Coming off of a 2012 season that felt like a motorized soap opera without an end, the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series has been nearly free of drama and scandal. The focus so far has been on the unpredictable racing that has dominated the headlines, with the bigger fish being challenged and occasionally beaten by the minnows. Stability has been the dominant theme through 13 races, but with a number of major developments in the works for 2014, the silly season should add some spice to a somewhat normal season.
A week of calls to IndyCar teams and drivers has produced some interesting results, with an overall theme of growth coming to light throughout the paddock. Provided most of those additional cars come to fruition, the driver market could be bustling with activity.
Between the long list of free agents searching for a home, young prospects looking for a way in and winning drivers seeking new contracts, all signs point to a busy off-season of negotiating and deal-making.
TEAMS AND DRIVERS
AJ Foyt Enterprises: The Texas-based team tells RACER it wants to keep the current program intact. ABC is signed as the primary sponsor for the No. 14 car, and adding a second full-time entry is a priority, but will only happen if additional sponsorship can be found. Rookie driver Conor Daly made his series debut with the team at the Indy 500, and had been mentioned as a possible addition for the team's home race at Houston, but team director Larry Foyt says the necessary funding has fallen through.
- Takuma Sato: The Long Beach race winner is on a one-year contract, but the team is keen to continue with Taku and build on what he and engineer Don Halliday have established in 2013.
Andretti Autosport: After returning to four full-time cars this year, Andretti Autosport has had its best overall season as a team in quite a while. Team owner Michael Andretti says he intends to keep the existing teams/drivers intact, hopes to have those details finalized in the next 30 days, and is very confident a fifth full-time entry for Carlos Munoz will be added for 2014.
- E.J. Viso: The Venezuelan driver is currently 12th in points – his best since joining the series in 2008 – and looks nothing like his former self. He's on a one-year contract and needs to sign Andretti's offer because he won't find a more supportive environment in the series.
- James Hinchcliffe: One of the most influential players in the silly season. The Canadian, with three wins to his credit since March, is in the final year of his contract with Andretti and is drawing serious interest from the team's main rivals.
- Marco Andretti: Presently fourth in the drivers' standings, Andretti's having his strongest season to date and, obviously, has a secure home with the team.
- Ryan Hunter-Reay: One point ahead of Andretti in the championship, RHR's future was solidified when he signed a multi-year deal with the team last September.
Barracuda Racing: Team owner Bryan Herta would like to expand to two cars, with the caveat being that the primary No. 98 entry is in good enough shape to warrant the added workload. 2014 would mark the team's third season as a single-car team, and with the constant increase in competition throughout the series, becoming a
two-car team is a requirement if BHA wants to move up the grid. The days of one-car teams mingling deep inside the top 10 on a regular basis are all but gone.
BHA's painful season has reached a turning point with driver Alex Tagliani. And with the team said to be exploring its options, this is one program that can't wait for a do-over next year.
- Alex Tagliani: It's very likely Tagliani's career as a team-paid, full-time IndyCar driver has run its course.
Chip Ganassi Racing:
Reducing to three cars after Graham Rahal departed the team was never in the team's plans, and RACER
has confirmed a blueprint is in place to return to four cars next season. Its current roster is either signed for 2014 or expected to return, and the fourth driver could, depending on who they settle on, be a long-term solution.
Charlie Kimball: The Novo Nordisk-sponsored driver finished 19th in points during his freshman and sophomore seasons, yet has improved to 11th in the standings heading into Mid-Ohio. He's in a contract year with the team, and like Viso at Andretti Autosport, would be challenged to find a better situation elsewhere.
Dario Franchitti: The four-time champion is in a contract year and has been quiet on his plans beyond 2013. He's coming off a pole and podium at Toronto and clearly has plenty of fire in his belly. It's hard to predict how long he'll continue, but it's also hard to envision the Scot stepping away without taking another crack at a title. Barring an epic meltdown by the six drivers ahead of him in the standings, it might have to wait for 2014.
Scott Dixon: The ageless Kiwi is trying to secure his third title with TCGR and also announced he's signed an extension with the team. We can't say how long the Dixie & Dario show will go on, but the 33-year-old will likely retire at TCGR, and will have a few more Target teammates before that day comes.
Dale Coyne Racing: Team owner Dale Coyne, who could easily be mistaken for someone with telephonophobia, has not declared his intentions for next season, but with a track record of running a pair of full-time entries and an innate ability to find at least one paying driver to fill the second seat, it would be reasonable to assume the same trend will continue.
- No. 18: A driver with a complete budget to drive the car at every round has eluded Coyne since James Jakes left for the Rahal team prior to the season, but with a win to its credit at Detroit, the seat should command more interest than usual – provided engineer John Dick is there to work his magic.
- Justin Wilson: Coyne holds an option on for Wilson for 2014, but it's believed to be performance-based. He and engineer Bill Pappas make a formidable combination, but once again find themselves as a de facto one-car program due to the constant changes to the No. 18's lineup. Wilson would be a strong candidate at some of the teams with openings or expansions on the horizon if he and Coyne fail to come to terms. Wilson and Pappas make the DCR team a contender, but with a short supply of race-winning engineers on the market, Pappas is also a sought-after commodity. Watch this space.
Dragon Racing: Team owner Jay Penske told RACER he intends on fielding two cars in 2014 and with the same drivers at the controls. The team continues to need more funding and for a deeper management structure to be established. If more senior staff can be added to lighten the load on its crew, and a proper R&D budget can be secured, Dragon Racing could become an every-round contender.
- Sebastien Bourdais: Bourdais is in a contract year, earns a good salary, and in the current market, could struggle to find anyone other than Penske to pay that retainer. Penske needs an elite driver to sell to his sponsors and Bourdais fits the bill. The switch to Tom Brown as Bourdais' engineer resulted in a pair of podiums at Toronto, and if the two can keep the mojo flowing, Seb will surely be motivated to return. He's also said that if a new deal isn't reached, a move to sports car racing is a solid fallback position.
- Sebastian Saavedra: The Colombian's season has contained flashes of optimism, but too many mechanical problems, too many issues in the pits and too many crashes or mistakes on his part have left the 23-year-old last among the full-time drivers in the standings. He has a new crew chief which should solve any car-related issues, leaving his driving as the determining factor in how his season ends. He brings backing from his homeland, which Penske needs, and provided he can look back at the final six races and see significant progress has been made, his enthusiasm to return could improve.
Ed Carpenter Racing: ECR says it will continue without change in 2014, but like every single-car team in the series, is working to add a second car to the mix.
- Ed Carpenter: Carpenter is in a contract year and hopes to earn an extension from himself.
KV Racing Technology: The Indy 500 winners have two goals for 2014: to re-sign Tony Kanaan and to secure a contract extension with Simona De Silvestro's primary sponsor. While the team's drivers and mechanics get along incredibly well, a rift between the engineering camps has limited the effectiveness of the two-car team. In addition to finding the sponsorship necessary to retain Kanaan and getting De Silvestro's cadre of Nuclear Energy sponsors to continue their financial support, KV's team owners must find a way to build cohesion throughout the program.
- Tony Kanaan: The Brazilian's stock, which was already quite high, shot through the roof after winning Indy. He's in a contract year and commands one of the healthiest salaries in the series. He's receiving interest from at least one rival, but his sticker price could be the determining factor. KV says they want to pay it; Kanaan's the selling point for the team to potential sponsors, creating a situation where it's mutually beneficial to put a multi-year contract in front of the 38-year-old. RACER is told that should happen within the next month.
- Simona De Silvestro: The Swiss driver's management team confirmed a return with KV in 2014 is in the works.