We have a problem.
Robin Miller mentioned it in a recent mailbag and Curt Cavin confirmed it Friday, Izod IndyCar officials have told Simona DeSivlestra (2 season participant and 4 time winner in the Atlantics series) that she is not ready for a full time IICS ride. The reason they site is her lack of experience on ovals. Presumably the same critique applies to John Edwards, the current Atlantics Champion, whose Newman Wachs team has decided to transition over to an IICS property for next year.
Of course the first initial gut reaction is WTH? No wonder people want Brian Barnhart’s head on a pike. The reasons why this decision is being made fall into one of two buckets, merit based or political.
On first pass, for historically referenced merit based criteria, the decision looks to be a complete piece of idiocy. SO Milka and Marty were “ready” and the Swiss Miss isn’t? If you have followed AOW enough to have stumbled on this site you know how silly this question is and I won’t go into the background. Based on the precedent set for M&M, there is no justification whatever for keeping the Atlantics drivers off the track.
Something to keep in mind here however, unlike when Milka and Marty showed up, Simona and John would likely be the 25th to 28th cars on the track. When M&M showed up they were cars 17 to 19. It is easier to have principals when series survival is more comfortably at hand.
Of course the larger number of cars also means that there will be more traffic on the course for new drivers to acclimate to and navigate around. But other than the short course ovals, of which only Iowa remains on the current schedule, the issue is diluted on the larger tracks.
If merit is the basis for the decision, then my guess the league is referencing a different precedent. I call it the Curious Case of Mike Conway (the same principle is at work with Viso and Moraes first two seasons also just fewer merger related extenuating circumstances). Mike Conway showed up as a rookie last year after an upbringing in British F3, a series not unlike the Atlantics series. Similarly spec’ed cars running exclusively on road courses, but probably with superior competitive fields than Atlantics can boast.
Once he started racing last season we discovered two things for Mike. First he was generally quick, second that it apparently came as quite the surprise that a heavier car takes longer to slow for a corner that those lighter F3 cars. If Mike crashing out on a road course was common, Mike introducing himself to the walls of an oval was a certainty. My guess the league is looking at Mike and saying, “One year in Indy Lights would have made a big difference in this young man’s transition.”
If the decision is political, then the obvious first inclination is to assume that the IICS is looking to put the kill shot out on the Atlantics series. The Atlantics series currently sits as a vestige and reminder of a conflict since resolved (sort of like all those American Army bases in Germany). Champ Car and the IRL have found their peace, building towards a bigger and better IICS for the future, but both their feeder series remain.
The IRL has spent a fair amount of time linking and stringing together a ladder series for driver development. F2000 to Star Mazda to Firestone IndyLights to the Izod IndyCar series itself. As long as Atlantics exists, it will draw teams, drivers and sponsors away from the IRL sanctioned properties. By saying Atlantics is not adequate preparation for the IICS, the IRL is telling aspiring drivers that time in Atlantics is wasted and better spent in one of our series. Is it hardball? Yes. But when you consider that the IRL faces even harsher tactics from ISC/nascar, you can’t blame the IRL for wanting to vanquish their own little competitive nuisances.
The other political nuance that comes into play here is the JR Hildebrand factor. At this point officially, JR does not have an IICS ride for next season and neither does Ana Beatriz (two time winner in FIL). It would be more than a slight embarrassment to the league if Edwards and Simona get inked into the IICS before any FIL drivers do this year.
With Coyne’s announcement of running a second car this year to support an educational partnership with the Boy Scouts of America – it certainly looks like there is a tailored seat waiting for JR. The hold up is getting sponsor ink on the contract to support the educational program. Likewise, with the opening race of the 2010 series being in her home town of So Paolo, the situation should be favourable for Ana to land at least a partial season ride with a Brazilian sponsor (those Brazilian sponsors take a long time to sign contracts don’t they!)
My take is that the league’s stance will soften towards Simona once JR has a full season ride inked in place and Ana is on the grid in for Brazil. There’s no reason that if a team wants to put Simona in a car for the twisties, that they should not allow her to be there. In recent off season testing she bested the times of Rahal and Mutoh (different days maybe different conditions) and Viso had to bust out with a balls out run to just barely best Simona in the same session.
A plan will probably be concocted to get her experience in a mixture of FIL and IICS cars on ovals in preseason testing and early oval races. Practice time in both cars and participation in the FIL race at Kansas. (wouldn’t it be nice to have another oval in the schedule before Indy? Phoenix and a retooled Milwaukee would be nice fits for this very reason)
I would love to see her in the field at Indy, but with the condensed schedule it becomes a challenge. Based off a good result at Kansas you might simply say she is ready and take her down a 500 only program in May. Or you could plan for her to run both FIL and 500 programs and then if she qualifies for the field of 33 and her Freedom 100 results are competent, allow her to race the 500. The team could line up a replacement driver for the 500 if need be.
With Edwards being only 19, there may not be any great rush to get him into IICS. The league probably would love to space his and JR’s debuts out over successive seasons to build some momentum and make a case that there is a home for talented American drivers in the series. From what I have seen, Edwards is a couple up on current FIL drivers Kimball and Herrington in the running for the “Young American to Watch” title in the FIL. A showcase year in FIL will allow the IICS and teams to build a sponsor based opportunity for him in 2011.
As you may have read in a previous post, I am really looking forward to the day when all the four drivers mentioned in this article are in the series. The future of the series resides with drivers who are under 30. The seeds for star power are planted when drivers are 19 and 20. Politics, should not enter the question.