With the offseason officially underway, drivers and teams will now begin the familiar game of musical chairs, with everyone looking to find a home for the 2012 season. A number of drivers locked up their deals a long time ago, while just as many are wondering if anything will be available for them come St. Pete in March.
Here is a look at how each team currently looks entering the off-season. Then tell us your predictions for 2012.
NOTABLE FREE AGENTS...
Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, Buddy Rice, Townsend Bell, Josef Newgarden, Vitor Meira, Mike Conway, Ana Beatriz, Bertrand Baguette, Sebastian Saavedra, Wade Cunningham, Rafa Matos, Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso
Chip Ganassi Racing
Ganassi’s organization is one of the few teams with all of its ducks already in a row. Seasoned veterans Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon will return in the two Target machines, while Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball will return to Ganassi’s satellite “G2” stable. Both teams will use Honda engines.
Roger Penske’s outfit is also set to maintain the status quo, with Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, and Helio Castroneves all set to return in 2012, keeping Penske a three-car stable for the third consecutive year (fourth if you count Power’s part-time effort in 2009). All cars will use Chevrolet engines.
Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay should return in their drives next season. But, the remaining two seats are currently unfilled. Dan Wheldon had signed with Andretti’s outfit in its Godaddy.com machine, but his tragic death means that seat is still open. Mike Conway’s future is uncertain at this time. Like Penske, Chevrolet engines will be fitted into Andretti’s cars next season.
Though nothing has been confirmed regarding drivers or engines for next season, it’s reasonable to expect this team to remain as it was in 2011. Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe are optimistic of returning and the team is working to ensure it has the budget for two cars next year.
J.R. Hildebrand will pilot the No. 4 National Guard entry in 2012 while the team is hopeful of adding a second car. Buddy Rice drove in three races for Panther in 2011, but no further announcements have been made. They will use Chevy engines in 2012.
KV Racing Technology
Though Lotus has been a sponsoring partner with them each of the last two seasons, KV will use Chevrolet engines in 2012. Its driver lineup, however, remains a question mark. Tony Kanaan expects to be back in the picture next season, but nothing has been confirmed for either Takuma Sato or E.J. Viso.
A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Vitor Meira will not be back with Foyt’s outfit next year, leaving it open to any free agent out there. Bertrand Baguette is rumored to be a leading candidate at the moment. Regardless, they will use Honda power next season.
Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
As other teams fine-tune and make small adjustments, Dreyer and Reinbold is taking a big swing this off-season. Gone are Larry and Matt Curry, who joined the program in 2010, after a very disappointing season in which they were expected to challenge for wins. The engine and driver pictures are also quite foggy, with no engines or drivers confirmed for next year. It should be noted that Justin Wilson is currently being pursued by a number of teams and, along with Sebastien Bourdais, is the highest profile free agent at the moment.
Once again, this is a time that has most of its program together. They will lead the charge for Lotus next year, with Simona de Silvestro and Entergy Nuclear both returning. They are also working on adding a second car into the fold, but there is nothing new to report on that front.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports
The only confirmed aspect of Schmidt’s program is the use of Honda engines going forward. Beyond that, everything else is up in the air. Driver Alex Tagliani has not yet been confirmed. They may also be looking at expanding to two cars full-time next year, though no plans have finalized or reported recently.
Dale Coyne Racing
Once again, Coyne hopes to field two cars in 2012. And, if everything goes the way Coyne wants, Sebastien Bourdais will help lead their charge. However, nothing has been signed yet and Bourdais, like Justin Wilson, is being courted by other teams. James Jakes is also still in play for next year.
Eric Bachelart’s team will field a car next year, but that’s about all anyone knows. No news to report on engines or drivers.
Bryan Herta Autosport
Bryan Herta and Steve Newey hope to become a full-time effort in 2012. The INDYCAR test team for the 2012 chassis, they have been a team in demand amongst free agent drivers, with Bourdais and Alex Tagliani linked in some way to this year’s Indy 500 winners (Tagliani actually drove their No. 98 machine in Las Vegas). BHA has been linked to a Honda engine deal, though nothing formal is known as of writing. They will announce their intentions when all the pieces of the puzzle are in place.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Co-owner Bobby Rahal is optimistic of a full-season program, and believes that he will field a two-car effort in 2012. Driver and engine announcements will be forthcoming.
Sarah Fisher Racing
The gutty little underdogs at Sarah Fisher’s team gave us something to smile about with their victory in Kentucky. However, their future isn’t as clear as they’d like. Fisher announced in victory lane that Dollar General was not coming back, meaning their budget for next year is up in the air. Still, she hopes to be a full-time operation next year and hopes to retain Ed Carpenter as the driver.
Jay Penske’s outfit endured a roller coaster of a season in 2011, with its doors closed to start the year only to be back on the radar a short time later. Jay Penske hopes to have at least one car full-time in 2012 and is also pursuing the funding for a second effort.
A recent addition to the series, the team owned by Grand Am stalwart Michael Shank, NASCAR and former open wheel standout A.J. Allmendinger, and businessman Brian Bailey will be Lotus powered. Announcements regarding drivers and sponsors will come later in the off-season.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Just this week, Ed Carpenter announced the formation of his own team, for which he will drive, with funding from Fuzzy’s Vodka, his sponsor in his four races from 2010. Carpenter’s intentions are to do a full slate of races next season with the new team. An engine partnership will be announced soon.
Who's making good decisions? Who should be on the free agent list above? Which drivers will grab the hottest seats available? Comment below and give us your opinions on the driver roster for next year.