This weekend brings an end to this long, dreary time known as the off-season.
Tomorrow morning, the Indy Car Series will take to the streets of St. Petersburg to mark the official start to the 2009 season. And what an off-season it has been.
Franchitti’s back. Rahal-Letterman is gone, with the exception of perhaps the Indy 500. Will Power moves to Penske. Castroneves moves to the penitentiary, potentially. In other words, things have changed quite a bit since Australia. Not to mention Chicagoland.
Castroneves will be sitting out at least the first round of ’09 as he presents his case before a Miami courtroom to plead his innocence in tax evasion charges. In his stead is Will Power. Power came on strongly in his rookie season in the IRL last year. The captain took note, and gave him the seat. Power, until hearing word from Penske Racing, was without a ride for the ’09 season after his seat at KV Racing lost its funding.
Oriol Servia is out of KV Racing this year, leaving him rideless. Mario Moraes will fill the seat at KV. (Credit: Zach Wenzel Stock Photo)
Also suffering from KV’s loss of funding, Oriol Servia is forced to sit on the outside looking in. Mario Moraes, who drove for Dale Coyne Racing in 2008, will step into Servia’s seat. A second car fielded by KV is possible later in the season, but looking unlikely.
Loss of funding seems to be the common theme across the series with the given state of the economy. Rahal-Letterman Racing also suffered a major loss of sponsorship and, consequently, is not planning on fielding a car in 2009. With RLR’s loss of Ethanol sponsorship, ’08 Watkin’s Glen winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, lost his seat. Up until last week, the American was without a ride even after signing a marketing deal with IZOD to showcase their clothing. Luckily for indy car, Hunter-Reay and IZOD, Tony George intervened and offered the second seat at Vision Racing to the rising star.
This weekend’s race will also be the first time Dario Franchitti has stepped into an indy car with points on the line since he won the championship in 2007. Franchitti switches to Target Chip Ganassi’s indy car program following a rough 2008 in NASCAR. Franchitti’s arrival at TCGR started a musical chairs in the indy car paddock. Franchitti replaced Wheldon at Ganassi. Wheldon shuffled over to Panther Racing, booting Vitor Meira out of a seat. Meira ended up at AJ Foyt Racing, forcing Briton Darren Manning out. Manning has since been signed with Dreyer & Reinbold to team with Mike Conway. Manning’s seat at D&R may result in Indy 500 winner, Buddy Rice, or Townsend Bell being without rides this season.
Also changing teams is Justin Wilson. Wilson lost his seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and made the switch to Dale Coyne Racing. NHL has since picked up Dutchman Robert Doornbos. “Bobby D” is expected to have brought with him a large amount in sponsorship dollars. At the Homestead test in February, NHL brought three cars. Graham Rahal, Robert Doornbos, and (surprisingly) Milka Duno. Duno was thought to have brought millions in CITGO and Arctic Ice Energy Drink money. Since the test, it is thought her funding may have fallen through as no new announcements from the team, or Duno for that matter, have come.
- Milka Duno lost her sponsorship money that would have brought her a seat at NHL Racing. Maybe scenes like this were the cause?
(Credit: Zach Wenzel Stock Photo)
The good news this year? An expanded schedule as the series will head to Toronto and Long Beach for the first time in 2009. A new team, Team 3G, will be on the grid with Stanton Barrett as its driver. Luczo-Dragon Racing will field a car with Indy Lights champion, Raphael Matos, as their driver for the entire season. The Indy Lights Series is strong and growing with a full-time field of 28 cars this year. Not to mention, the Indy 500 will begin its centenial era this year and will go through 2011.
All in all, things could be better. But, given the global financial crisis, things could be a lot worse. Optimism is key in these hard times. Don’t lose it, especially when it comes to the passion of racing. Hell, imagine how bad it could be if there were still two series.