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I'll be doing my best to run into Darren Manning and Wheldon and Wilson and Conway as I'll be in Manchester, England for the trip. We'll be playing a few games and heading to London and a few other locations for tours and such.
Anyways, I don't know if you can do without my writing for a while, if you're having trouble, check out my fellow bloggers for the time I'm away. I'm sure they will be covering the fun stuff like Helio's trial, a Barber open-test (which is diminishing in cars by the day), and the fancy new website they are launching on the 24th (which is a special day I won't be around for... special for another reason...), and hopefully some driver announcements.
Anyways, wish me luck, I'll try to throw something up if I find the time, if not, talk to you in about 10 days.
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.
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.
Lloyd is the 2007 FIL champion and signed a contract with TCGR over the following winter. He ran a bunch of Grand-Am in '08 and did the I500 with RLR in association with TCGR, but has been out of an ICS car since May 2008. None the less, Lloyd is a very talented driver with experience at the Brickyard in a top flight organization like RLR.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports will most likely run Alex Lloyd in a car supplied by Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Odds are that car will have all the bits and pieces on it that the average TCGR car would have. So, Sam Schmidt will turn up to the 500 with probably it's best chance of competing near the front of the event due to the partnership only a mad man could dream up. Sam Schmidt has to be considered a dark horse to actually win the main event when in years past he would be a dark horse to qualify for the show.
Obviously, the odds are very long for him to win, but if you ask Sam Schmidt, I would bet he would say this is the best opportunity they've had in years. He has just been handed a good young driver, a top notch car, and has a crew that has experience at the 500 (they have either run a car under the Sam Schmidt banner or in association with another team the last few years).
Sam Schmidt just entered the realm of Big 3, atleast for one race. Bet you didn't think that would happen did you?
But the last few years in the IRL, fans would either be forced to sit around between the FIL and ICS race because there were no other series on track. Gaps for 2 to 4 hours would and still do haunt the series because they just don't have any other oval series to help them fill up the schedule.
The Atlantic series has just been sold to Ben Johnston, and he is plunging some dough into the series. He just put up $3 Million in cash purses for the entire season while the Champion will receive $1 Million to do whatever he chooses with (unlike the past Atlantics/CC driver "sponsorship" of $2 Million). While the announcements have been slow in regards to drivers and teams entering the series this year, it is starting to come around, and once the tests today and tomorrow at Palm Beach International Raceway are completed, I expect the announcements to pick up substantially.
However, as what is still primarily a feeder series, Atlantics doesn't have a clear series to feed to. Many of the drivers want to progress in AOWR, however, their old link to Champ Car is now gone. Meanwhile, the series is now sanctioned by IMSA, who also runs the ALMS, so that connection is now available. However, the drivers still want to run open-wheel when they are done Atlantics.
Tony George, if he can swallow a little pride, would be considered genius if he would welcome Atlantics (and Star Mazda) to run a couple of their oval races, maybe Milwaukee, Richmond, and one of the 1.5 mile tracks. In one invitation, if the Atlantics accept of course, he would help fill the race weekends, he would create another semi-feeder series in the Atlantics series, since drivers and teams would see a direct link to the IRL once they start running the same tracks. He would create a larger talent pool for teams to draw from. On top of that, he doesn't have to fund anything in the Atlantics series since Ben Johnston seems to be doing that just find.
The Atlantic series is part of the history of AOWR and deserves to still be involved for developing drivers for the I500 and the IRL needs to recognize that. And while TG and the IRL can allow the Atlantics that rightful place in AOWR, he can also use them at the same time, to encourage series winners and standouts to look towards the IRL with their prize money and at the same time, teach some young North Americans to run ovals which will populate the ICS with more talented drivers.
The only question is, can Mr. George swallow some of that pride from the split and ask the Atlantics to join them now and then? If he can, I think it would be considered a major win for the development of Americans, and all drivers in open-wheel. If he can't, it just shows that TG refuses to put the past in the past and lose a valuable opportunity.
- Rookie of the Year, Formula BMW USA - 2004
- Star Mazda, Series 3rd, 3 Wins - 2005
- Atlantics, Best Series Finish of 4th, multiple wins and pole positions - 2006 to 2008
- A1GP, Multiple Podiums - 2007-2008
James is one of the most personable characters you'll meet and quite possibly one of the funniest as well. In 2006 and 2007 he did work on the International CCWS race feeds doing commentary and I'd say he was better then the American CCWS commentary on most weeks.
Hopefully James will be kicking ass in the FIL series as he definately has the experience on road courses, and he seemed to enjoy his first experience on ovals.
"Ovals are obviously a new thing for me, but I have enjoyed them more than I
thought I would. It is a completely different skill set, and I know I have
a ton to learn, but with the experience of guys like (team owner) Sam Schmidt,
(engineer) Tim Neff, and (team manager) Chris Griffis behind me, I know that my
oval education is in great hands." - Firestone Indy
I'm sure Hinch will have some good times this season and will be a joy for the media to follow around now and then. Also, make sure you check out Hinchtown.com throughout the year as I'm sure he'll have some video blogs on there and some funny stuff as well. I know I will do my best to bump into him at the Honda Indy Toronto.
