Tony Stewart was one possibility. Alex Zanardi is another altogether.
IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – among others – are championing Zanardi's entry in the Indianapolis 500, especially in light of Tony Stewart's decision to turn down Roger Penske's offer to compete in the 97th running of the race May 26.
Hunter-Reay wanted to see Stewart at the 500 – “we want the best there,” he said – but the chance of Zanardi racing at Indy is particularly interesting – and personal.
“I was there in 2003 when he got back in the car [in a specially equipped car at EuroSpeedway Lausitz -Ed.
] and drove those laps ,” Hunter-Reay said. “That was amazing. I would love to see (Indy) happen for him. If anybody could do it, it's Alex.”
The two-time CART champion lost his lower legs in a crash at Lausitzring in Germany, in 2001. In addition to those laps in a Champ Car, Zanardi returned to racing in 2003, driving a specially equipped BMW in the FIA World Touring Championship. In September, he won two gold medals and a silver in handcycling in the London Paralympic Games. He has hinted that he's interested in the Indy 500.
“This is just a theory, but should someone like Morris Nunn call me, it would be easier for me to do the Indy 500, as there isn't too much braking or tight curves," Zanardi told AUTOSPORT in August. He then added that his future plans are unclear. "What I do now is the result of completely random events: more randomness could make me go other ways again," he said.
Hunter-Reay and most other IndyCar veterans are open to the idea of Indy 500 participation by drivers outside the IndyCar Series. The idea was revisited earlier this month when Penske offered to put Stewart, who has competed in five Indy 500s, in a Penske car for the 2013 race.
“I was hoping to see it happen,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion. “We want the best here. Anybody who wants to come drive in the Indy 500 is welcome. Tony has a great history here, and we need more top talent in the race.”
Hunter-Reay isn't the only one racing elsewhere. He left Wednesday's test at Sebring International Raceway by helicopter for Miami International Airport to catch an 8 p.m. ET flight to London. From there, he'll travel to Bangkok for this weekend's Race of Champions.
“It's an honor,” said Hunter-Reay, who will compete against the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. “Being a part of that group is a privilege. I've been watching it for a long time, and always hoped to be invited.”
Rain parked teams for most of Wednesday's test session at Sebring, but that left plenty of time for talking. The subject? The holidays.
The best gift ever? Ask Graham Rahal.
"One year, I got my dad's 1986 [CART] championship-winning gold Rolex,” he said. “It was the gift he got when he won the championship. It was one of my very few prized possessions. It sits in a secure place and never really sees daylight or time outside of the box."
Scott Dixon said he remembers motorized Christmas gifts from his youth, but added that he's reliving the joy of Christmas through daughters Poppy and Tilly.
“You see they get excited when we put the tree up or when they see Santa or things about the reindeer,” he said. “It's a lot of fun and brings the excitement of Christmas back to you.”
Charlie Kimball's favorite Christmas gift came in three large crates.
“The best gift I ever got was two, actually,” he said. “My dad's old go-kart, which came in three refrigerator-sized boxes of parts as well as a box with his old toolbox in it with a set of tools and nice inscription. So not only did I get a set of tools, but I got a project to use my tools on."
Conor Daly looks ahead
Conor Daly is clearly itching to get to work in his first test of an IndyCar with A.J. Foyt Racing. The son of IndyCar and F1 driver Derek Daly will drive Foyt's Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car
In what amounts to an audition that the Noblesville, Ind., resident hopes to develop into a long-term partnership.
“As an American, I would love to be in a red, white and blue car and I think ABC Supply would like to see an American as well, so I think that would be a good fit not maybe just next year but in the future,” Daly told IndyCar.com. “They have a driver for next year [still unnamed, but tipped to be ex-Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Takuma Sato] in their main car, so for me I'd like to help them as much as possible and learn because hopefully they would want to run a second car and honestly I would love to be in that second car.
“I've grown up around Indy cars; I love Indy cars with a passion. [Foyt] really wants to get back to winning races, and that's a huge thing to be a part of and I would love to be on that road with them.”
Daly, who won the Firestone Indy Lights race at Long Beach in 2011, competed in GP3 the past two seasons after winning the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear with seven victories in the 12-race season. What happens next depends on sponsorship, he says.
“We don't really know yet what we can do (for 2013),” he said. “We have had some great sponsors and supporters around us, but it will take more if we want to move up in Europe and also if we can do IndyCar. Europe has been awesome; I've learned a lot. But the financial backing is something that we don't have to move to the next level.”