IndyCar – September News Roundup: Silly Season Begins

Well, I’m not sitting on five weeks’ worth of IndyCar news just to keep with the regular schedule around here. With F1 having the week off, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recap some of the more interesting news in the IndyCar series since the last race in Baltimore. And there certainly has been some interesting rumblings in the world of IndyCar.

champcar-2000-montoyaJuan Montoya won’t be joining Andretti after the sponsor search for the former Champ Car and Indy 500 champion came up short by about half of the required budget. Instead, Montoya surprised everyone by announcing his IndyCar return with Team Penske.

Montoya’s long tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing made a move to CGR’s IndyCar arch-nemesis a possibility so remote that no one ever considered it. According to Montoya, the two sides started talking at the August NASCAR race at Michigan Speedway. Unlike Andretti Autosport, Penske didn’t hold up an offer based on sponsorship dollars.

With Helio Castroneves and Will Power both publicly approving the move, the question is how will Montoya take to his new surroundings. It’s been about seven years since he’s been in an open-wheel car (a McLaren in F1 in 2006) and 13 years since his last American open-wheel appearance (running CART in 2000). Reports are that he’s out of shape for an open-wheel driver since joining NASCAR. Now, we have to see if he’ll get into racing shape for his big opportunity with Penske.

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indycar-2013-indy-500-kanaanChip Ganassi Racing decided to fire back at Montoya and Penske by hiring an even older driver to pilot the fourth CGR car. Tony Kanaan’s search for a ride in 2014 ended with a contract offer from Ganassi.

While James Hinchcliffe was rumoured to be the first choice for the fourth Ganassi car, it was Kanaan who was inking a contract over the weekend. As of writing, there isn’t much in the way of details about negotiations for the seat but I’d imagine that Hinch’s insistence on getting Dario’s ride when the 40-year-old four-time champion retired would have been the hang-up.

If I was Chip, though, I would be concerned about the future of my team. While CGR has a very good lineup right now, the average age of his team at the start of next season will be 35.25. Kanaan will be 39 next season, Scott Dixon will start the season at 34 and Charlie Kimball will be 29. At least Hinch would still be 29 and you’d have the youth of he and Kimball to build on for succession planning.

While TK is a good driver and will make the most of the equipment next season, I think this is a very short-sighted move by Chip. Sure, he usually ends up correct in the long run but I’m just not seeing it. Unless he has the inside track on RHR or Newgarden, I’m not sure where he’s headed when half of his drivers have retired in a couple of seasons.

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indycar-2013-ims-road-course-testIf you’re ever had the misfortune of watching a Formula One race at the track, the following news may cause you to flip your desk (or laptop or tablet). IndyCar is bringing back the Month of May at the Brickyard… by opening the month with a road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The road course at IMS didn’t exactly set the world on fire during its F1 stint thanks to a series of tight bends to slow the cars to a crawl. However, IMS is planning a reconfiguration of the track to make it more passing friendly and make viewing better for the fans in attendance.

Details about the race and the track’s reconfiguration will be announced by IMS tomorrow. If they’d just get rid of Turns 8, 9 and 10 altogether, it would improve things immensely. Quick bends and quick lap times are better than slowing everyone down for the sake of a 75-second lap time target like the F1 layout.

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indycar-2013-baltimore-de-silvestroMuch to the chagrin of the folks at Dallara who make replacement parts and the relief of the mechanics who have to repair cars, Baltimore has been dropped from the 2014 IndyCar calendar.

The race couldn’t be held on its traditional Labour Day weekend timeslot and a new time for the race couldn’t be agreed upon by the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles, promoters Andretti Sports Management and IndyCar.

IndyCar entered negotiations trying to move Baltimore up in the schedule as IndyCar wants to end the 2014 season on Labour Day weekend to avoid competition with the NFL and NASCAR’s Chase while not ending the season at Baltimore. Right now, there is no interest from Baltimore’s side to move the date. Until one of the sides budge, Baltimore is not expected to return to the schedule.

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Speaking of races being dropped from the 2014 calendar, the Brazilian round in Sao Paulo could be cancelled for a few reasons.

There is the possibility of a construction project near the current site of the race that would disrupt plans to run the race if it went ahead. The race’s promoter is also trying to cut its losses and abandon the race.

IndyCar says that it’s working on a replacement race in Brazil if necessary. While it might seem odd to have only one flyaway race, keeping a race in Brazil would be in IndyCar’s best interest. Between two of its most popular drivers being from Brazil (with Kanaan running with backing from Brazilian sponsors), a growing number of South American drivers in the series and having some expensive looking backing from Apex Brazil, a Brazilian race is important to the continued growth of the series.

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champcar-2007-houston-startThe next round of the 2013 IndyCar Series is the penultimate round of the season. In two weeks’ time, it’s the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader weekend. Actually,  Houston will host the third and second-last races of 2013. The last Houston race was a Champ Car race in 2007. Both Champ Car races held at Reliant Park were won by Sebastian Bourdais.

Given his recent run of success on street circuits, you have to think that Bourdais can break through this weekend. Graham Rahal finished 2nd in his third career Champ Car race at Houston and could ride improving form to a good result. And don’t count out Scott Dixon. He’s got to be hungry for a win or two after his bad luck at the last two races.

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