Monday, December 7, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: It Has Only Been A Week But...

December isn't the most active time in the motorsports season but there was a championship decided in Sydney and there was an endurance race in Northern California. However, there has been a lot of news coming from a series that has not raced since August. That's right. We are talking IndyCar boys and girls. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It Has Only Been A Week But...
IndyCar has had a December to remember.

I was starting to get worried.

Prior to Thanksgiving, the news broke that Sage Karam and Chip Ganassi Racing had parted ways. It was the worst timing for that kind of news. You never want bad news to break before a holiday. You want that time with family to be special and having bad news like that be so recent, it is difficult to have a good time.

Then came the news that KV Racing is strongly considering not running a second car if they can't find a good partner for Sébastien Bourdais. To be honest, this is just code for saying "we need the funding." However, KV is probably looking for a better second driver after having Sebastián Saavedra and Stefano Coletti be Bourdais' teammates. To be fair to Coletti, he was a rookie in 2015 and was going to majority of the tracks for the first time. You can't hold a driver to their rookie season being the end-all be-all. They need at least a second season maybe even a third to firmly grasp IndyCar.

With those two seats in question, the IndyCar grid appeared to be shrinking. The series did a good job average over two dozen cars per race in 2015 and IndyCar should shoot for that grid size, if not shoot for 26 cars at each race because there are so many drivers interested in IndyCar. Twenty-two cars is not a bad grid size (it's bigger than the Formula One grid) but that's not enough for IndyCar.

Then December began and the whole picture was turned upset down (at least it appears that way).

Mikhail Aleshin appears to be set to return to IndyCar full-time in 2016 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after having his 2014 season end early after suffering injuries prior to the Fontana race and returned for the Sonoma season finale this past August and finished ninth.

December 3rd came and around lunchtime, the rumor came out that Conor Daly is working on a ride in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing. Around dinnertime, Sage Karam sent out this tweet:
And less than an hour later, news broke that in a partnership between Australian Brett Murray and KV Racing will provide Matthew Brabham with a ride to attempt to make the 100th Indianapolis 500 next May as well as the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in the PIRTEK Team Murray entry.

To top it off, on Friday, the reports came out that Sage Karam and Ganassi are still working on a ride for next year.

If you think IndyCar races are unpredictable, the IndyCar offseason is even more bonkers. It's been quiet since August but the doors have been blown open in the last few days. This could all end up as eggs in our faces come March. We have seen plenty of rides announced fall apart. Remember when Chase Austin signed with AJ Foyt Racing to attempt the Indianapolis 500 and remember when Jay Howard signed to attempt to make the 99th Indianapolis 500 in a second car for Bryan Herta Autosport? Remember when it appeared that Alexander Rossi was going to be driving for Dale Coyne Racing in 2015? None of those happen and while I don't want to see Brabham's deal fall apart or Daly end up without a full-time ride again or Aleshin's money end up being blocked because of U.S. sanctions with Russia (although I wouldn't rule it out), I am going to stay alert and not act like it is a definite until the cars roll out on track in the season opener from St. Petersburg (or in Brabham's case, Indianapolis).

I think the fourth Ganassi seat is a stretch but I think the second KV seat could be a perfect landing spot for Sage Karam. He has some money and he has experience in IndyCar. Would he be able to collaborate with Bourdais and help him out? Probably not but he is fast and while KV has been burned by young drivers the last few seasons, Karam could be the driver to buck that trend.

Another landing spot I was thinking about for Karam was Andretti Autosport. He has history with the team, he has history with the family and the fourth Andretti Autosport appeared to be set for Justin Wilson before his accident at Pocono. Andretti already has one young, quick driver in Carlos Muñoz but Karam could be a positive addition for that team. The fourth Andretti seat has been quiet since the death of Wilson. There is still a lot of time until the start of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season but right now Andretti appears to be set for three cars next year.

Just like recent IndyCar offseasons, there are more drivers looking for a ride than seats available. Jack Harvey has been working on a ride and he was strongly linked to a promotion within SPM to IndyCar but with Aleshin swiping that seat, Harvey's IndyCar future is now in doubt. Spencer Pigot has three races on his slate for 2016 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing but we all know he isn't going to settle for three races. He is going to want a full-time ride. Max Chilton is interested in IndyCar. Stefan Wilson is working on an Indianapolis 500 ride. Surely there is at least one or two drivers in Europe that are considering coming across the pond.

Neither AJ Foyt Racing seat has been announced. You never know with Dale Coyne Racing. I can't see Bryan Herta Autosport expanding to two cars and I can't see SPM going to three. The Brabham deal is intriguing for the Indianapolis 500. Since Team Murray has a partnership with KV Racing, does that mean the Jonathan Byrd's Racing partnership will not continue into 2016? KV ran four cars at Indianapolis in 2014 but could that entry have a partnership with another team in 2016? Add to the list of planned Indianapolis 500 one-offs Grace Autosport with Katherine Legge set to be the driver. There is the pie-in-the-sky Marotti Racing, that dreams of competing in May. If Ganassi doesn't have a fourth car full-time it appears likely that they will have a fourth car at Indianapolis for Ryan Briscoe, who will be competing for the factory Ford GT program in IMSA next year. Pippa Mann will likely continue to work with Dale Coyne Racing. If Andretti doesn't have a fourth car full-time, they will have one at Indianapolis. CFH Racing ran a third car for JR Hildebrand last year and that worked out pretty well. Foyt ran a third car last year even though they said they wouldn't. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing could return, Lazier Partners Racing could return, SPM could run a one-off and with the 100th Indianapolis 500 on the horizon, perhaps there will be an abundance of entries that we haven't seen since the days right after reunification.

Once again, there is a lot of time until St. Petersburg and a hell of a lot more until the Indianapolis 500. Today, things look peachy. A month from now, the sky could be falling and IndyCar could be a wounded duck heading for a crash-landing with planet earth. But for today, let's be positive. Let's believe that 2016 will be special. Let's believe something great is upon us.

Champion From the Weekend
Mark Winterbottom won the V8 Supercars championship, his first career title.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened Saturday from Sydney but did you know...

Shane Van Gisbergen won the V8 Supercars finale from Homebush Street Circuit. It is the third consecutive season Van Gisbergen has won the final race of the season.

The #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS of Johannes van Overbeek, Darren Law, Guy Cosmo, Tomonobu Fuji and Thomas Sadler won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Other class winners from the 25 Hours of Thunderhill:
ESR class: #69 Gryphon Racing Praga of Joseph Barone, Danny van Dongen, Paul Blickman and Ari Straus.
E0: #30 El Diablo BMW of James Clay, Lance Boicelli, Cameron Evans, Dale Sievwrig, James Colborn and Charles Postins.
E1: #0 Grip Racing BMW of Tristan Littlehale, Joseph DePillo, Mark Mitchell, Harold Petit and David DePillo.
E2: #34 RDR Mazda RX-8: Joel Miller, Lee Pappageorge, Dennis Holloway and Jeremy Barnes.
E3: #40 RAmotorsport40 Mazda Miata of Dion Johnson, Richard Lucquet, David Geringer and Doug Clark.
NP01: #6 CLP Motorsports NP01 of Tyler McQuarie, Jeremy Croiset, Tom Dyer, Marc Miller and Pat O'Keefe.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Gulf 12 Hours will be Friday from Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The Sepang 12 Hours will be Saturday from Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.