As the IZOD INDYCAR Series continues to cope with the loss of Dan Wheldon and trying to move forward, so does Michael Andretti’s team.
Wheldon had just signed to drive for Andretti Autosport for the 2012 season, just one day before his tragic death at Las Vegas. There never really was a backup plan, because they had been discussing the move for quite some time. The question now is who will be driving the Go Daddy car next season?
Andretti Autosport executive vice president and chief operating officer J-F Thormann said that finding the next driver for the Go Daddy machine became an immediate priority last week. He said the plan is to announce the new driver within the next six weeks.
While Thormann wouldn’t say who was on their short list of drivers, he did say that there is a mixture of both young and veteran drivers they are looking at. There are a lot of options out there, but which ones are considered “realistic” possibilities?
Probably the guy in the highest demand right now is Justin Wilson. He did suffer a season-ending back injury at Mid-Ohio this year, but he is fully recovered and has been cleared to return to racing. Rumor has it he has been linked to about six or seven teams for next year, so he will have many options to weigh this off-season.
A surprising name on the list is Ryan Briscoe. While rumors have been swirling for the past few months about his tenure at Penske Racing, he performed well enough this season to keep his ride in my opinion. Before his crash on pole day at Indy this year, he had arguably the fastest car in the field. A few other unfortunate incidents (none of his own doing) also kept him out of victory lane this year.
James Hinchcliffe is also a hot name going around right now. He had an incredible rookie season, finishing 12th in the point standings, despite missing the first race of the season. He finished above drivers like Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani, Vitor Meira, EJ Viso, Simona de Silvestro, and fellow Rookie JR Hildebrand.
Speaking of Hildebrand, he is also a candidate for this position. He won the Firestone Indy Lights Championship for Andretti before making the move to Panther Racing. It is unlikely that he would leave, but his name will be out there in the rumors.
Many people feel that Tony Kanaan should go back to Andretti Autosport, but I just don’t see it happening. It would be a heart-warming story, filling in for his best friend Wheldon, but it just seems like the Kanaan and Andretti days are officially over.
Simona de Silvestro is a driver that could really start to compete if given the ride at Andretti. She is marketable, just as Danica was, and she is actually a better driver than Danica ever was. She had a series of unfortunate injuries last season, but she fought through them and still had some great moments in 2011.
Vitor Meira is a guy I think could quietly sneak up and get this ride. He obviously has the talent to run up front, especially in Indianapolis. He has been an underrated driver for quite a while now, and if he can get hooked up with a quality ride from Andretti, he could make some noise in 2012.
A few other names that could be considered are Sebastian Bourdais, Alex Lloyd, and Conor Daly. Bourdais and Lloyd both have good experience and performed well last year. Daily would be a driver they could “break in”, but that normally involves some wrecked machines.
While it is too early to see any of these drivers as being the “favorite” to drive the Go Daddy machine in 2012, there are certainly plenty of options. One thing is certain, there are going to be a lot of rumors over the next six weeks.