Head count

Posted by Iannucci | 2/19/2010 | , , | 8 comments »
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We're about a month away from the start of the season, which means the shotgun-marriages that are last-minute driver deals are coming fast and furious. Or furiously. Or whatever. Months of courting by teams, drivers, and their respective financiers is finally resulting in actual paper-and-ink contracts, and since the driver count for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season has expanded beyond the number of fingers on even Antonio Alfonseca's hands it's high time we got ourselves a head count.

The latest announcement came yesterday out of Japan, where Hideki Mutoh...wait, wrong guy...I meant to say former Formula One driver Takuma Sato has inked a deal to race fulltime for KV Racing Technologies. Start your own "Has he ever raced an oval?" hysteria amongst yourselves if you want, but first here's a word from Sato.

Speaking of KV, many folks on twitter have noticed that EJ Viso seems to be preparing to join Sato, although again nothing is etched in stone. He hasn't explicitly said "I-Heart-K-V" (which in his native tongue would be more like "Yo-corazon-K-V" but with proper punctuation), but that's the impression people are getting after he tested with KV recently.

Also, it should be noted that former F1 development driver (for Honda, no less) James Rossiter is (a) on twitter, (b) following only a few people including the KVRT account as well as KV co-owner Jimmy Vasser, and (c) tweeting about getting fitted for seat and going to Indianapolis for medical evaluations. And that is all I have to say about that.

So here is the tally of FULL TIME drivers thus far.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti
Team Penske: Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power
Andretti Autosport: Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick
Panther Racing: Dan Wheldon
KV Racing Technologies: Takuma Sato
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Justin Wilson, Mike Conway
AJ Foyt Enterprises: Vitor Meira
Luczo, Dragon, de Ferran etc: Raphael Matos
FAZZT Racing: Alex Tagliani

So that's 13.. 14.. 15 so far, but Viso and Rossiter could bump that up to a 2008 Champ Car level of participation. Plus Sarah Fisher, Jay Howard, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Davey Hamilton have been confirmed for 4-9 races each, so it's not IndyCarpocalpse Now just yet. Also, don't forget that guys like Mario Moraes and Hideki Mutoh are supposed to be walking around with sponsorship cash already in hand, so there's little reason to think they won't be on the grid at Sao Paolo.

As for other teams...

HVM Racing - Robert Doornboos was thought to be a lock her, but on a recent episode of the Trackside radio show HVM owner Keith Wiggins seemed to be hedging away. And today his twitter status read something about a "door closing". Perhaps checks aren't clearing. Next in line would see to be Atlantics graduate Simona DiSilvestro, who has been testing for the team lately.

Dale Coyne Racing: Well, JR Hildebrand has been Uncle Dale's test driver, so this pairing could be a definite maybe. Or maybe Jan Heylen comes out of nowhere. You just never know these days.

Conquest Racing: According to my Google translator, a Brazilian report says Tomas Scheckter will soon be here, and I think it says the team may have up to three drivers. In the immortal words of Baseball great Mark Grace, "Spring hopes eternal".

Team 3G: Perhaps my distant cousin Richard Antinucci will return. Or perhaps Jaques Lazier will come back because he loves it when cars disintegrate under him on the opening lap.

Vision Racing: Umm...well, they are still collecting letters of reference. In the meantime, they're selling non-essential equipment to help pay the bills. If you are in the need for any non-essential equipment, by all means pick up the phone and give them a call.

And then there's Newman Haas Lanigan Racing, about whom there seems to be rampant speculation - all of it bad. Everything from a one-team ride-buyer program to no team at all. It would be convenient of me to not all the drivers and wins this historic organization has enjoyed, but until certain death has been pronounced the eulogy will for now be reserved. In the meantime, let's just say things are very quiet.

Which brings us to the 2010 occupant of the Throne of Injustice: former NHLR driver Graham Rahal. Last year everyone was up in arms that Ryan Hunter-Reay - who was perhaps the only driver not named "Danica" featured in an ad campaign - was without a ride. But at the last minute he got a deal with Vision, but then trouble hit and he was out of a ride, but then Vitor Meira got hurt so Tony George loaned him to AJ Foyt's team, and in the meantime we got to see that famous commercial with Ryan about 10,432 times. In the end, everything was indeed going to be alright. Heh heh.

But now the unsigned driver for whom all hearts bleed is young Graham Rahal, the Son of 'Stache who dared to win a couple pole positions and stand on a couple other podiums, often taking on the role of Ralphie while last year Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske were taking turns abusing the field like they were Scut Farkus and Grover Dill. I don't know where Graham will end up, I don't know when he'll end up there, but I do know he's definitely not going to USF1.


  1. pressdog // February 19, 2010 7:28 AM  

    Yes, yes. Golf applause for the round up, Jeff. You remember Tony George, the kicked around and maligned one who, ah, I think, you know, used his own money to keep RHR in the league last year. I give TG mad props for that, but I expect others will see it as part of his Evil Plan.

  2. Aaron // February 19, 2010 8:40 AM  

    We'd be nowhere with IndyCar news without Google Translator. Great piece, Jeff.

