We’ve had an angst(adt) filled two weeks since the release of the schedule. Some people more stressed out than others. My main concern is for Milwaukee. Hopefully, one day the state fair board will realize that awarding the promoter contract to the same group of people trading titles from contract to contract is not going to result in getting the back cheese paid.
We are now getting into the silly season for teams, drivers and sponsors. Of course these three are linked together in a bizarre courtship dance that ultimately creates the lineup that will hit the grid next year. The past two years have each seen a shock interfere with that dance. 2008 was positively affected by the IRL ChampCar merger. 2009 saw the economy allow for only the survival of the financially fittest. The economy will continue to pressure teams for 2010 also.
Amidst the ongoing economic troubles and their affect on sponsorship renewals, there are two signs of hope for car counts in the upcoming season. The first good sings are the rumors that are everywhere for a wave of new teams born of driver empowerment or cross pollination from ALMS. Alex Tagliani has sourced an investor to help him buy the 4 Roth Racing cars and he plans to field a single man team next year with the hopes of finding and grooming a young Canadian to take his place as a two car team in subsequent years. Good for him. Good for Toronto and Good for Edmonton.
With all the uncertainty about ALMS heading into next year – the primary issue being the continued involvement of Acura, ALMS teams have been making some noise about the IndyCar series. With today’s announcement that the LMP1 and LMP2 classes being combined into a single class has to make you wonder if Acura is going away. None of the LMP2 cars, the Lola/Mazdas or Porsche Spiders have a chance a beating the Acura LMP1 cars so why would you throw them to the wolves unless you knew the wolves were going to be gone? Gil De Ferren is on the books as stating that he plans to create a two car IndyCar team for 2010. Highcroft has expressed interest and likewise Adrian Fernandez. In both cases these teams have viable sponsors which make team creation plausible.
The second reason to be optimistic is Apex/Brasil. Apex is a trade and investment agency that represents over 200 Brazilian companies looking to increase their presence and business opportunities in the US. Let me repeat 200 companies. Beyond ethanol and a race in Brazil to begin the season, we should start to expect to see the rewards of this association as new sponsors, (frankly - many we have never heard of before) start to stream into the series. Hopefully this stream of sponsorship will have a positive effect on existing teams and car counts overall.
Chances are that many of these sponsors will favor Brazilian drivers which could be indirectly favorable for other drivers associated with the league. Helio and TK currently are fully funded with domestic sponsors so impact on their teams might be minimal. But once you move onto the next Brazilian drivers in the pecking order some interesting things begin to happen. Suppose that Vitor secures some sort of Apex sponsorship. If he takes that to his current team, Foyt, then Foyt could use the ABC supply money to keep RHR in the 14 next year, running Vitor in a second Foyt entry. Likewise, Raphael Matos might bring a sponsor to Luzco which might allow Luzco to run a second car with the Air Force/Marines sponsorship. Perhaps that car would have a driver better aligned to that sponsor’s needs (WARNING!!! - JR Hildebrand apologist sighting) Perhaps JR might be the right guy for this sponsor and team. Drivers like Bruno Junquiera, Ana Beatriz, Mario Romancini and Felipe Guimaraes could bring RLR back into the mix or bump an existing team like Coyne, Panther or KV up to two cars.
All pretty cool stuff to be talking about heading into an off season that otherwise would be looking pretty bleak. On the road to Mid Ohio a friend and I did some car counting for next year and we came up with some projections. In 2009, excluding Indy, the IRL averaged 21.9 entrants in each event. We came up a conservative estimate of 25 cars for 2010 and an all stars aligning optimistic estimate of up to 31.5 cars. Let’s go team by team and break this down. The numbers in the parens – (2009 cars, 2010 conservative estimate, 2010 optimistic estimate)
Penske (2.5, 2.5, 3) – Cars 1 and 2 are set. The only question here is the Power car. Tim and Roger have liked what they have seen out of Will too much to not have him around. The only question here, will it be a deal like this year with a twist, racing on non Grand Am weekends (where Will drives both IndyCar and Grand AM weekends) or a full standing entry.
TCG – (2, 3, 3) – Again cars 1 and 2 are set, the variable here is the Danica Car. While there is no guarantee that she will be here next year, odds favor this match right now.
