Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sept. 12 newsstand: Championship banquet & lots of rumors

Championship celebration
Did Scott Dixon let the cat out of the bag last night when he welcomed Dario Franchitti to Ganassi's team? Anyway ...

Indianapolis Star: Franchitti celebrates title season
Says Curt Cavin: "An Andretti Green Racing teammate has said Franchitti won't return to the team's No. 27 Indy car, and there are strong indications he will drive for Ganassi Racing in some sort of NASCAR-based stock car program, perhaps a combination of series that allows him to continue part time in Indy cars, including defense of his Indianapolis 500 victory in May."

Says Dario: "Any driver from open wheel who goes to NASCAR is in for a big challenge. That would be the attraction." $4 million man of the hour
Says Dario: "The championship mean a lot. It's been kind of elusive. I've been over here 10 years and I've won a lot of races, but to finally win it means a lot. I'm just so happy. To do that and the 500 in one year, I'm really proud." The story also lists all of the award winners for the year. also has a piece on Alex Lloyd's season in the IPS.
Says Dario to Lloyd: "You did a great job this season. You deserve a ride (in the IndyCar Series)." Has all of the IPS award winners.

Season retrospective
Indianapolis Star: Series waits to see if its stars depart
Curt Cavin looks back & ahead.
Says Brian Barnhart about Sam & Dario: "I don't know if it's fair to speculate. But we've made it clear to them we want them to stay, but ultimately it's not in our control."

Among the notes:
*-16 races confirmed, the 17th race is a street run around Dodger Stadium, if it can be finalized. My commentary here: Can we all thank the Frances for moving the BY400 date and causing the conflict that ran the IRL out of the France-owned Michigan track?
*-AGR, Penske & Ganassi are committed to a total of 8 cars, though we don't know who will be driving a few of them.
*-Wheldon & Scheckter were mentioned as candidates for the open AGR seat.
*-Milka will need to do some off-season testing if she is to return.
*-Honda, Firestone & ESPN are all signed through 2009.

AP: Franchitti wins first IndyCar title after up and down season
A season retrospective from the AP.

Dario's (and Sam's) Southern Sojurn?
AP: Indy champion Dario Franchitti unsure of move to NASCAR
Says Dario: "NASCAR would be something different ... something I haven't done. Apart from Formula One, it's probably one of the few things I haven't driven. So that would be one of the reasons to look at that." ... "Regardless of what I do or what Sam does, the IndyCar Series, I've noticed in the last couple of years, (has had) an increase in interest from fans, from TV numbers, crowds and the track, interest from outside. I've been pleasantly surprised by that, so regardless of what any driver does, the series is bigger than any driver."

A NASCAR writer from the Arizona Star says Dario is still indecisive.
Says Dario: “We just won the championship and we’re in sort of the celebration stage of that. I’m not going to really think about my future until the end of this week or the start of next week at the earliest.”'s John Schwarb mentions the separation anxiety in the Penske camp, as Sam & Helio appear to be headed separate ways for 2008. Says Helio: "I was kind of thinking about it, running with him (when they were 1-2 Sunday). We work so well together -- he's so incredible on the ovals. He'll be missed." Says Sam, about running NASCAR and taking Fizzy Pop 600 day off to run Indy: "That'd be about the best match for me, but we'll see what happens."

NASCAR writer David Poole of the Charlotte Observer does an analysis of the changing face of that sport, which isn't the series Uncle Cletus grew up with. Says Mr. Poole: "Now it appears someone has yelled "FIRE!" in a crowded open-wheel drivers' lounge and drivers are scurrying toward NASCAR as if they're running from a green car full of peanuts."

Another NASCAR nut from Rocky Mount, NC says Franchitti's world will only get better in NASCAR. The column is full of gratuitous shots at the IRL (my favorite: "In case you don't follow the IRL – and judging from the ever-improving but still disappointing Nielsen Ratings and attendance, you don't – Franchitti won four races this season in 17 starts, including a rain-shortened Indianapolis 500, and wrapped up his first championship Sunday. Problem is, almost nobody heard about the win because of the IRL's infrequent television appearances. ... uh, yeah, like the race that was on ABC Sunday afternoon, or the fact that the IRL has been on either ABC or ESPN virtually every weekend since the last week of April ... very "infrequent" indeed).

