Whether you knew it or not, “Silly Season” for the IZOD IndyCar Series has actually been ongoing since September -- when eventual series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay elected to stick with Andretti Autosport in a multi-year contract extension.
With that said, it has taken some time for the usual antics of the offseason to begin. But indeed they have now. One fan favorite has seemingly made a significant upgrade, a former multi-time champion is staying put at his current squad, and, as of Wednesday, two generations of racing royalty are teaming up.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO
Old Team: Lotus HVM Racing/New Team: KV Racing Technology (Chevrolet)
Last year’s situation with the Lotus engine was a trying one for all parties, but none of them had their mettle tested as severely as De Silvestro and her HVM Racing team. While all of their fellow Lotus compatriots moved on to Chevrolet or Honda power early in 2012, the Swiss Missile and her scrappy team soldiered on with the British engine. Another season off the pace obviously would not do for De Silvestro, and so she’s moving forward as part of a reconstituted two-car lineup at Chevy-powered KV Racing Technology.
Considering the popularity of both herself and her new (and first-ever) teammate, former series champion Tony Kanaan, this should be a closely-watched transition amongst those in the fan base next year. De Silvestro has always been a strong road/street course racer, and to say she’ll be keen on using Chevy power to her full advantage may be the mother of all understatements. But most intriguing is how the young driver will get along with the veteran Kanaan, and what she can learn from him.
Returning to Dragon Racing
Jay Penske’s team was one of the groups that left the Lotus camp early last season, and it wound up settling in with the Bowtie Brigade. That decision forced Dragon’s drivers, Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Katherine Legge, to split the team’s lone car for the rest of the year (Bourdais on road/street circuits, Legge on ovals), but despite it all, Bourdais has elected to return to Dragon for 2013.
Bourdais came up with Lotus’ lone top-10 finish of the season, and in the second half of 2012, he showed what promise there could be for Dragon once it had a solid engine. In his final five races of 2012, he made the Firestone Fast Six qualifying round in four of them and collected his season-best finish of fourth place at demanding Mid-Ohio. We’ll see if another year of continuity will help Bourdais and his team improve further.
Old Team: Chip Ganassi Racing/New Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
The son of Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal is coming off an ultimately unrewarding two-year run at Ganassi’s “G2” operation, where he went winless and collected only four podiums across 2011 and 2012. Last season, he appeared poised to finally earn that second career win at Texas Motor Speedway but brushed the wall with two laps to go, opening the door for Justin Wilson to zoom by him and eventually take the win.
The phrase “starting fresh” seems to fit Graham’s latest decision to team up with his father at RLL. He’s always had higher-than-average expectations because of his lineage, but those expectations soared when he joined up with Ganassi. Two years later, Graham’s still in that space between the top tier of drivers and the next tier below. Perhaps running with a lower-profile (but reasonably competitive) team will allow him to refocus – and give him an easier time of moving up the pecking order.
WHO’S STILL OUT THERE?
De Silvestro, Bourdais and Rahal are just the first wave of competitors making their 2013 decisions, as there’s still plenty of big names looking to shore up their plans. Chief among them are Ryan Briscoe, who may be moving on from Team Penske, and Rubens Barrichello, whose 2013 fate seems to be up in the air after KV’s decision to sign De Silvestro.
Needless to say, we’re only starting to get silly this winter.