Despite my lack of posts the last couple weeks, I have SOOO got the itch for March to come ASAP. There’s a lot of good news / potential for good news to point to for how I feel – Izod Sponsorship, A third wheel at Penske and perhaps NHL, a renewed Andretti Autosports with RHR back in a competitive car, and a deserving Canadian forming his own team. All good news, but what really gets me thinking and dreaming the most is the potential class of new faces.
2008 brought a number of new faces to the series, though not necessarily to the sport. In 2008 for the first time we got to see the equivalent of Dr J, George Gervin and George McGinnis tip off with Kareem, Wes Unseld and Dave Cowens after the ABA/NBA merger. The 2008 “Rookies” were more of a book keeping anomaly than a true rookie class.
2010 could be different, very different. While none of the seats are formally in place – there’s no dry ink on contracts that have made their way through legal, the potential for a lot of good things to happen exists.
In case you missed the big story of the day (no not the one we all knew was coming) was the story about Simona Silvestra getting a test drive with HVM. Simona is the winningest female driver in the history of the Atlantics Championship with 4 race victories. While the HVM team involved brought up the rear this past year, everyone needs a start. There may even be some better news for that team, it sounds like some sort of merger of HVM and the Stargate Atlantis team from the Atlantics series may be in the offing.
This kind of merging by an Atlantics team and an IICS team brings us to the next reason 2010 could be a great year for rookies. John Edwards. Newman Wachs, the defending Atlantics champion’s team declared earlier this off season its intention to find a mentoring team to help it and Edwards enter the IICS for 2010. Edwards, from Cincinnati, OH, is a mere 19 years old and also holds the 2008 Star Mazda championship on his resume. I sort of wonder if the Mazda ads that aired during the last two races of the year are somehow related to him making this move – again just postulating.
I’m not sure how the IICS will classify him officially, but with no series starts other than two 500’s and the finale at Homestead, If the champcar guys were rookies then Alex Lloyd is one in my book. Lloyd looks to make his first full season foray into the series next year with a rumored drive with NHL sporting pink HER colours. The 2007 IndyLights Champ won eight races on his way to the title that year, indeed it was Lloyd and a rabble of hapless victims. He has spent the last two years laboring in relative obscurity as the test driver at Target Chip Ganassi, only seeing the light of day at two 500’s (both of which ended in mechanical failure) and at the recent finale at Homestead. His pole day qualification run last year continuing to serve notice and hint at the potential yet to be revealed.
Less likely to make appearances next year are Ana Beatriz and Jonathan Summerton. In both cases, drivers with more talent and race victories than leads for funding. Both would make a deep class even deeper if money were found. It would not surprise me to see both in cameos next year, Ana in So Paolo and via a concerted twitter effort, Summerton is making a run for 500 funding.
Of course there’s one name I have not yet mentioned. Some times life brings you full circle – I began my IndyCar fandom as a 12 year old rooting for a driver named JR. As this past year progressed I found myself hanging on the efforts, results and success of another JR. JR Hildebrand is the defending IndyLights champion and a driver who has had a world of experience in a variety of different cars despite his late start to the sport. He has raced in Atlantics, tested and IICS car, represented the US in the A1GP series and most recently tested an F1 car for Force India. The most recent test drive was a bittersweet moment for me as a fan – balancing the good news that JR had such a rare opportunity with the concern that his career might not bring him to the series I follow with a passion. (JP Note: NO! I didn't wait for him to come out of the porta potty! There's just more porta potties per capita @Mid Ohio than anywhere else in the world)
Something all of these drivers have in common of course is talent, but more importantly they are all marketable. They are Izod friendly - great examples of drivers who have the potential to connect with the Izod demographic the league is seeking to appeal to. If the stars align and contracts get inked Izod would be well served to shoot another spot featuring this group of comers.
What’s more, none of them were born with famous last names or have been blessed with a deep pocketed sponsor to accelerate their careers to the big leagues. These are the work hard success stories that the league needs to build cred with many of the fans that were lost during the split era. Nothing against the skills or abilities of drivers such as Marco, Graham, Moraes and Viso – but the members 2010 class are the competition who will validate whether this current list of young guns is “all that” or not.
If we think ahead – to when the Izod IndyCar series sponsorship is renewed, to when the current Versus contract runs its course. Which drivers will be the face of the series?? Perhaps some that we will see for the first time this coming year and I can’t wait to find out.