NHL Racing won hands down, like 80% for them, then the pity votes for everyone else. But really, I don't think this was a hard one. NHL has been a perrenial powerhouse in AOWR, and their resurgence after a year of mediocrity due to a new chassis/little preparation time will not be a surprise at all. Especially with a third car now to draw information from, even if it is Milka Duno, they will be tough to discount on ovals or road courses.
One team I think didn't get enough credit is KVRT. They showed some good speed at the test, surprising many drivers and teams. Their down fall will be the fact they refuse to run 2 cars. That will hurt Moraes shot at race wins in my opinion.
Anyways, check in the poll section (scroll down a bit, to the right) and vote on this weeks question.
It gives me something to talk about...
With rumours swirling that A1GP wants to grab a race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal next year (if they last that long), now is the time the IRL needs to get on the phone and work out a deal to get into Montreal for 2010.
This track brings in plenty of fans every year and even during the CC years, the track was well attended and these fans love their open wheel racing. I guarentee that if the IRL gets to Montreal, they will fill that place up with the lack of F1. And if we let A1Gp get into that track before we do, chances are we lose Montreal for a long time, which we can't let happen.
Before you all go saying, "Canada doesn't need another IRL race", who cares about how many races Canada has. This is a North-American series. You look at Watkins Glen and you see the crowd filled with Canadians. You have to understand that a large percentage of IRL fans are Canadians. On top of that, a race at CGV is a good race. The race would be on TV, and what a race it would be. That track always produces great sightlines and good racing. It would translate to television very well and viewers everywhere would enjoy watching this race.
In this time, we need to put races on TV that people want to watch as well as races that bring in the fans, and I know, and the IRL would be stupid if they didn't know Montreal can do that.
And once A1Gp gets in there, that fills up the CGV schedule as they are only allowed so many weekends per year. With A1GP there, they would fill the place up with the similarity to F1 in cars. But the thing that would really fill the place up would be the French A1Gp car for the French supporters and the Canadian A1GP for the Canadian supporters. If they get into CGV, we won't see that place until A1GP dies.
So please, TG or BB, make it happen. Be smart and show some balls and pick up the phone and find a promoter. Ask Tony Cotman, he knows how important that race would be.
Everyone seemed content to put in the extra hours between getting things organized and making things happen because it was a major step forward for the Indy Racing League and AOWR in general. Fans were getting more excited about the prospects of one series and the competition and talent in that series would be stronger then ever.
The season went off without too many issues (a couple occasions CCWS cars couldn't race due to practice/qualifying practice, or the lack of a race-worthy car). Hell, even a couple of wins by NHL showed that the CCWS teams could be competitive in this new environment, atleast on road and street circuits to begin with. Even by the end of the year, the competition had leveled out as many CCWS teams were competiting for top 10 positions at the finale.
Now with a full off-season to do some aero work and run some more oval tests, the former Champ Car teams are now in a position to compete full-time, and they will be expected to compete for the entire year. These teams have seen a lot of cars the last few years. Hell, the last three seasons have seen 3 different cars (2006 Lola, 2007 DP01, 2008 Dallara). If anything, the CC guys should be able to figure out new cars better then the IRL teams simply due to experience. This season will prove a better example of the depth of the field in the ICS with the so-called Big 3 maybe expanding to the Big 4 with NHLR looking strong in pre-season.
Even with the bad luck timing of the world-wide economic downturn, the ICS still looks like it will be in a good position this year. Indycars provide a better bang-for-your-buck then Nascrap and seem to have weathered the downturn better then the taxi's have. The IRL fields look to be a consistent 23 or 24 cars throughout the season, possibly (I doubt it, but I'm trying to be positive here) hitting 26 at certain times of the stars line up just right. We had 21 at the off-season test, and we can probably add a car for DCR. Add in what seems like a good bet of RHR at HVM and Tomas Scheckter landing somewhere since he has a bit of cash lying around and we are at 24. Now if the stars line up and Conquest manages to get 2 cars for the full season and KVRT or Vision find the money to run PT or Foyt IV then we are at 26 cars.
But what I'm really looking forward to is the second anniversary of the unifibilesbianficationmerger. Many economists are looking at the US economy rebounding in late 2009, so we will start to see more sponsorship money available for motorsports and hopefully the IRL can take advantage of that if things go well through this season and attendance numbers stay up and TV viewership grows a bit. We could use a good year out of the I500, TV-numbers wise so we could use that to sell 2010 sponsorship. Maybe get Michael Andretti back into a car again. Seeing Michael contend again might up the number of viewers up a bit. Anything to help the 2010 sponsorship season would be needed to keep the momentum going forwards.
If we can push forward, we can hopefully see some of these 1 car teams move back to 2 car teams in 2010 and make a push for more paid-drivers and hopefully see some of the old teams like Fernandez come back and RLR return. There are even some rumors of de Ferran Motorsports being interested in the IRL down the road.
Anyways, things are looking up for Open-Wheel in general and we should be happy because everyone of us are along for the ride. We all get to be a part of the growth of AOWR in North America. It will continue growing as it does, each of us will be as proud as the driver, team owners and management of the IRL.