General Update for 1-29-08

Story posted - Jan 29 2008 5:31 PM

The news world has slowed again. There is of course still quite a buzz about Tony George's merger proposal to the CCWS ownership, but actual action on that front seems to have moved back in to the shadows.

We are now mostly waiting for teams to start committing to the 2008 IndyCar Series season. We have heard that Honda has been sent full season lease contracts for 16 or 18 entries depending on who you ask.

16 is the most reliable number we can pin down right now. That means that second entries for some teams like DRR, RLR, or Panther have not sent in their paperwork, which makes sense considering that those teams have not confirmed their second programs yet. We expect some if not all, of those teams to run second cars, but until the money is found, they won't be paying for an engine they may not need.

(SILLY SEASON LIST AT BOTTOM)

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Gil de Ferran is returning to the United States to do some sports car racing. As you'd expect of a guy that was helping to run Honda's F1 program, de Ferran will be driving and owing an Acura powered ARX-01b chassis ALMS LMP2 prototype.

Interesting in the announcement is that John Anderson has left Andretti Green Racing and will now run De Ferran Motorsports - which will be based in Indianapolis. "Ando" as his is called in the garage area called the shots for Dario Franchitti in 2007.

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Ok, back to the merger stuff. Tony George told Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star yesterday, "I tried to get all those guys to consider not having ownership in the series; rather, they should make their other racing-related businesses a more profitable part of a unified series," George said. "I told them, 'Let us own and operate the series, and we'll make sure everyone is able to transition into equipment for the remainder useful life of the equipment.'"

You can find the story at: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080128/SPORTS0107/801280351/1052/SPORTS01

The article also states that the window of opportunity for a 2008 merger has closed.

TSO has checked around and it appears that "merger" for 2008 would indeed be very difficult to put together at this time, particularly under the terms Tony George offered back in November, but that it's not totally "dead". The terms might not be the same, but TG appears (according to our sources) willing to take calls from CCWS teams interested in changing series.

The original terms - presented to Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi according to most rumors/information - called for Tony George to provide free cars and engines to the CCWS teams making the transition to the IRL, along with the $1.2million in minimum purse money (aka TEAM support) that all ICS teams will get in 2008. Our information, which is consistent with George's actual quotes, is that George made that offer to ChampCar management because he wants any deal to end the "split". Poaching individual teams would necessarily end the split.

Also remember that part of the deal was that TG would place five CCWS events in to the IRL schedule at very favorable terms to the promoters (we don't think he would "pay" to race there though).

As a package, TG's deal made great sense. As a deal for individual teams, the return isn't nearly as high for TG or the IRL. Frankly, Tony is going to get to at least 18 cars this year without any CCWS teams, so unless the departing teams could force Forsythe to take the original offer - it doesn't appear that a couple team defections will be enough to end the split for 2008. Additionally, while IRL teams welcome the "clarity" in the marketplace that would result from a merger, they may not be as receptive to TG helping teams defect from a still active CCWS.

Basically, if it creates a merger, IRL teams will support TG doing what he needs to do to create a united IndyCar Series. Anything short of that doesn't help them much, and everyone will just keep trying to run their IRL operations as normal.

If some CCWS teams did jump for 2008, that may end their series for 2009 though as any further undermining of CCWS stability (via loss of teams/sponsorship) will be difficult to shrug off. At this point, Newman/Haas/Lanigan has announced their 2008 CCWS drivers as Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal, so we would be slightly surprised if they moved to the IRL now, but its not out of the question - these are strange days, strange things could still happen.

Anyway, George also told the star, "I wasn't going to wholesale make that offer," George said. "I would make sure they had equipment; it would not necessarily be free."

While this clouds idea of "free" from earlier reports, our sources continue to state that the CCWS teams would be "taken care of," and the terms would have been very favorable. But, he did want the CCWS teams to commit to two years in the IRL so that he could amortize the costs over multiple seasons - with the IRL expected to get a mostly new car in 2010.

We also don't think TG was going to help everyone that ran in the CCWS in the past years. Some of those entries are only viable due to support from KK and GF - and it's not likely that TG would want to become their new benefactor.

That new car stuff could also be working in to TG's cut-off dates for a merger.

Our speculation is that if TG had to buy and lease/rent back a bunch of chassis to the CCWS teams for 2008, then he was willing to change the new tub/car debut to 2010. Yet, at this time, there is a project going on with a Detroit art program to come up with new IndyCar design in the next three months. The IRL liked what came from the last design exercise but wants this one very focused on the car.

Perhaps TG decided that he would hold off on the new car IF a merger was taking place, but if not, then full speed ahead with the new car for either 2009 or 2010, depending on actual development constraints. Perhaps we are connecting too many dots with regards to new cars and merger offers, but there are a lot of factors that have to be considered as part of any deal.

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The IRL formally announced a couple changes to the car that everyone was expecting. For all non-Indy participants paddle shifters will become mandatory this year. The variable assist steering rack will become officially optional after some teams ran it last year as a "development" piece. The new rack will be of the most help on the road courses, particularly places like Watkins Glen and Sonoma due to their big elevation changes and "loading" of the front tires.

TSO is hearing that Indy 500 only teams will not need to update their cars for the paddle shifters. Additionally, it does not look like the Panoz will get the new anti-penetration panels presently being fit to all of the Dallara ICS and IPS cars.

While this is not official, it looks like the 2008 Indy 500 will be the last dance for the Panoz as it is likely to be outlawed officially after that. The free market is already shortening it's useful lifespan, though since it's cheap, a couple teams will still want to try and get those cars in to the Indy 500.

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Back to the car count stuff.