AGR – (4, 3, 4) – This is the messy one. Rumors are hot and heavy about a splitting of teams next year. Andretti fielding TK and Marco. Then what becomes of Kim Green, Kevin Savoree and all that other equipment?? Just seems like there is at least a single car entry there someplace perhaps if things fell just right - two.
NHL – (2, 2, 2) – While Graham is a free agent next year, he’s really knocking on the door here and the fit just seems too good to disturb. Alex Lloyd rumors are running wild so NHL seems likely to return as a two car effort next year.
KV – (1, 1, 2) – KV will be back with at least one car and if the sponsorship raffle goes well, with two.
Vision – (1, 1, 1) – Just don’t see another car here until RHR is comfortably seated with another team and James and Lauren tie the knot…
Foyt – (1, 1, 2) – Didn’t grow up a Foyt fan – JR and the Unsers were my heroes, but if AJ ran both RHR and Vitor, his team would have me as a fervent fan.
Panther (1, 1, 1) – The Wheldon watch continues and if he finds a new home, the cut in driver salary alone makes this team more economically viable next year.
Dreyer and Reinbold (2, 2, 2) – The DR plan seems to have been to have one “Merit” seat which this year was Mike Conway and then make the 23 available for purchase. This year the 23 was handled by Darren Manning, Milka and Tomas. The latter two will likely have enough money to buy back in next year. Conway is a separate post on the do’s and don’ts of introducing a new driver to this series.
HVM – (1, 2, 2) – Doornbos in already on paper for next year and there’s no reason to assume that PDVSA will be leaving Viso out in the cold. The only wrinkle here is can Viso do better with those $$ next year?
Luzco Dragon – (1, 1, 2) – See this still as a one car team, unless Jay or Rafa find some luck at the sponsorship derby.
Coyne – (1, 1, 2) – As long as we don’t have any more of that running out of fuel stuff again, Justin seems pretty happy with the road circuit strategy that guides this team. If Bruno finds some apex $$ he could be back.
Sarah Fisher (.5, .75, .75) – Unfortunately for Sarah, I think the Ideal match for Dollar General would be Sarah driving the 67 car in the nationwide series. With budgets, DG may have to decide during the off season – Do we like Sarah as an activated Driver better than participating in the nationwide series that aligns better with our core market. People love Sarah and I imagine someone would step in if DG is gone. Keep in mind, in the long term, this team isn’t just for her. There is a young O’Gara cutting his teeth on the dirt right now… UPDATE: Since I first posted this, Sarah got quite a surprise this morning (see Surprise Sarah) a new tub that will allow her to potentially do more races in the upcoming season. Two tubs will allow her to do ovals one week and a road course the next without heroics from her crew back at the shop. I certainly would not want to tell her what to do, but Sarah has never been a fan of road/street circuits - perhaps she might partner with another driver (perhaps young, up and coming) to cover that part of the season for her. John Edwards might be a nice match...
Conquest – (.5, 0, 0) – Sorry, I just see this equipment changing hands in the off season.
3G – (1, 0, 0) – See conquest.
Tagliani – (0, 1, 1) – Three cheers and one new entry for Team Canada. LaBatt’s all around!!!
Rahal Letterman – (0, 0, 1) – Could be back on the grid if Apex Dollars show up for lights driver Romancini. Otherwise, there are rumors about where the De Ferren equipment just might come from.
DeFerren Motorsports (0, 2, 2) – Pagenot and Sato are the rumored names for drivers. I would hate to see Hideki go. He has done pretty well for himself at team chaos.
Highcroft (0, .5, 1) – I sort of link this to Fernandez below – I expect one of these teams next year, if the stars align they both show up.
Fernandez (0, .5, 1) – A Mexican team, with a Mexican Driver (Luis Diaz) and a Mexican affiliate of an American company (Lowe’s) - could a March event in Mexico City be far behind?
Of course all this is conjecture – But I am optimistic about the size of next year’s field. And that doesn’t even include the cars I would field if I hit that $245M Powerball Jackpot on Wednesday. You think Mark Cuban is an exciting owner in Professional Sports…