  3. Filip // February 19, 2010 12:58 PM  

    Jan Heylen? Wow, talking about a long shot. I'd love to see it happen though.

  4. tripleleagueracing // February 19, 2010 7:51 PM  

    Yeah! More international Ride Buyers!!!! How EXCITING!!!!!! Oh, and better yet, car count getting uncofortably close to pre split levels.

    Really, I think Moreas is a good driver, but compared to Rahal, Hunter Ray, and J.R Hilderbrand, well, who do you think will improve TV ratings and sell more tickets?

    This might make me a hypocryte, but I DO want Simona De Silverstro to make it to Indycar this year. Yes, she's another International driver, but she's proven herself in Atlantics, and would be a great addition. For me, if a driver isn't American, it's still pretty good to get drivers with Atlantics/Lights experince, whatever nationality.

  5. Michael // February 19, 2010 10:19 PM  

    thanks for the round up I wondering about current status of many of these drivers, things are indeed looking pretty bleak.

    To see Neuman Hass cease to exist would be a crushing blow. But hey I'm sure the all those 10 years and there disposable cash that love the Delta Wing will be happy to chip in their allowance to sponsor someone unlike us 40 years olds staring at our computers who have supported the sport for years.

  6. Chris // February 19, 2010 10:24 PM  

    Hi Jeff,

    First off Long time reader, first time caller! This is a great Indycar blog, Fair and Balanced (obviously you see what news I watch ;) )

    Regarding car count.... I posted this Q&A to Robin Miller a while ago:

    Q: I continue to be impressed with how Sarah Fisher is growing her Indycar operation, slow and steady growth, I think with a little luck by the time the new cars roll out in 2012/13 and the field is leveled (at least in the short term) SFR may be able to pull out a podium finish on either an oval (with her) or even a road course with Jay Howard. Sarah is not a trust fund baby nor a Danica type of media phenom, but through hard work, tremendous personal risk taking and a really good nose for PR she is on the path to a long career as a driver/owner. My question to you is why don't we see more drivers doing this? In particular with the Buddy Rice's, PT's etc... roaming about the paddock wouldn't their time be better spent pursuing this path? Tags is doing it as well (although I am concerned he may be biting off more then they can chew in their first year, Indy and road courses may have been more prudent for the first year but time will tell). I guess I am tired of all the grousing about how good drivers can't get rides..... why not follow Sarah's path and control your own destiny? What am I missing?

    Chris, Colorado Springs

    RM: There's no denying that Sarah's program is a nice template for the smaller teams and her PR man, Klint Briney, has done an excellent job as well as her marketing staff (if she has one). But Sarah has always been good with sponsors and media and she's made some good allies through the years. But she knows the only way she can race is to have her own team (or bring a bunch of money to somebody). Paul Tracy and Buddy Rice are proven winners, why should they have to go out and find money? They've earned the right to be hired guns but, sadly, in this economy and the ridiculous budgets required to be competitive in IndyCar, they're reduced to part-timers or spectators. That's why racing isn't really a sport because talented veterans are rewarded in baseball, basketball and football. Even NASCAR.

    New Comments Chris:

    I absolutely feel that the paradigm in auto racing is changing. Given the economics of the sport managing the sponsorship relationship is just as critical to the driving. Looking at F1 it is rumored that 40-50% are either "pay drivers" or those that bring sponsorship with them. NASCAR is heading down that path (RCR dropped a driver with no sponsorship while Paul Menard continues to have a ride).

    The world we would all like (and the one RM still lives in) is that the top 40+ drivers (preferably all American) have their pick of rides with no financial consideration whatsoever...However that is not where the world is heading. So my long winded response here is that rather then bemoan the fact that the PTs, Rahals, RHR, Servias, Buddy Rice's of the world do not have rides, why not put the ownership back on them to make it happen the way Sarah Fisher or Tags have. Or look at Scott Sharp, come on this guy is an average driver at best, and supposedly a real a**hole in the paddock, yet he has cultivated strong sponsor relationships with Patron, Delphi etc... to keep him gainfully employed for 20 years....

    So net net for auto racers it is back to Dr Seuss, It is Thing one and Thing two! Its is not a question of either but both.

    Sorry for the long winded rant ;)

  7. Chris // February 19, 2010 10:40 PM  

    Sorry, but to add to my previous rant...

    Looking at Stewart Haas Racing in NASCAR. Tony was able to bring sponsorship to Haas Racing to move this team from the back of the pack to the front. The equipment was the same before Tony as after, the only difference was the personnel, drivers, engineers, leadership, pit crew etc... and how he accomplished this was the fact that Tony is a rainmaker in regards to sponsorship... $ = Speed, always has and always will, the sooner Indycar drivers figure this out and take ownership for this the better off they and the sport will be.

  8. Chris // February 19, 2010 11:00 PM  

    One last comment about Young Mr. Rahal. He needs to take a page from his dad's book. I am old enough to remember the "Sleep Cheap" t-shirts his pit crew wore in 1982. Bobby was sponsored long time by the famous Jim Trueman the owner and founder of Red Roof Inns. Chances are without the relationship Bobby cultivated with Jim Trueman, the dorky, mustached, bespeckled, sports car driver would never have developed into the Indy icon he is today....