Monday, June 18, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: A Team That Can Stir the Pot

Fernando Alonso is on top of the world. Plenty are frustrated over safety car periods, Balance of Performance, Equivalence of Technology and fuel stint limits. Sébastien Bourdais is mad at Frédéric Makowiecki. Ducati may be having second thoughts on a certain Spaniard. Team Penske is eight victories away from 500 victories as an organization. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Team That Can Stir the Pot
There has been a trend in IndyCar for quite sometime that once you make it to the top you stay there. Scott Dixon has spent the better part of 17 years with Chip Ganassi Racing. While no longer full-time in IndyCar, Hélio Castroneves contested his 20th season with Team Penske. Will Power is in his tenth year with the Captain's operation. Marco Andretti has spent all 13 season with Andretti Autosport.

Ok, maybe Andretti isn't at the top but IndyCar is a bit top heavy when it comes to who has the wherewithal to hire top drivers. It is pretty predictable where the top drivers will end up. Josef Newgarden was destined to be at either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing. There was next to nothing that Ed Carpenter Racing could have done to prevent the move from happening. Even Andretti Autosport, the team with five Indianapolis 500 victories and the only other team to win a championship since reunification is not a power player and Alexander Rossi has been linked to Team Penske since his rookie season.

Every other team is searching for a dime but hoping they find a quarter. The only good thing IndyCar has going for it is it has more talented drivers than Penske and Ganassi seats. We are able to see some of the wealthy spread around but in reality Dale Coyne Racing only has Sébastien Bourdais until either Penske or Ganassi decide they want him. Coyne couldn't keep Ed Jones from leaping at the open Ganassi seat after Brendon Hartley decided Scuderia Toro Rosso would be his employer for 2018. It would be even greater of a sitting duck should Ganassi decide to replace Jones after this season.

It might sound crazy but Formula One has a more competitive driver market. It might have a more competitive on-track product than IndyCar but off-track it has an edge. More teams have more money to throw around. There are the minnows scratching for cash and maybe even taking loans from Liberty Media to stay alive but Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault have the ability to hire whoever the team wants. Remember, Carlos Sainz, Jr. choose to go to Renault midseason and Renault was able to make that happen.

Out of the ten full-time IndyCar teams, two are buyers and eight are sellers but there is a big name on the cusp of entering the series that could shuffle the deck.

McLaren has been flirting with IndyCar since last year when it partnered with Andretti Autosport to bring Fernando Alonso to the Indianapolis 500. McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long relationship with IndyCar and McLaren would not be considering IndyCar if it were not for him having control of the steering wheel or in this case checkbook. While McLaren was absent from this year's Indianapolis 500, the team has been feeling out a 2019 entry on the grid. Brown and other McLaren officials attended the Belle Isle round and notably met with Michael Andretti. The following week saw Andretti schmoozing with Alonso in Montreal during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. There is smoke. How big is the fire?

A full-time McLaren effort still has many hurdles to overcome. The team is talking about a partnership with an existing team for year one but what does that mean? Does that mean using another team's equipment? Another team's personnel? Another team's shop? None of the above or all three?

McLaren will need to get its own equipment, hires it own people and get its own building at some point. When all that occurs, IndyCar will have a new big spender on the grid and one that can complete with the current stalwarts.

With a victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday, Alonso seems to be a given for a McLaren IndyCar effort and with the public eye-fucking between him and the series on social media you have to think he is going to be finding a permanent residence in the United States soon rather than later. But McLaren's IndyCar involvement likely will not revolve around Alonso and he will need a teammate. McLaren should enter IndyCar will the ability to hire any driver it likes.

McLaren has more to offer any other IndyCar driver on the grid. The potential perks are endless: Formula One seat even if only a test, maybe a top-class Le Mans entry, gorgeous road cars and, most importantly, money. A McLaren IndyCar driver will not be making McLaren Formula One driver-type money but the payday should be competitive to what top IndyCar drivers already earn and McLaren would have the ability to have the top two paid drivers on the grid.

It doesn't making sense for McLaren to bring a development driver or a notable European name to IndyCar. The team would likely want a driver that could aid the whole organization in its IndyCar effort and what would stop McLaren from getting the best driver on the grid? Ganassi has been great but McLaren could provide Scott Dixon with the payday he deserves. If Dixon is a no, what is stopping McLaren from bringing Hélio Castroneves back to IndyCar full-time? We know Castroneves wants to be in IndyCar. Team Penske has put him in sports cars. It is tough to part with the Captain but McLaren might be a good reason to jump ship for Castroneves. Or what about Juan Pablo Montoya? The driver has a previous relationship with McLaren, is one of the greatest drivers of all-time and with Montoya also missing one leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsports and McLaren interested in the new regulations for the top class in sports car racing, it could be his best shot at completing it as Acura and Team Penske might not be interested in spending more than they currently are in IMSA's DPi class.

The name McLaren would add notoriety to IndyCar but it would also add a dissent to mix up what has been a pretty established hierarchy in the series. While McLaren could pick off the top drivers in its entrance to the series the team could also be another landing pad for young talent, either drivers entering the series or drivers already on the grid and taking a step up from a smaller team.

Success isn't guaranteed for McLaren if it enters IndyCar but should the team enter it will certainly leave a mark.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Le Mans but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Catalan Grand Prix, his second consecutive victory. Fabio Quartararo won Moto2 race, his first career victory in his 57th grand prix start. Enea Bastianini won the Moto3 race.

Scott McLaughlin and David Reynolds split the Supercars races from Hidden Valley Raceway.

Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Iowa, his second victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar starts its second half of the season at Road America.
All three series of the Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Road America.
NASCAR's Cup series has its first road course race of the season. Trucks will be at Gateway.
Formula One returns to France for the first time since 2008!
World Superbikes makes its one trip to the United States and Laguna Seca.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters hits the streets at the Norisring.
The Blancpain Sprint Series returns to action at Misano.
The World Touring Car Cup heads to the streets of Vila Real in Portugal.