March 21st until March 23rd, the IRL will be holding testing for both the ICS and FIL series at Barber Motorsports Park. The FIL cars will be on track on the 21st for 7 hours while the ICS cars will take to the track for 14 hours on the course over the last two days.
The Homestead test in February brought 21 ICS entries to the track for testing. That number seems to be the low end opinion for the car count in 2009. However, I think we'll get a better feeling regarding the car count and the location of each of the free agent drivers once we see who shows up with who at Barber.
Expected cars are all those that tested at the Homestead test plus a second HVM car for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Things look like they are falling into place for RHR to land with his former team back in the CART days.
So, unofficially we are looking at a minimum of 22 entries for the test most likely.
1 Luczo Dragon
1 Dale Coyne
Now, this Conquest entry is not a guarentee due to their struggles finding money, but I would put my money on them making the trip with atleast one car. Eric Bachelart has found ways to run cars on shoe string budgets, and usually once all hope dies, he finds a way to make something work.
Now, the fun part about this test is trying to figure out who will show up for the test that wasn't previously around. Rumours are swirling around about 2 cars at various outfits. Let's do a run down of the 1-car teams and who might move to 2 cars for the test and/or the season.
KVRT - Jimmy Vasser has been quoted as saying they hope to have 2 cars from Indy on. So, it seems like they will be at one car to start the season.
Panther - No news regarding a second car to supplement Wheldon. Rumours of a second car over the off-season never came to be, atleast it seems that way.
D&R - Dreyer & Reinbold is much like Conquest where they seem to be able to put deals together to get cars on the track. Nothing has come out in rumors asides from the Wilson to D&R whispers earlier this off-season, but they seem to be quelled now that he is at DCR. They could surprise us with a second car at the test.
Foyt - Don't expect anything more then Meira out of Foyt until the 500, unless they have found some money to run IV but that is unlikely.
Vision - Tony George seems adament he isn't spending the money for a second car. Unfortunately it looks like he isn't going to give in, and will only run one car. IV will not be in the car at Barber.
Luczo Dragon - They are set as a one car team for 2009.
Dale Coyne - Dale Coyne has run 2 cars as far back as I can remember, mind you that isn't all that far back for some reason. But with rumours that he offered a second seat to Paul Tracy in front of Bruno Junqueira, you would think he is planning to run a second car. They could show up at Barber with two cars, without having to worry about heavy crash damage to a car like they did at Homestead.
Conquest - Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like they have found any money between the Homestead test and now. Hopefully they have and kept it on the downlow, but hope for 1 car from them. Eric Bachelart will probably find a way to get there.
3G/Beck - Unless something dramatic happened for the team, they will be a one car team for 2009, and expect Stanton Barrett to continue his ICS training at Barber.
Now, the other possibility we are looking at is Rubicon Racing. They are rumoured to have $6.5 million in sponsorship, and are looking at running Buddy Rice for '09. But the longer they wait to announce something, the longer I doubt they are actually going to make the grid this year. And you'd think they'd want to make it to a test if they are going to run a full season. We also have to look for Tomas Scheckter to land somewhere with his $2-3 million, Vision maybe?
Whatever way you look at it, the field looks deep with atleast 22 cars ready to hit the test at Barber and ready to hit the grid at St. Pete in about 3 weeks. Out of all the cars headed to the test, I expect atleast 21 of them to make the grid, plus atleast one more car to enter the competition. 22 cars in this economy seems like a pretty good number. Especially since the number of cars seems poised to grow after the I500, we seem to be in a good situation for the full season despite what some others are saying.
As a side note, the Sebring 12 hours (ALMS) is running this weekend, and in particular, Franchitti and Dixon are running for Acura with Patron and de Ferran respectively in their LMP1 cars. This leaves me wondering if Ganassi will run 2 cars at the Barber test on the first day, or if they will run 1 car with Alex Lloyd or no cars since the 12 hours ends at 10:30 on Sunday, the first day of the Barber test. Maybe they will use this chance to run Lloyd and another Lights driver to gain the bonus testing miles.
BTW, The Other Side Blog is closing in the next 19 hours, so make sure you drop off your vote for this years biggest storyline.