Servia, Junqueira and Tracy should not be substitutes. For one thing, it's unfair to drop any driver into a car at the last minute and expect him to perform at 100 percent of his ability. (Tracy found that out at Watkins Glen, Servia at Mid-Ohio.) Secondly, all three bring so much more to a team than just an ability to safely gather points. There is speed, knowledge, experience – and the familiarity of names that actually strike a chord with the public.
Given that our trio comprises a Brazilian, a Canadian and a Spaniard (sorry, a Catalonian), some might argue that U.S. drivers should take priority. (It's something I don't agree with, personally – the best drivers available should be in the cars, and I only get angry when talented U.S. drivers lose out to rich European mediocrity.) However, Junqueira, Servia and particularly Tracy have all raced in the U.S. for long enough that they're virtually adopted as home boys, and their abilities and achievements count for far more than their passports.
I'm convinced that 99 percent of sponsors agree with me. Sure, they'd love to be sponsoring an American, but the priority is to have their name associated with winners and therefore on TV as often as possible. Penske and Ganassi employ drivers from New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Brazil because they were the best available: it's no coincidence that these teams have the most firmly established sponsorship deals in the IndyCar paddock.
Nor should the drivers' ages matter. Junqueira is 32, Servia is 35 and Tracy is 40. But so what? Jimmy Vasser was 40 when he last ran a full season in 2005…and, as teammate to 2002 CART champ Cristiano da Matta, he outqualified him more often than not.
If, as Vasser has said, Mario Moraes could be the next Juan Montoya (no doubt, the kid's very quick, and increasing in much needed patience) then we've seen enough comparisons between M.M. and P.T. to suggest that Tracy could be the new Vasser! Not quite as swift on one flying lap, but still a great racer. And what P.T. lacks in engineering nous compared to a Vasser or Servia, he more than compensates for with his near- peerless ability to create overtaking opportunities where others see none, and a phenomenal ability to find grip when others can't.
Junqueira is not as incisive a racer on a street course as Tracy, but he can coax a tremendous amount of speed from an ill-handling car on a natural road course, and has a real technical feel for then improving the car. This serves him equally well on the ovals, and it's a shame he never got to work again with Bill Pappas. Bruno would doubtless have boosted Dale Coyne Racing's progress this year, and sped Justin Wilson up the learning curve in establishing what he needs from a good oval car.
And Servia? Well, he combines elements of both Tracy and Junqueira. He can be hard as nails in a wheel-to-wheel situation, but his degree in engineering means he also can give his team real guidance with great feedback. He's also probably the best of these three at keeping his team's morale high whenever they encounter difficulties.
Alex Tagliani, whose non-employment last caused me to sound off in a column like this, appears to have landed on his feet for the first time since 2000, and his FAZZT race team should have its first test in December. But now here are three more open-wheel veterans who still have much more to give. And look at how many single-car teams could use their skills: KV, Dale Coyne, Panther, Vision, Luczo Dragon…
I've tried to steer clear of their personalities in this column, because their driving skills alone should be enough to attract the teams. But for the sake of the IndyCar Series, I believe Tracy, Servia and Junqueira have much to offer outside the cockpit too. Their presence could help to get the general public to care about this beleaguered branch of U.S. motorsport once more, and attract TV viewers and spectators who (rightly or wrongly) know little and care less about a Conway or a Doornbos.
It will take a little money to get this trio in cars for next year, but it will also take common sense. Team owners must recognize that, for what they bring to a team, a sponsor, a race promoter and the IndyCar Series, Tracy, Servia and Junqueira are absolute bargains.
Even Mr. X agrees, these days.David Malsher is the Editor of RACER magazine.