HINCHCLIFFE MAY HAVE GODADDY SEAT BY FRIDAY
As the 2012 season approaches, are we witnessing the Formula One-ization of NASCAR?
Formula One is the top racing series in the world where – outside of the top half-dozen drivers – the ability to “bring money” counts for more than anything else. Yes, in the end, the drivers still have to be able to race but talent is not (unlike virtually ever other sport in the world) a prerequisite for employment.
In North America, the IZOD IndyCar Series is primarily a pay series. Ditto the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am. The whole “road to Indy” single-seat ladder of F2000 up to Indy Lights is a money deal. So – for the most part – are the NASCAR truck and secondary stock car divisions. And the “driver development” programs run by the big Sprint Cup teams – Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush, etc. – are geared toward the development of drivers who can pay for the privilege of being developed.
But the Sprint Cup was the last, great holdout. It was the place where everybody could point with pride and say that the 43-plus drivers were there because of their talent.
Not any more.
The first out-and-out ride buy of the year (2011, really) came when sponsor GoDaddy made the deal with JR Motorsports and Tony Stewart Racing to move Danica Patrick from the IndyCar series to NASCAR. Patrick is a talented race driver (I’m a big fan) but she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for GoDaddy.
There are some very talented and very unemployed Sprint Cup racing drivers beating the bushes for just about anything these days, which means the signing this week of Aric Almirola by Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the No. 43 car is curious. – to say the least. Almost as curious was his out-of-the-blue signing to drive the 88 car full-time for JR Motorsports in 2011 after Kelly Earnhardt had said the team planned to try out a number of drivers and Almirola hadn’t even been in the car at that point.
I don’t happen to think that Almirola is anywhere near the :”marketing machine” that Patrick is, but it’s a safe bet that something other than his talent (or talent potential; he’s had a pretty mediocre racing career to this point, in that he hasn’t won anything) is in play here.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course. