Historically, the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year is the slowest time of the IndyCar season. This is usually when things DON’T get done. But not this year, when one of the busiest off-seasons in memory started in early November, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit as we approach Christmas.
If you follow the sport even casually, you’ve undoubtedly seen/heard/read that Chevrolet and Lotus will be joining the series in 2012 to take us on; that sponsors are returning or stepping up (Verizon, Shell, NTB); and the driver and car count is growing.
Here’s a quick rundown of where things stand for 2011:
Ganassi (4 cars total):
Grows from a single, two-car team to a pair of them. Defending champion Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are back with the “parent” and nearly intact Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. Graham Rahal, joined by Indy Lights graduate Charlie Kimball, will lead a new “junior” team that will be based out of drag-racing legend Don Prudhomme’s shop in Brownsburg (about five miles west of the existing Ganassi shop). Veteran team manager Mitch Davis returns to Ganassi to run the new team after a year at Coyne and Martin Pare, who engineered Rahal at Newman Haas, will do so again at the House of Chip.
Andretti Autosport (3-4 cars):
It’s been a bit of a rough autumn at AA, as the team lost three sponsors (two of them to Penske!) and its senior driver, Tony Kanaan. On the other hand, Go Daddy has expanded its program – which will now include Ryan Hunter-Reay – and Danica Patrick returns along with Marco Andretti. The team is working hard to remain a four-car operation, soliciting sponsorship for Dan Wheldon while also talking to some funded drivers, including F2 champion Andy Soucek.
Team Penske (3 cars):
The rich get richer, as Penske has brought Shell/Pennzoil back into IndyCar racing after a 10-year absence, will benefit from a expanded presence from Verizon, and snagged both IZOD and Meijer from Andretti Autosport! All three drivers – Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe – will be back.
Panther Racing (1 car):
Despite being most often the “best of the rest” for the last couple of years, especially on ovals, the marriage between Dan Wheldon and Panther Racing was never a happy one, and it has now come to an end. Indy Lights grad JR Hildebrand will take over behind the wheel, as Panther tries to recreate the magic that ensued when it pulled the then-unknown Sam Hornish out of Formula Atlantic.
KV Racing Technology (3+ cars):
KV had a true year-from-hell in 2010, enduring more than 40 crashes from their three full-time drivers. Yet, at least two of those drivers – Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso – are expected back next year, along with increased backing from Lotus Group in preparation for the auto manufacturer joining the series in ’12. As for the third full-time seat, Mario Moraes MIGHT return (if the family continues to pay for the privilege), but veteran Paul Tracy is working hard to put himself in the chair. Other possibilities include Dan Wheldon (the team could certainly use his setup talents on ovals), IndyLights champion J.K. Vernay, Soucek, Tomas Scheckter or even Mike Conway. The team also will run a fourth car at Indy with funding from Redline energy drink. Scheckter is a possibility for this ride, too.
Dreyer & Reinbold (2 cars):
Justin Wilson, who came so close to pulling off an upset win in Toronto last year, returns to a small team that continues to raise its game. Mike Conway may yet return to the second seat after recovering from his Indy injuries, but the team is also looking at other possible drivers, including Tracy, Wheldon, Moraes, Ana Beatriz, etc.
A.J. Foyt Racing (1 car):
Done & dusted: Vitor Meira will be back in the #14 and is signed through the ’12 season. The teams had its moments (Brazil) in ’10, and has decent sponsorship. Vitor and Larry Foyt know what needs to be done to get to the next level; it’s just a question of if they can get there.
FAZZT Race Team (1-2 cars):
Veteran Alex Tagliani (who co-owns the team) will be back, along with his braintrust of Rob Edwards and Allen McDonald. The only question waiting to be answered is if Chinese/Dutch driver Ho-Pin Tung secures enough backing (Red Bull is one rumor) for FAZZT to run a second car.
de Ferran Dragon Racing (1 car):
In a swap of Brazilians announced this week, Tony Kanaan is IN and Raphael Matos is OUT. For the veteran TK, it’s a perfect lifeline after he lost his ride at Andretti in the wake of sponsor 7-Eleven’s departure. For Matos, it’s certainly unfortunate, but while he frequently was very, very quick, he just as frequently threw it at the scenery – or the other competitors. Call it the “Parker Johnstone syndrome” (sorry Parker!!!). But as one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers, TK needs to be in the series. Plus, I want to be a spectator when the at-times-equally-stubborn Kanaan and de Ferran, inevitably, butt heads…..
