First driver to lose their ride in 2011; Tony Kanaan, four weeks before round 1.
So the only bigger shock than Tony Kanaan being released by Andretti Autosport, TK being cut from de Ferran Dragon Racing, just a month before the season opener. They did avoid telling people who would be the sponsor when they announced this deal in December 2010. TK went to his native Brazil and was said to have secured some sponsors there.
So if the de Ferran Dragon team is on the verge of collapse as many have suddenly predicted. That is first team that will not be an option for any full time seats. (Making it harder for drivers still looking for full time rides with TK on the market,again.) Plus it will also be another car available for the World Challenge in Vegas. (See later)
This solves the mystery of what so many teams are waiting on. TK is back on the market.
Last week a very well known IZOD INDYCAR Series team tweeted they had a “big announcement” for this week. Yet minutes later, this tweet was gone and no word from the team of any announcement. I will not say the name of the team, but think highly successful Open Wheel history. Second hint: not a “Red Car” operation.
So did someone just get bumped from the un-named team above before they could sign the papers? Or did the team actually already have a deal with TK, but needed an official release first? Only time will tell, but I am taking an educational guess in that may be where TK will be in St. Pete.
TV Team to be announced sometime later
Now while the official announcements have been rather, well, we have yet to get one. I can say with some real confidence the key names from Versus in 2010 are back. Bob Jenkins, Jack Arute, and Lindy Thackston are all coming back. Numerous sources have told me that these On-Air talents were all quickly signed back. But some of the other players are up for grabs. We could see a new face or two on pit road and in the paddock.
Apparently Sam Flood of NBC Sports has taken an interest in further promotions of the IZOD INDYCAR Series. There is a planned conference call Thursday with Flood, NBC Sports executives, and INDYCAR Series representatives including Randy Bernard.
So don’t rule out the possibility of a NBC race later this season. Although NBC now being part of Comcast’s empire, may also be working more as a think tank to help improve the sluggish Versus brand.
Calling five drivers, can we have five drivers not from our series!
So the big surprise with the Las Vegas announcement was the $5 Million dollar challenge. The series will have a group nominate five drivers for these slots. The drivers will have to find a car and team to drive with. Since this is the last ever race for the old Dallaras it is likely an easy find should KV not destroy them all before August.
But who will be nominated? Well I asked Randy Bernard what was some of the things that will decide who gets nominated.Bernard replied, “The drivers will be determined by their ability, and what they bring IndyCar.” This leaves much to interpretations. Will it be five former INDYCAR drivers? We have already heard the jokes from Jimmy Vasser, Al Jr, and Mario Andretti. Although that would be lame, I think they really want to build on a future not an “Old Timers” class.
Obviously the date was picked as to not conflict with NASCAR. But don’t expect help from the Stock Car crowd. Of late due to dropping ticket sales and TV ratings; while NASCAR is still far ahead of INDYCAR right now, the trend is only growing worst, of late these are NASCAR’s “Days of Blunder”.
When Bill France Sr. ran the series from the 1950’s till the 1970’s if you ran a USAC or ARCA Stock Car race, NASCAR would remove points from you in their title chase. Now while they might not be as obvious today, you know they will use their muscle to make sure no one from; Hendrick, Childress, Gibbs, Roush, and the Wood Brothers (really part of Roush like the Snake and TCGR) take part. See, when these stars of NASCAR Cup Series run trucks or Nationwide, they need their owners ok first. You know none of the listed owners above are going to say ok now.
So while there is no chance of Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, or Kyle Busch. There are three owners with less of a vested interest in NASCAR, two we know. Think “Red Cars”. Penske and Ganassi, unlike the others named above (aside from the Wood Brothers), neither has a long history of NASCAR Championships. However when we examine their candidates it sounds worst.
First Penske has the “Benedict Arnold” of INDYCAR in Sam Hornish Jr. He has repeatedly been more happy as a loser in NASCAR than being a Champion for a little less cash in INDYCAR. After Penske’s Nationwide driver in Hornish, we have Brad Keselowski. No INDYCAR experience, but he has hinted at an interest in trying.
Ganassi has either Jaime McMurray an unlikely driver to be picked (although he is a winner at IMS), or the most obvious name Juan Pablo Montoya. JPM has said he has no interest in the past on a return to INDYCAR. However one has to wonder if the chance to make $5 million could change this. Plus he might be the only driver from NASCAR who would have no possible sponsor conflicts. TCGR will have the same sponsors on both sides, and it is likely TCGR in 2012 IZOD INDYCAR will also have bowties.
The only other NASCAR option is Robby Gordon, a rouge owner among the NASCAR community. Robby would have no problem with telling himself it’s cool. The only problem now for Robby is the legal matters over his Energy Drink logo. He will not be in the 2011 Indy500 for this reason as of now. But he could just have an all orange car for Vegas, and should he win, well that will make up for the loss of product exposure. Plus he can drink a can in victory lane.
But NASCAR is just part of what we want to see. I’m not too crazy about Grand-Am being invited. Scott Pruett is the only driver of interest from there, and we all remember his best days in an INDYCAR were with Firestone as his sponsor.
Would be nice for an ALMS driver to get an invite too, but still not the right crowd. If you want that 15-35 year old demographic go to the most extreme motor-sport, Drifting. Yes Formula-D can be the answer for a great show. Drift is all about entertainment, and car control. Is this not what the IZOD INDYCAR Series wants?
Just like how NASCAR has figured out to use USAC Sprints and Midgets to find future stars, maybe Open Wheel racing should embrace Drift more. These are drivers who enjoy being fast on the very edge, might be a good skill. Granted the cars are rigged to drive funny in drift, but watch the INDYCAR driver’s hands on oval straights. (Motegi is one of the most extreme examples) they hold the wheel right on the straight. INDYCAR might not be so alien to a Drifter. Plus Drift racing will bring lots of import car fans, and again 15-35 year olds.
Who do you want invited?
This week on ‘The Inside Groove’
Our question of the week will be “Name your favorite turn on a road course.” You can give several answers. Feel free to e-mail them to me Spike@OpenPaddock.net , or give me a shout out on Twitter @SpikeRogan