The 2015 prospects for an American young gun, an ex-F1 back marker and an ex-race director are the focus of this week’s round-up.
Karam races in to contention?
One of the highlights of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was the performance of Sage Karam. The question on everyone’s lips on Sunday was whether he had raced himself in to the anticipated 4th seat at Ganassi.
As a driver he clearly has what it takes: the field at Daytona was not just journeyman sports car racers and minor celebs. Beyond that he offers the series an important opportunity. While NASCAR continues to monopolise the attention of up and coming drivers, Karam is a future star who actually seems to hold IndyCar as his ultimate objective (and not simply use it as a stepping stone to NASCAR). IndyCar desperately needs to start bringing through fresh talent – and in particular fresh American talent. NASCAR is miles ahead in that regard with a production line of talent that is popping out the likes of Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.
The counterpoint of course is that it could be too much, too soon for the nineteen year old. Running with Ganassi in their 4th car will give him topline experience but little breathing room as it will shine a significant spotlight on his performances from day one. From a wider perspective however there are signs that if Karam’s rise continues, he might be the driver to reignite America’s interest in IndyCar where Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay did not.
(Re)building a reputation
The tie up of former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton and British racing team Carlin is an interesting one. Despite a couple of seasons in Formula 1, Chilton is not really rebuilding his reputation as starting to build it. Many considered him undeserving of his F1 seat and few had changed their minds by the time Marussia went bust last season. Conversely Carlin have a great pedigree in single-seater racing in Europe and hope to build on that by cracking America.
Carlin are competing in IndyLights this year with a view to a full IndyCar season in 2016. Chilton is on board in a development roll this year but little appears concrete for 2016. Unlike the possibility of fellow F1 refugee Jean-Eric Vergne switching to IndyCar, Chilton’s move is unlikely to raise excitement levels. Racing in IndyCar would be a great opportunity for him to prove the many doubters wrong. Rattling around at the back of the F1 grid is not the easiest place from which to prove potential but I doubt Chilton would make the same kind of impact F1 refugees like Alex Zanardi, Justin Wilson and Mark Blundell did
(Re)building a reputation – part 2
The return of Brian Barnhart as IndyCar race director is not something anyone predicted and it’s likely to have some fans and teams shaking their heads.
Undoubtedly the decision making of IndyCar’s management is under scrutiny on this one. A return to the “shoot first, think about it later” approach that tarred Barnhart’s last stint will not only infuriate fans and teams, it will create more doubts about those at the top of the organisation. Under their stewardship two major manufacturers are committed to the series and teams in general are expanding. Conversely there are still big issues around poorly attended oval races, limited mainstream media coverage, a recent habit of announcing events that later get cancelled (see today’s announcement regarding the opening race of 2015) and the ‘run and hide’ approach to scheduling. The Barnhart gamble could easily add to the latter.
It is important to remember that while Barnhart himself might end up vilified again, his success or otherwise is actually more of a reflection on the championship organisers.