Given the blossoming of weekly features we’ve seen here at OpenPaddock.net with Spike’s Indy Hump Day Report, and Shaun’s Sunday Service Park, I’ve decided to join in the fun. Every Friday (or Saturday morning) I will try to have a wrap-up of the weeks headlines from the Road to Indy. There’s been a lot of things happening so far this off-season, which is rather surprising given that a lot of driver/team combinations typically aren’t agreed upon in most ladder series until a month or so before the beginning of the season. Already we have a couple of announcements for drivers securing seats, and a couple more great rumors that appear pretty solid. Also, there’s fantastic news coming next week regarding the entire Road to Indy ladder system. All in all, its been a great off-season and it’s not even Christmas yet!
BTW, before I get into this week’s news, I’d like to give a shout out to Ryan at Junior Open Wheel Talent. His coverage of the SKUSA SuperNationals was fantastic! Be sure to check out his site and the slideshows he has. Great stuff if you’re into karts, and if you’re an IndyCar fan you SHOULD be into karts!
First, lets take care of the easy stuff and look at the driver announcements that have already been formally made. I’ll start off with more props for Andretti Autosport, even though we’ve already covered this here at OP, but I can’t stress enough how fantastic it is to have a top team show so much support for the entire ladder program as Andretti Autosport has. We already know that Zach Veach will be returning to drive in the US F2000 National Championship, and that Andretti Autosport will be forming a new team in Star Mazda to field Sage Karam, 2010 US F2000 champion.
This week we also found out that Gustavo Yacaman has signed with Team Moore Racing. This will be a big upgrade for Gustavo from his previous rides, and even in those he was pretty darn racy. With a seat at TMR, I fully expect Gustavo to be near the sharp end of the grid and challenging every race weekend.
“I believe with all that I learned last year, I am ready to take on the championship. Lee Dykstra will be a very important piece this year. We (both my dad and I) believe he is one of the best, if not the best engineer out there, in combination with Team Moore Racing being one of the neatest and most detailed teams in the field. I am looking forward to testing in January and to start working on a really good car to make it as close to perfect as we possibly can.” — Gustavo Yacaman, Team Moore Racing Press Release.
There are some great rumors floating around in the internet rumor mill this week about a couple of Firestone Indy Lights drivers moving up to the IZOD IndyCar Series. First off, in the rumors about Graham Rahal getting a seat with some yet-to-be-announced Ganassi satellite team, Charlie Kimball’s name keeps coming up as well. Charlie had a great run in Firestone Indy Lights last year with Andretti Autosport/AFS Racing, and looks to join Rahal by bringing money from Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company focused on developing treatments for diabetes. The drug company sponsored Kimball last year using the Levemir brand, and its a perfect sponsor fit for him as he suffers from diabetes himself. If you’re not familiar with Kimball’s story, check out his website. Its truly inspiring.
It’s also more than strongly rumored that Hinchcliffe will be driving for Newman Haas Racing in 2011, perhaps along side Oriol Servia. He and Oriol will test with the team at Sebring on December 13th and 4th. and was seen getting fitted for a seat earlier. Given that they already had graphics on the head surround is a good indication that he’ll be in a seat for the team in 2011. We’re not so sure about Oriol Servia, but as much as I hate to admit it, Hideki didn’t exactly set the world on fire last year in the #06. I’ll be surprised if he’s back in 2011.
“I can’t express how excited I am to get my first test in an Indy car! I grew up watching Indy cars and always dreamed of one day driving one so this really is a dream come true. And to get my first taste of this car with a team the caliber of Newman/Haas Racing is really special. Their record speaks for itself and to get to work with them is a real privilege. It will certainly help me tackle the job of getting up to speed. I want to thank the Haas’ for this incredible opportunity. For sure this test is just the first step for me toward racing full time in the IZOD IndyCar Series. I will simply try to learn as much as I can and do the best job possible for the team.” — James Hinchcliffe, Newman Haas Racing Press Release
Road to Indy Rumors
Lastly, there is some excellent news coming next week regarding the Road to Indy program! As I’ve mentioned in our podcasts, there are a lot of great things in the works for the Road to Indy system. Thursday of next week, we’ll likely hear the announcement of a title sponsor for the Road to Indy program! The announcement and details of the potential deal will be announced at the Performance Racing Industry show on Thursday, December 9th. Keep your eyes on IndyCar.com and/or TracksideOnline.com. I’ll try to give a summary of the announcement as quickly as I can here on OpenPaddock.net.
The TEAM program details for 2011 were also announced this week and within it was a partial scholarship for the Firestone Indy Lights champion who races in the IZOD IndyCar Series the following year retroactive so as to include the 2010 champion JK Vernay. The scholarship is only for about $500k so in and of itself it won’t be enough to secure a ride sans sponsorship, but its nothing to sneeze at, either. Its a good step forward and has the potential to increase in the future as the value of both series increase.
The 2011 schedule for the Firestone Indy Lights series will need to be modified! When the craziness with the Edmonton race began at the beginning of November, work immediately began to try and secure a replacement event not only for the IZOD IndyCar Series, but also for the Firestone Indy Lights. That work still continues and we have firm confirmation that there will be a thirteenth event on the schedule! Perhaps that’s Edmonton, but if it isn’t, the Firestone Indy Lights circus will be somewhere. I have no data on where that would be just yet, but its good to hear that there’s going to be another event. As soon as I hear word, I’ll be sure to pass it along.
All in all, its been a pretty exciting week! Young talented drivers are getting a shot at the big leagues, developing drivers are getting their chance to move up the ladder, and the entire Road to Indy program is poised to grow exponentially in the coming months! Its all very cool and has me all kinds of excited about the 2011 season.