Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2014 IndyCar Silly Season Guide

Seeing as I have done a lot of talking about the 2014 IndyCar schedule, it seems right to start talking about IndyCar silly season and the first major domino fell out of nowhere yesterday.

By now you should know Juan Pablo Montoya will be returning to IndyCar and will join Will Power and Helio Castroneves at Penske Racing. Nearly fourteen years after running his final American open-wheel race and over seven years since his last time behind the wheel of any open-wheel car, Montoya will return at the age of 38 after seven seasons driving for Penske's main rival Chip Ganassi in NASCAR. Montoya tallied two Cup wins, a Nationwide win and three 24 Hours of Daytona victories since he left McLaren in the middle of 2006.

With three sured up at Penske, it appears Andretti Autosport will have four cars again in 2014 with a possible fifth, two are almost guaranteed but their are three other drivers vying for the final two seats. Both current Andretti Autosport IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and EJ Viso are in contention with the Colombian, 2013 Indianapolis 500 runner-up, 2013 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and currently second in the Indy Lights points Carlos Muñoz strongly likely to getting promoted for 2014. That leaves Hinchcliffe and GoDaddy, if they decided to a new deal, and Viso and PDVSA vying for the final Andretti Autosport seat.

With that said, Hinchcliffe has been linked to moving to Ganassi Racing in 2014 and joining the likes of champions and fellow race winners Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball. One driver possibly still linked to the fourth Ganassi seat is 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. However, a Brazilian report after Baltimore said Kanaan has talked to Andretti, Sarah Fisher, Sam Schmidt and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing about rides for 2014. Fisher stated in early August the team's goal was to secure funding for Josef Newgarden in 2014, who is under contract for next year, but did not rule out a second car.

Ed Carpenter recently said in an interview with Racer.com he feels like his team is making progress toward have a second car in 2014 but wouldn't put a percentage on it. Panther Racing's #4 National Guard Chevrolet appears to be likely driven by either Ryan Briscoe or Oriol Servià, who have split the car since JR Hildebrand was fired after Indianapolis. Panther reportedly had made up their mind on a driver for 2014 at Sonoma but has yet to make that known to the public.

Speaking of Hildebrand, he and Italian Luca Filippi are splitting the Barracuda Racing/Bryan Herta Autosport #98 Honda for the final two weekend of the IndyCar season and these two drivers appear to be the leading candidates to fill that seat in 2014. Marshall Pruett has also linked Kanaan to the seat owned by his former teammate. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will probably keep Graham Rahal for 2014 but James Jakes is exploring his options for 2014. Jack Hawksworth tested for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing today at Sebring and it currently fourth in the Indy Light standings, eleven back with two races to go.

Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports appear to be keeping both Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier in 2014 but the wild card could be Indy Lights points leader Sage Karam and third in the Indy Lights championship Gabby Chaves. Should either driver win the title and get the scholarship to move to the next level, the question would be where would these drivers end up? Karam is eighteen years old while Chaves is twenty. Both could spend another year in Lights despite if they win the title this year.

Sébastien Bourdais could return to Dragon Racing next year but is also keeping his options for 2014. Sebastian Saavedra's place at the team has not been determined. Justin Wilson has a contract with Dale Coyne for 2014 and, shocker, the second seat at Coyne has no firm plans for 2014 as of now. Takuma Sato appears to be set to return to AJ Foyt Racing but despite picking up the teams first win in over a decade but could his poor results since his second place at São Paulo put his future in jeopardy?

Finally there is KV Racing Technology. The team struggled to find funding for Tony Kanaan in 2013 and despite winning the Indianapolis 500, the team still needs Kanaan to find money if he were to return next year. Simona de Silvestro's plans are not confirmed for 2014 either. She and Entergy have had a sponsorship relationship for three years now and their has been no major news on whether they would continue their relationship after this season.

Pickett Racing tested the IndyCar waters at Sonoma and the team has serious interest in moving full-time to IndyCar in 2014 since the LMP1 class will not be included in the inaugural season for the United SportsCar Championship next year. Lucas Luhr appears to be the top candidate should Pickett Racing move to IndyCar in 2014.

