With the IZOD IndyCar Series "Silly Season" in full gear and 2012 just around the corner, we asked some of our contributors their thoughts on a few of the recent offseason developments:
Do you like the move of Mike Conway to AJ Foyt Racing?
Paul Dalbey, MoreFrontWing.com: I'm pretty shocked that Mike Conway ended up in the AJ Foyt/ABC Supply ride for 2012. I would have almost bet the farm that this ride would have gone to Oriol Servia once Newman/Haas Racing shut down its IndyCar operations. While Mike has shown flashes of front running (highlighted, of course, by his victory at Long Beach this past season), his consistency has been lacking across the board. He seems to be a very streaky driver that is either on top of his game or nowhere to be found with very little in between. Servia, on the other hand, has been one of the most consistent drivers over the past several seasons, even without any form of consistency in his year-to-year programs. Given that AJ generally gives his drivers a couple years to really sort themselves out and mesh with the team, that ride seems to have been a perfect situation for Servia, and Servia the perfect driver for that seat. As one of the seemingly few rides that wasn't to be bought, I am just amazed Servia didn't end up there.
Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com: I think the hidden factor here is engineering, and the potential of Conway’s funding to assist with that. The noise around the Foyt program this offseason is that they’re pushing big upgrades in their engineering department. Given the slant towards road and street courses this year, Conway should be a decent choice for this seat, though I also understand those pushing for Oriol Servia. Don’t forget, Conway has served as a test driver before, and if the engineering comes together with this program, it could be a nice match. In regards to Conway, I know we’ll all be watching to see how he does with his consistency over the course of the year, as well as the potentially hilarious combination of the volatile A.J. Foyt and the completely unflappable Conway.
Steph Wallcraft, MoreFrontWing.com: "Like" isn't really the right word. "Unsurprised" might work better -- Conway is well-funded, and well-funded drivers who show glimmers of talent tend to find seats fairly easily. The important factor that remains to be seen in this deal is whether Foyt will run a second car. Can Conway keep showing the flashes of brilliance he has over the past several seasons as a team's only driver, and will he need to? The answers to those questions will be far more telling of how this signing will ultimately work out for all involved.
Chris Estrada, INDYCAR Nation Contributor: It was a given that “SuperTex” was going to try and find a pilot with good road/street course chops to replace Vitor Meira. They should get at least a few good runs on the twisty courses with Conway, who finally broke through for his first win last year at Long Beach. But what remains to be seen is how the Englishman will raise Foyt Racing’s oval game. Conway only had one top-10 finish on an oval last season for Andretti Autosport. We’ll see if his new boss can give him some help in that discipline.
Kyle Lavigne, INDYCAR Nation Contributor: I like the addition of him to A.J. Foyt’s outfit. It gives them a very solid road racer who will help them immensely on the road and street circuits, which will make up the bulk of the 2012 schedule. For Conway, a change of scenery will probably do him some good. Aside from his victory in Long Beach, the 2011 season was a major step backward for the Briton after he showed promise in 2009 and early in 2010 before his injury. Why his tenure with Andretti Autosport went so poorly is a bit of a mystery, but nonetheless, his move to a revamped Foyt squad, which is retooling itself in hopes drastically improved performance, should be positive for both.
Where does this leave Oriol Servia, who was also rumored to be in contention for the seat?
Paul: It's hard to say where this development leaves Servia now. Oriol isn't known to bring large sponsorship with him, and the number of paying rides are quickly dwindling. He does have a good history with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, having performed very well with them in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. Andretti Autosport could be another possible landing spot, but until the musical chairs comes to an end there and we have a better idea who will wind up in the Go Daddy car, it's difficult to see how Andretti can stretch the finances to accommodate Servia right now. Perhaps my favorite scenario sees Servia back at KV Racing Technology as a teammate to Tony Kanaan. That combination would instantly make KVRT a championship contending team.
Zachary: Servia is one of the most veteran drivers available, and I don’t think anyone doubts his driving prowess. Yes, the number of available seats is quickly dwindling, but you have to think he’ll land somewhere in a year where a veteran presence in a car is going to be at a premium. Even with potential funding shortfalls, there’s got to be a seat for him. The rumor mill is abuzz with teams throwing his name around; let’s hope for less talk and more action on it soon. With the new car, you’re not going to see as many last-minute signings as in years past.
Steph: There's not a chance Servia goes rideless in 2012 after the season he just had. If next year finds him on the sidelines again, it'll be the most heinous crime going. However, with his current momentum and the fact that he has at least some sponsorship support to shop around, he ought to be seeing plenty of interest.
