lot of words for something that isn't yet confirmed. Maybe Robin or Cavin or someone else will verify it all soon, but I thought you all should be in the loop. If nothing else it certainly makes for quite a conversation.


  1. pressdog // November 20, 2008 8:01 AM  

    I gotta say it -- Milleresque. I don't think Penske necessarily knows something about what they have on Helio. If he's all locked up in court, I think he'll be sitting there during the trial which can go on for a month or two, which just makes him physically unavailable. Not sure Miera makes a ton of sense to me to fill the seat, but I'm sure Penske has looked at it 28 different ways. Oh, yeah, IF THIS IS TRUE.

  2. Edmund // November 20, 2008 9:40 AM  

    Vitor. OF COURSE Vitor. If anyone in the series in a Penske kind of guy, it's Vitor. I can't believe I didn't think of him sooner. While I have always been a HUGE HCN fan, you can't help but admire Vitor for what he has done in the equipment he has been given. So I say IF Helio must go, I can't think of a better guy to fill his seat than Vitor. Man I hope it's true,

  3. SandWedge // November 20, 2008 10:26 AM  

    if this is true, here's even more fun to speculate. Who does Foyt sign to now be the successor to Manning?

    Do any of those top free agents think Foyt is worth their time or does Foyt pluck out Jeff Simmons and forget that he drove his car into a wall on a yellow flag lap in May? Does Pablo Donoso finally get his ride that was prematurely announced last season?

    Secondly, something I'm surprised no one has been wondering about. APEX Brasil's agreement/plan that was announced said they were going to sponsor a car, yet no one has been wondering about who they might sponsor, a current car, pick up a new car and driver?

  4. Dale Nixon // November 20, 2008 10:40 AM  

    Regarding SandWedge's questions:
    - Simmons' suspension was already damaged when Alex Lloyd hit him in the pits; it snapped when he was warming the tires for the restart.
    - Not sure Donoso has enough money to get a ride with Foyt or elsewhere, although it's possible he can be in an extra car in May.
    - The APEX Brazil money is said to be coming from/going with Jaime Camara, but not sure to which team. Probably a "best of the rest" that needs a funded driver.

    Another note worth mentioning: as Jeff pointed out, should Helio be convicted of the tax evasion (never mind get a resulting jail sentence), it's likely that his racing career in the US will be over, with border crossings being what they are now.

    So it's not merely an issue of replacing Helio for a year, it's replacing Helio, period.

  5. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // November 20, 2008 11:55 AM  

    I can't even talk about it.

  6. Jesse // November 20, 2008 12:47 PM  

    How about the irony of Wheldon in the #4 car if Vitor ends up at Penske? I love it.

  7. VitorFan // November 20, 2008 1:26 PM  

    I hope it's true! I've been a huge fan of Vitor since he first came into the league. It ashamed such a talented driver doesn't have a win. He did quite a bit with the Panther equipment and was probably one of the best, if not the best driver outside of the BIG 3. I would love to see what he could do in a Penske car.

  8. Anonymous // November 20, 2008 3:16 PM  

    Calm, cool & driven. Vitor should bump Helio regardless. Maybe change in the #3 seat is what Penske really needs anyway. Helio can drive for Foyt, that can be part of his punishment.

  9. Theedanimal // November 20, 2008 5:37 PM  


  10. Anonymous // November 20, 2008 7:53 PM  

    I could just cry.

  11. Robert // November 21, 2008 1:08 PM  

    Dale Nixon : ...it's likely that his racing career in the US will be over, with border crossings being what they are now.

    I heard Helio bought a house in Tijuana and is going to run across on Thursdays, race all weekend, then run back on Sunday night - hell half of Tijuana does it, why can't he try.

    I still think Rubens is going to Penske and if HCN does get out in time for Indy (or any part of the season) Penske will run 3 cars.

  12. AZZO45 // November 22, 2008 11:09 AM  

    Penske hires WINNERS. Last time I checked Vitor was a "Woulda-Coulda- Shoulda"

    Sure, Roger gambles & hires "potential". However, that "potential" usually is from another series (Rick Mears) or was a rookie on an under financed team like Kevin Cogan (& we know how that turned out).