Engine deals also have to be renewed for 2014. As of now, the only team to announce their 2014 engine plans is Schmidt who will continue their partnership with Honda. It appears Penske and Andretti will continue with Chevrolet but that has yet to be confirmed. Ganassi expressed dissatisfaction with Honda earlier this season but since than the team has since gone on to pick up four victories and all three drivers are three drivers are in the top ten in points.

While we're at it, though it is far away, we mind as well look at Indianapolis 500 one-offs for 2014. AJ Allmendinger said there's definitely a chance he could run the Coca-Cola 600-Indianapolis 500 double in 2014 though he signed to drive for JTG Daugherty Racing full-time in NASCAR. Kurt Busch will not be running the Fontana IndyCar season finale but it has not been entirely ruled out he could compete for Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis in 2014. Conor Daly made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year and depending on where he lands in Europe next year, he could make a return for his second Indianapolis 500 appearance. Townsend Bell always seems to find a ride. Pippa Mann has found a ride the last couple of years. Katherine Legge was impressive considering she got into a car for the first time on bump day and got the car in the field. Buddy Lazier owns a DW12 chassis and was respectable for this first time in the new chassis and first time in an IndyCar in four years. Then there is Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Though they are no longer full-time, the report all along has been they have had a deal for the 2014 Indianapolis 500 with a sponsor. We will have to wait and see.

And then there is always the chance of new drivers coming to IndyCar from international series. Felipe Massa is in his final season with Ferrari in Formula One. Should he not find a ride in Formula One, who is to say IndyCar wouldn't be an option? Narain Karthikeyan has expressed interest in IndyCar before. There are plenty of drivers in Europe in that rut of not having enough money for Formula One but being too talented to stay in GP2, Formula Renault 3.5 or GP3 another season.

A mock 2014 driver line-up:
Penske (3 Confirmed, 1 possible one-off at Indianapolis)
#2 Juan Pablo Montoya
#3 Helio Castroneves
#12 Will Power
Possible Indianapolis one-off for AJ Allmendinger.
Andretti Autosport (2 Confirmed, 2 more likely, possible fifth full-time/Indianapolis one-off)
#25 Marco Andretti
#1/28 Ryan Hunter-Reay
Possible full-timers James Hinchcliffe, EJ Viso and/or Carlos Muñoz. Possible one-off for Kurt Busch.
Ganassi Racing (3 Confirmed, 1 more possible full-time)
#9 Scott Dixon
#10 Dario Franchitti
#83 Charlie Kimball
Possible full-time entry for Hinchcliffe or Tony Kanaan.
Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing (2 Confirmed)
#55 Tristan Vautier
#77 Simon Pagenaud
Panther Racing (1 Confirmed)
#4 Either Ryan Briscoe or Oriol Servià.
Ed Carpenter Racing (1 Confirmed, possible second full-time entry)
#20 Ed Carpenter
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (1 Confirmed, second full-time entry possible)
#67 Josef Newgarden
Barracuda Racing/Bryan Herta Autosport (1 Confirmed)
#98 Either JR Hildebrand or Luca Filippi with a possibility of Tony Kanaan.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1 Confirmed, second full-time entry likely)
#15 Graham Rahal
#16 James Jakes unless he find another opportunity.
Dragon Racing (None confirmed at this point but possibility could retain their two drivers)
#6 Sebastián Saavedra
#7 Sébastien Bourdais
AJ Foyt Racing (1 Confirmed)
#14 Takuma Sato
Dale Coyne Racing (1 Confirmed, second full-time entry highly likely)
#18 Unknown. Has had five different drivers in 2013 (Ana Beatriz, Mike Conway, Pippa Mann, James Davison and Stefan Wilson).
#19 Justin Wilson
KV Racing Technology (None confirmed. Possible to keep de Silvestro, less likely to keep Kanaan)
#11 Tony Kanaan but likely another driver or will not be on the grid in 2014.
#78 Simona de Silvestro.
Pickett Racing (Not confirmed. Chances are fair team moves to IndyCar in 2014)
#97 Lucas Luhr.