What do the three cars above all have in common?
Sure, they are all Dallara's, they all have Honda engine packages and run on Firestone tires. But there is something a little less obvious that is outside of the picture.
These three cars are all poised to be single-car teams this coming season. Hell, they aren't the only ones. If I wanted to include all of the one car teams for this season, I'd need a picture as long as Marty Roth's damage receipt.
- Panther - Wheldon
- A.J. Foyt Enterprises - Meira
- Vision - Carpenter
- Conquest - Camara/Tagliani
- Dreyer & Reinbold - Conway
- Luczo Dragon - Matos
- 3G/Beck - Barrett
- KVRT - Moraes
I didn't throw HVM in there as it is likely RHR will land a ride with them, after getting the testing gig at Barber at the next group test.
And now-a-days, the success of one car teams is minimal. A rare victory for Rahal Letterman at Watkins Glen in '08 was the first win for a one car team since the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland in 2004 by Adrian Fernandez (By the way Mr. Fernandez, Indy is calling you, they would love to have you back in the series).
I'm sure many of the teams listed above would love to see that trend reverse itself for 2009, and who is to say it won't? But in all honesty, many of these teams will be happy with an occasional top-5 performance. It seems that now, to keep up, teams need that second car to 'use' in a way. Information sharing between cars is vital to nailing down the right setup. Team work and cooperation is critical to winning races. The old "2 heads is better then 1" routine comes to mind. Also, 2 cars simply have better odds to win a race for a team then 1 car does.
Then we look at the Big-3 (plus NHL Racing). They are all multi-car efforts, 2 each for Ganassi and Penske, then 3 and 4 for NHL and AGR respectively. Obviously, we all see how strong these teams are compared to the rest of the field, but how easy would it be for some of these one-car teams to make that step up to Big-3 plus 1 status? I mean, does a team like Panther, who competes constantly near the top of the best of the rest find sponsorship for a second car and jump into championship contender status? Possibly.
But here is a real measure of the strength of multi-car efforts. This year, if Dale Coyne is able to run 2 cars (I suspect he will), and he surpasses most of the 1-car efforts, it should prove how much stronger a mediocre 2-car team is compared to many 1-car teams.
I think the point I'm trying to get across to you is this. Maybe the IRL is not dominated by the Big-3 simply because they are stronger and better then everyone else. Maybe the Big-3 dominated because the lowly-7 aren't able to take that step towards the top to join them. If the Big-3 are maxed out, which in a spec chassis world with little development available, is quite possible, maybe the lower teams just need to get close to maxing out themselves, but without a second car, won't be able to do that.
Once this economic recession or depression or concussion dissapears I think you will start to see some of these 1-car teams find the 2-car and 3-car team budgets and join the top ranks to create some more competitiveness. Until that happens, I doubt we'll see a whole lot of teams aside from the Big-3 and NHLR winning races, especially in '09.