We've heard that Milka Duno is out shopping her CITGO sponsorship for 2009. It does not appear she has enough to run an entire season. We believe her situation and the terms of her deal would be best placed as a second or third car with an existing operation. From what we hear, it will again be difficult to base an entire operation around Milka's sponsorship - perhaps making her a candidate for Indy only at this time. She wants more than that, but we'll see!

SAMAX is also reportedly working with several other drivers in hopes of running the full ICS schedule in 2008 with Mario Dominguez among those looking for the necessary sponsorship.

We continue to hear that Roger Yasukawa has a partial season budget now and is looking for more backing. He wants to do at least Motegi and Indy, but might have enough to expand on that.

Alex Lloyd is also supposed to get some IndyCar Series starts in 2008 as part of his Chip Ganassi deal, though how many and with what team has not been decided. For Lloyd to run with Chip's team full-time, ALL of the sponsorship needs to be in place for a first class effort - something that doesn't appear ready at this time.

Between Lloyd, Yasukawa, and Duno, there seems to a good chance that we'll see some some partial season offerings that could bump car counts at particular races.

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And with that - here is the Silly Season List:

CONFIRMED ENTRY WITH DRIVER ANNOUNCED:

AGR - Kanaan
AGR - Danica
AGR - Andretti
AGR - Mutoh
Penske - Castroneves
Penske - Briscoe
Ganassi - Wheldon
Ganassi - Dixon
Vision - Carpenter
Foyt - Darren Manning

Total Confirmed Car/Driver Combinations = 10

95% CONFIRMED BUT WAITING FOR OFFICIAL DRIVER OR SPONSOR ANNOUNCEMENT:

RLR #1 - (Ethanol Car) Ryan Hunter Reay is expected here, just waiting for it to be official. BTW, Ryan made an excellent drive in the rain the Daytona 24 hours.
Panther #1 - Vitor Meira is expected here, but not officially announced yet.
DRR #1 - (The car will be on the grid, and the team is working to re-sign Buddy Rice. Just waiting for this one to become official).
Roth Racing #1 - Marty Roth (Just waiting for sponsorship announcements to move this to 100% confirmed)
Roth Racing #2 - Jay Howard (Just waiting for sponsorship announcements to move this to 100% confirmed)
Vision #2 - TSO has learned that Vision will indeed be a two-car team in 2008 - 2nd driver unknown.

Total 95% confirmed cars = 16

70% CONFIRMED:

DRR #2 - (DRR wants to remain a two car team, but is working on sponsorship).
Panther #2 - PJ Chesson appears to be a strong candidate for this one right now, though officially they are just "talking" and/or they are "close" to a deal.
Total Entries at 75% or above = 18

50% CONFIRMED:

SAMAX #1 - (DOWNGRADED) Milka Duno has talked of coming back, but we cannot confirm much on this one right now. We are moving this to 50%, because even is Milka does run, no one seems to know how many races she'll endeavor in 2008. Mario Dominguez could also take this seat on a full-time basis.
Rahal #2 - This was the Patron/Sharp entry, but with Sharp going to the ALMS we don't know exactly where to place this. RLR would need to find a replacement sponsor, and that could be tough though they've certainly shown that ability in the past.
Sarah Fisher - Sarah has started hiring some people, but we are not aware of any "done" deals at this point - could be Indy only.


OTHER RUMORED ENTRIES:

SAMAX #2 - The team is aggressively trying to put a second car (or a first full-time one - however you look at it) on the grid in 2008. Driver unknown at this time.
Ganassi #3 - Chip Ganassi is likely to enter a third car in some 2008 races, particularly now that Alex Lloyd is signed as a development driver. OR we could see Lloyd loaned to a different team with some Ganassi backing.
Foyt #2 - AJ is looking to add a second car, and reports are the funding search is progressing.
Penske #3 - This could be a Luczo-Dragon type satellite team. It appears to be an Indy-only entry, though rumors have them looking at some full-time options with Patrick Long the potential driver.
Greg Beck - The TEAM program just might get Beck back on the grid as it alone covers tires and the engine lease. And he has some sponsorship in place. Whether it's enough for a full season deal is unknown. This could be a could place for a partially funded driver with some talent.
Rubicon Racing - Indy only effort at this time with Jim Freudenberg and Jason Priestley the owners.
Racing Professionals - Jon Herb's team is working to find the money to run in 2008. They have equipment, which is certainly a plus. Driver undecided.


PROSPECTIVE TEAMS:

Kingdom Racing - We dismissed this early on, but there is some reality to the effort here. If that effort can translate in to a real race team remains to be seen. We're skeptical because that is a difficult undertaking, but we believe they are doing enough to be listed.

DB Mann - A former entrant of CART, the IRL, and the Indy 500, Mann is working with Fred Azbell III (Bowes Seal Fast) to run a full-time entry in 2008.

In addition there are some other folks out there "kicking tires", but we don't have enough detail on them to list a "team" yet - we'll keep an eye out though.

For Indy-only, there are several new entities making serious efforts right now. The names (when they can be confirmed) will be familiar. One of these programs is planned to be a full-time IPS effort with an Indy 500 component.

DRIVERS:

Besides those we mentioned above, here is a list of drivers seriously trying to find a slot in the IndyCar Series for 2008:

CR Crews
Richie Hearn
Wade Cunningham
Jaime Camara (he has part of a budget already it's believed)
Roger Yasukawa (he has part of a budget already it's believed)
Buddy Lazier
Jaques Lazier
Townsend Bell
Jon Herb
And many, many others!

NOTE: For now we are leaving any CCWS related teams off this list. We don't "expect" any of them to switch series at this late hour, but at the same time, we wouldn't be surprised if some decided to make the change.

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