Another well-informed quote from the NASCAR prism -- the safety card, which we'll hear more and more as time goes on: "Though traditionalists will howl more even than they did this season, the COT is already a boon for drivers' safety, and it will only continue to improve. Those open-wheel cars, meanwhile, are largely of the same design driven by Alex Zanardi in 2001 – just a few months after Earnhardt died – when he crashed and lost both of his legs." Uh, the IRL Dallara is quite a bit different design than the Lolas and Reynards CART was using in 2001 ... and Zanardi's accident was certainly a freak accident, not a "racing accident." The current-spec Dallara has a pretty good track record, despite its penchant for flying. Next thing you'll tell me is that IndyCars get all spread out and put on boring races because the leaders are six laps ahead of everyone else.

SportsTicker: Wheldon at center of IndyCar speculation
Says Bruce Martin: "Wheldon would be a prime choice to either take over Franchitti's vacated ride at AGR or Hornish's No. 6 at Team Penske. ... Ryan Hunter-Reay, who clinched the IndyCar Rookie of the Year title on Sunday for Rahal Letterman Racing, could be a candidate at Ganassi if Wheldon leaves. And A.J. Allmandinger recently signed with Ganassi's NASCAR team to drive the Busch car in several races. ... 2007 Indy Pro Series champion Alex Lloyd is confident he will get a decent IndyCar ride next season."

Briscoe to Penske?
Australia's Herald-Sun catches up with Ryan Briscoe.
Among the quotes ... Tim Cindric's quote about Briscoe being next in line to replace Hornish are rehashed, plus this from the Flying Aussie himself: "There's nothing written in stone. It's Sam's choice. Penske is giving him all the tools and possibility to move to NASCAR, so it's whether he is comfortable enough to do it."

The Anderson (IN) Herald-Bulletin's Ken De La Bastide says the IRL would be well-off putting a big-name USAC driver in one of its seats. Hey, I like the sentiment, but the USAC guys have to look at the IRL before running South when they get out of diapers, like so many of them seem to be doing.

A.J. Foyt says Chicagoland was a tough finish to a solid season in his USA Today blog.
Says A.J.: "I'm really looking forward to next year when we can capitalize on all the work Darren and our ABC Supply team has done this past season. There were frustrating times but there were a lot of good times, too. We knew this would be a building year and it has been. Now I understand his English (most of it) and he understands my Texan, so I believe we can come out swinging in 2008."

"Other Side" news
I dig the Silly Season, whether or not they come from our side. There's lots of Champ Car rubbernecking to do today ... mostly fallout from the loss of the San Jose GP.

The San Jose Mercury-News says "If the sanctioning Champ Car organization and chief race backer Don Listwin had wanted the San Jose Grand Prix to continue, it would have. ... Listwin and his Canary Foundation grew tired of losing tons of money over the past three years, even with the city subsidy."

Columnist Mark Purdy takes a few shots at CCWS: "
Three years ago, when I cautiously endorsed the grand prix, I also warned the city about becoming too heavily involved with America's third-string racing circuit. The flak I received from Champ Car supporters and loyalists was enormous. They were insulted by my "third-string" description, saying it was unfair to rank the circuit behind both NASCAR and the Indy Racing League. In retrospect, those folks were correct. I should have called Champ Car a sixth-string circuit - placing it behind NASCAR, the IRL, drag racing, hydroplane racing and that cute little kiddie-car ride at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk."
Meanwhile, the SJ race is being moved back to Laguna Seca. The hometown Monterey Herald says Laguna fits CC's business model. Key news here: It's running May 18, the week before the Indy 500 (and during second-weekend Indy quals). At least there won't be any merger talk this year, or talk of CC teams invading Indy.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram's Bob Keisser says the LBGP would do better if it shed Champ Car. Says the author: "The racing series is once again beset by problems and gaffes, operated by directors who seemingly can't read a map, which is not a good thing if auto racing is your game. The people who run the Grand Prix look at this mess, shrug their shoulders yet again, and move on with its usual purpose." Says one of the race organizers: "We want Champ Car to have a strong North American presence, and we want a schedule where there aren't so many bloody long periods without races. And we want American drivers and American teams that we can promote."

A lot of the rest of the story is opinion masquerading as fact, but the author points out a few things ... Justin Wilson is considering a move to the IRL, and it's only a matter of time before Graham Rahal joins his dad's team (or maybe not ... if Graham wanted an IRL ride, he'd have one).

And finally catches up with Cristiano da Matta, who is attempting a comeback. Best of luck to Cristiano, who suffered a horrendous accident at Road America last year. He hopes to be cleared to drive in six months.

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