There has been much hype regarding the news that INDYCAR will pay $5 million to a wild card driver who qualifies for and wins the IndyCar season’s finale race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Names of potential promoter’s option racers have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. INDYCAR CEO, RANDY BERNARD, threw out the first salvo in the challenge last month, and it’s drawn attention from drivers far and wide, globally as well as domestically.
The selection committee consists of Bernard; INDYCAR president of competition and operations, BRIAN BARNHART; INDYCAR commercial division president, TERRY ANGSTADT; three-time Indianapolis 500 champion, JOHNNY RUTHERFORD, and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and current IZOD IndyCar Series driver coach, AL UNSER JR.
As the eligibility criteria has yet to be announced, IndyCar is keeping a tight lid on those who have already thrown their hat in the ring. However, despite its best efforts, unnamed sources have released what is said to be ‘A Short List’ of those drivers/teams under consideration.
There has been some concern by the series regulars that having five wildcard drivers in the mix for the season’s finale race could jeopardize a championship run. For the last five years the championship battle has come down to the last race, and in some cases, the last lap. This will be addressed by the IndyCar Drivers Association, which was formed last August, with the main issue being safety. DARIO FRANCHITTI, TONY KANAAN and JUSTIN WILSON are the leaders of the pack.
With the driver selections promised for May, the ICDA plans to have a meeting sometime during the Indy 500 weeks, with IndyCar officials and the wild card drivers, who all be guests of IndyCar for as much time as they can spare from their respective race commitments.
Bernard has already said “We are going to provide ample testing time at Las Vegas for the five selected drivers to make sure by the time they get to Las Vegas they are up to speed.” And there will be no limit on private testing on other 1.5-mile ovals such as Texas, Charlotte, Kentucky, Kansas, Chicago, Atlanta or Homestead. However, as they aren’t that similar to LVMS, it’s not guaranteed that such testing would prove helpful. Can you say Race Simulator?
It is hoped that with the plethora of what are about to become obsolete Honda Dallara race cars, the wild car driver/teams will have show cars to drum up further interest in the race, and if at all possible, have the show cars ready for display at the Indy 500.
With the Las Vegas race being televised live by ABC instead of the cable channel, Versus, there will be more world-wide coverage. England and Australia get the American feed and for this race will run the full show live. And in Las Vegas, the bookmakers are already going crazy over the odds.
UNOFFICIAL SHORT LIST
ALEX ZANARDI – No.0 with Target Chip Ganassi Racing
SCOTT PRUETT – No.00 with Section Eight Ganassi Racing
Both drivers have past/current ties with Ganassi Racing, both giving him championships in their respective categories and both have CART experience. Zanardi will be paired with Ganassi’s international drivers’ team, while Pruett will join the American driver satellite team. Pruett originally had reservations about jumping into an indycar for an oval race after so many years, but team owner CHIP GANASSI prevailed, providing top notch equipment and crew. Pruett said he would donate any winnings to children’s literacy programs in the Sacramento CA area.
NELSON PIQUET Jr – No.8 with Gil de Ferran Racing, sponsored by Brazilian Ethanol.
Former F1 driver, who is racing full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which is on the LVMS schedule the same weekend as IndyCar
TANNER FAUST – No.73 with Newman Haas Racing, sponsored by The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association.
The edgy, dare-devil fearless driver has driven many different kinds of cars, both in competition and on his SPEED TV Show Extreme Speed. He is the host of the American version of Top Gear on the History Channel, which will be doing a special on the event.
ALEXANDER ROSSI – No.01 with Highcroft Racing, sponsored by Honda.
The young adaptable American driver has been in Europe pursuing his open wheel career with GP3 and GP2 series, headed towards F1. Highcroft is American owned and is the Honda factory team in ALMS and working towards a full-time IndyCar team in 2012.
None of the NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars can make the logistics work, even if they were interested – which most say they are not. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are racing in Charlotte the same weekend, and those drivers are smart enough to realize that it’s more than just doing the Daily Double.
One Cup driver, A.J. ALLMENDINGER, was hopeful he could find a way, and given his determination, he might just end up in the mix. Red Bull, longtime personal sponsor of AJ, is keen to be part of the race.
Others who had been suggested but can’t make it include VALENTINO ROSSI, seven-time MotoGP champion who has tested with Ferrari more than once due to conflicts with the Australian MotoGP race at Phillip Island; and PATRICK LONG, who is racing both ALMS and SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge Series this season. He is (the only American) factory Porsche driver, and not allowed to race a Honda.
Would you believe … APRIL FOOL!