Chris: While Servia would’ve been an immediate upgrade for Foyt Racing, I think the Spaniard has earned himself a ride that’s a bit higher in the pecking order. With next to nothing in terms of fanfare, he finished in the top five of the 2011 championship with a Newman/Haas team that hadn’t been considered anywhere close to title contenders in several seasons…
Kyle: For as talented as he is behind the wheel, Servia is one of those drivers who just can’t seem to find a steady home. The likeable veteran has been in and out of full-time and part-time rides for several years, the recent departure of Newman/Haas only the latest jilt. Fortunately for him, there remain a number of seats open. Dreyer and Reinbold, MSR Indy, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, HVM Racing (as a teammate to Simona de Silvestro), and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (as a second entry to accompany the expectant Takuma Sato, who tested with them recently) all could have vacant seats (depending on sponsorship obviously). Specifically, MSR Indy will be looking for a veteran to help them get their program off the ground, so that seems an obvious connection. But, for now, Servia remains without a ride, something I sincerely hope changes soon.
Which free agent driver are you the most surprised to see still unsigned?
Paul: Obviously with Conway going to Foyt, that leaves Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia as the top driver's on everyone's list -- at least everyone's list that doesn't require a very large check to make the grid at St. Pete. I think there are still a couple paying rides out there that won't require a driver to bring sponsorship, and I'd have to think that teams will be lining up quickly to get their hands on either of these two drivers, both of whom have proven they can not only win a race but drastically improve a program.
Zachary: Well, I think if you buy into super sophomore James Hinchcliffe going to Andretti Autosport (which I do), you have to look at Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia. Here are two veteran drivers who can a) win and b) act as a huge asset with working through setup with the new car. I think you have to ask, what team would not be made markedly better by their addition? If Wilson does indeed go back to a different-look Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, that probably leaves Servia as the most sought-after driver in terms of pure skill.
Steph: Servia's a very good pick for this one, but I'll have to go with Justin Wilson. With the twisty-heavy season that's ahead of us, how he's gone this deep into the off-season without receiving multiple offers is anyone's guess. (That said, this situation very likely once again comes down to money.)
Chris: …And it’s for that reason above that I find myself most surprised by Servia still being a free agent. I don’t think anyone wants his situation to become like what Tony Kanaan had to endure last offseason.
Kyle: Justin Wilson, without any doubts from this corner. Wilson is as polished as they come. A proven race winner who rarely makes mistakes, he’d be a perfect fit for nearly every team and whoever signs him will have a gem on their hands. Undoubtedly, he will land somewhere and help make whichever team he joins instant front-runners.
True or False: Paul Tracy ends up with a full-time ride for 2012.
Paul: While I'm in no way opposed to seeing Paul Tracy in a full-time ride, I just don't think it's going to happen. At 43 years old, he certainly isn't getting any younger, and if a team owner was serious about wanting to run Paul, PT would have had a ride last year or the year before. Unfortunately, I think Paul's dismal showings in 2011, whether by his own performance or that of his teams, lowered his stock and reduced the chance of him securing a full-time 2012 ride.
Zachary: I’d like to think I’m wrong, but I’m going to say False. I remember having the same discussion last year about PT having some money, but no team willing to sign him for what he was bringing. With the numbers of seats rapidly dwindling, I’m just not sure if someone will take a chance on him. I think it’s a more interesting Series if he’s out there, but you also have to look at his sponsors—he’s got Honda money as part of his sponsor package, and that could really limit his options.
Steph: This is a tough one. Paul's got plenty of sponsor support, but a good chunk of it is coming from Honda. That means that he needs to find 1) a Honda team, 2) with an open seat, and 3) with someone who he hasn't burned any bridges with. That might be a tall order. If my arm is twisted to give a true or false response, I'll say -- with a complete lack of confidence -- true, but that's more out of the general desire to see PT get the career send-off he deserves than anything else.
Chris: I’m going to have to say False, and that’s a shame since he really deserves one more full-season run before his career is through. Tracy has proven his talent in the past, but as we’ve seen over the last few years, that doesn’t mean as much anymore. A big check does, and while Tracy’s been able to accumulate some solid backers, it hasn’t been enough to ensure him a full year – at least, not yet. Let’s hope I’m wrong on this one.
Kyle: Reports say that Tracy has roughly $2 million in funding on his own. This should be enough to help push him into a full-time seat, but not many seem to budging right now. It would make the most sense for him to join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in one of its cars (they’ll be a Honda team, Tracy has Honda connections). But, there is very little beyond speculation at the moment. All the same, Tracy deserves a chance for at least one more full-season in a competitive car before hanging up his driver suit.
We’d love to hear your thoughts as well!