After months of free agent discussions and debates, some of the biggest names on the IndyCar market could find themselves signed and sealed within the same week.
In addition to the expected confirmation of Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan as the fourth member of the Chip Ganassi Racing team, three-time race winner James Hinchcliffe appears set to either fill Kanaan's vacancy at KV Racing or, if Andretti Autosport can pull off a Hail Mary, to stay with the reigning series champions for a third season.
The situation with Hinchcliffe and KV is an interesting one. The Canadian, as most people have reckoned, has been the domino to set the rest of the driver market in motion. Having moved onto solidifying the sponsorship portfolio for the fourth Ganassi car, Kanaan is almost ready to conclude weeks of negotiations with the team, and provided that happens, Hinchcliffe could be the beneficiary of the sponsorship package KV put together to hold onto the Brazilian.
Kanaan was reportedly offered a lucrative multi-year agreement by KV using a blend of sponsors that were especially interested in being linked to a high-profile driver. With Kanaan intent on joining Ganassi, the next logical step for KV was to pursue a high-profile replacement – a necessary move to keep their sponsors engaged for 2014 – and with Hinchcliffe's ongoing unconfirmed status with Andretti Autosport, the 27-year-old is a perfect fit for KV's needs.
As RACER's Robin Miller reported on Monday, Go Daddy informed the Andretti team it would not be returning to sponsor Hinchcliffe's entry, but team owner Michael Andretti has another lead that could keep Hinchcliffe in the No. 27 Chevy. With a solid offer to backfill Kanaan's place at KV and a definite maybe at Andretti, Hinchcliffe finds himself with yet another career-altering decision to make.
Should he take the safe offer with KV, knowing the team will be in a rebuilding phase as Kanaan and many of his Indy-winning crew members depart for Ganassi, or hold out for the chance to stay with Andretti, a team that has won nearly one-third of the races this season and has incredibly chemistry? Only the Mayor of Hinchtown can answer that question.
The Hinchcliffe Domino Effect could also influence where another free agent lands as Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais has yet to secure his 2014 plans.
Rank the drivers in terms of importance however you like, but with KV's need to have a “name” to appease their sponsors, the popular Frenchman would be the next candidate to represent the Kevin Kalkhoven- and Jimmy Vasser-owned team if Hinchcliffe returns to Andretti.
Bourdais, who currently drives for Dragon Racing, has been on a hot streak of late, but with team owner Jay Penske telling RACER he's still working on his plans for next season, SeaBass is a prime candidate for KV. Enzo Potolicchio, who fields the 8Star Motorsports Grand-Am team Bourdais has driven for on a part-time basis this year, has also said he'd hire the 34-year-old full time if he's unable to remain in open-wheel. Between Dragon, 8Star and a Hinchcliffe-driven KV opportunity, Bourdais should be working from one or more paddocks in 2014.
Panther Racing super-sub Ryan Briscoe, as has been expected, has reportedly inked a multi-year deal to pilot the No. 4 National Guard Chevy. Briscoe, who will compete in the penultimate ALMS round at Virginia International Raceway this weekend with Level 5 Motorsports, raced with Panther for the final time this year at Sonoma, giving veteran open-wheeler Oriol Servia a chance to showcase his talents from Baltimore onward while Briscoe is bound to complete his sports car obligations.
Panther has been working to put the budget together for a second car, which would seemingly present Servia with his best chance for 2014, and KV, which the Catalonian has driven for in Champ Car and IndyCar, is also said to be interested in having the 39-year-old back for a third stint.
With three top candidates to choose from, KV, has set itself up to return next year with another winner to lead the team.
Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson is a “safe bet” to return with the Illinois-based team next season, according to its team owner, and despite the spin-the-wheel-of-who'll-drive-the-second-DCR-car routine that has taken place this year, Coyne wants a full-time solution to pilot the No. 18 Honda alongside Wilson.
Possible second entries from Barracuda Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing could also offer employment opportunities to some of the other free agents on the market. ALMS P1 champions Muscle Milk Pickett Racing has expressed an interest in fielding an IndyCar entry next season, and Potolicchio's 8Star team is looking at an Indy 500 effort, adding more threads for fans to follow. Stay tuned as RACER gathers intel for its next silly season update.