Newman Haas Racing (1-2 cars):
My, my, how the once mighty have fallen. Two years ago, N-H would have been near the top of this report, now, they’re near the back of the field. But the team from the Chicago Northside isn’t about to give up. Hideki Mutoh will not be back, but the team just tested veteran Oriol Servia and Canadian rookie James Hinchcliffe. If the funding can be found, this could be a potent combination, ready to spring a surprise or two in 2011.
HVM (1 car):
This little team has had a productive off-season, securing a new sponsor (not ready to be identified yet, but the deal is done) to help last year’s most popular new driver, Simona de Silvestro. The core of this team, engineer Mike Cannon and the rest, have stuck with Simona and it will be interesting to see them progress next year.
Dale Coyne Racing (1-2 cars):
The “other” team from Chicago will (once again) be rebuilding behind pit wall, as the respected team manager/engineer/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Mitch Davis has left after 18 months to return to Ganassi. Alex Lloyd will be back in the “Boy Scout” car (another sponsor that is apparently stepping up for next year). Milka “Milk & Donuts” Duno is NOT expected to return, but any second Coyne entry will almost certainly have to be driver-funded.
Conquest Racing (1-2 cars):
Again, Conquest fills the role of a “prep shop” with two cars ready, willing and able, just in need of funded drivers to pay for their upkeep. After a bit of a rough start, Belgian Bertrand Baguette definitely “rose” to the occasion [groan] throughout the second half of ’10, and he has some backing from Europe, so I expect him back. For the second car, Brazilian Mario Romancini ran out of money early and French F3 driver Francesco Dracone was a disappointment, so we’ll have to see what develops here after the first of January.
Sarah Fisher Racing (1 part-time car):
Easy Ed Carpenter’s back – and Sarah Fisher Racing’s got him, for the ovals at least, and perhaps more. Sarah is stepping out of the cockpit to focus on running the team and Ed is a good choice for the ovals. Whether the team runs the road and street courses will depend on funding.
The Rest (???):
In addition to SFR and KV’s fourth car at Indy, you can expect an Indy-only entry from Indy Lights team Sam Schmidt Racing (Jay Howard and/or Townsend Bell driving), and possible additional entries from AFS Racing (which has split off from Andretti), Bryan Herta Autosport, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing (RLLR??) and possibly Derrick Walker Racing. There will certainly be more Indy-only entries, and I suspect we could have a legitimate 40+ driver/car combinations once again at the Speedway.
Finally, a quick word about John “Ando” Anderson. In a sport filled with unique, larger-than-life figures, Ando still managed to stand out. Incredibly skilled (give the man a pair of tin snips and a sheet of aluminum and he could make almost anything), Ando was an incredibly hard worker, a great teacher, and a natural leader who was both admired AND liked.
In the 30 years he spent here after moving from his native Australia, Ando worked in almost every area of the sport, for teams great and small, primarily in IndyCar but with the odd detour into other forms of racing from time to time – such as his run with de Ferran Motorsports in the recent Acura ALMS program.
There’s not enough time & space here to recount all of his great qualities, or even the hilarious “Ando-isms” that were sprinkled throughout his everyday language. What really stood out with Ando was the sheer joy he brought to everything he did. Here’s just one example:
As the USF1 project – where he’d been hired in 2009 to oversee the never-built car’s production – collapsed around them, Ando found ways to keep workers on the shop floor motivated and the rest of us amused with his updates of “fresh paint on the floor” and “carbon-fiber toasters” (hey, they had to made SOMETHING in those autoclaves….).
Outside of racing, his two loves were flying (an excellent pilot, the tales of “Air Ando” are legendary in the paddock) and his wife, Lesley. Although she has her own successful career in real estate, Lesley was Ando’s true partner in life and it was a rare day indeed when you saw one without the other nearby.
Ando died suddenly last week after an apparent heart attack. He was just 65. To Lesley – and all Ando’s multitude of friends – we offer our most sincere condolences. We’ll not see the likes of him again anytime soon – and the world will be emptier for his absence.