    Tom Sneva won a lot of poles for Penske, but no victories. Penske fired him at the end of the season... why would he take a chance on Vitor (after 3-4 seasons).... IMO he would NOT.

    Bummer Tony Kanaan is back with AGR... would love to see him at Indy with Penske (if Helio could not be)

  13. mmack // November 22, 2008 12:12 PM  


    Tom Sneva didn't win at Penske Racing?

    That'll be a shock for the Gas-Man.

    I show three wins (one in 1975, two in 1977) for "Snivley" behind the wheel of a Penske Racing car.

    To be honest, a lack of wins, combined with Mr. Sneva's outspoken nature, sealed his fate at Penske Racing. When Rick Mears took three wins and part-timer Mario Andretti took one in 1978, the writing was on the wall. However, Tom may be the only driver who left Penske and went on to bigger and better things, like an Indanapolis 500 win.

  14. AZZO45 // November 22, 2008 12:56 PM  

    Sorry mmack... that what I should have said. He WON to infrequently (especially when he had all those poles). Hard to have sponsors resign when one guy starts upfront & drifts back during the race.

    I should have said Penske likes "deal closers"? At least Sneva had wins... (before & after Penske career) same can not be said for Vitor Meira

  15. AZZO45 // November 22, 2008 1:04 PM  

    Oh mmack: Mario Andretti left Penske in 1980? & almost won Indy in 1981 & did win a CART Championship for Newman Hass in 1984.

    So Mario is the exception to the "leaving Penske" rule... but Mario is the exception to a lotta rules!!!

  16. Iannucci // November 22, 2008 1:56 PM  

    I think your memory is going back too far - Ryan Briscoe hadn't won squat in the IRL before Roger hired.

    Yes, he likes proven winners, but that doesn't mean that's all he hires.

  17. AZZO45 // November 22, 2008 4:01 PM  

    Guess we disagree...

    Briscoe had been a Toyota F1 test driver (RP likes international pedigree at times).

    Ryan also redeemed himself in the DHL Porsche ride... scoring some important wins. You have to admit that ALMS wins mean a helluva lot more than training ground series wins (Lights, Atlantic, F3, etc). Yes???

    Penske hires solid winners... even Andre Riberio (sp?) had won the Lights title & a few races for Tasman/ Honda when Penske hired him (also because part of his Marlboro $$$ was coming from Phillip Morris /Latin America as well...)

    IMO, there are just TOO MANY unemployed OW drivers (with much better resumes) than Vitor for him to get penciled in at one of the top IRL teams

  18. Anonymous // November 22, 2008 4:54 PM  

    OK. If Vitor cannot win for a full year in a Penske car, I will finally admit that he cannot win. He still hasn't driven for any of the BIG 3 teams in the IRL. You have to give him a shot first.

  19. AZZO45 // November 22, 2008 5:50 PM  

    Please! Enough with this "Big 3" nonsense!

    He drove for Rahal Letterman when Buddy Rice WON Indy & the whole team was competitive (even with freakin' Panoz chassis)

    Panther Racing still had its core guys from when Sam Hornish & Co. beat the "top teams" of their day.

    Here is the current & potential unemployment line of drivers WAY MORE deserving than Vitor (in no particular order:

    Ryan Hunter Reay
    AJ Allmendinger
    Justin Wilson
    Paul Tracy
    Patrick Carpentier
    Sebastian Bourdais

    Keeping with drivers under contract to Penske:

    Patrick Long
    Romain Dumas

    A much more talented Brazilian (than VM):

    Raphael Matos (Hey if RP is gonna spend mad $$$ to pop a driver from a contract... buy out AGR not AJ Foyt !!!

    Good traffic on this topic for the "off season" !!! :) :) :)

  20. Mike // November 22, 2008 9:01 PM  

    Considering that Matos is actually signed by RP's son for Luczo Dragon next year...well, I don't know if that means he's more or less likely to 'poach' the driver...Raphael Matos is a kick ass racer, and any team owner would love to get their mitts on him.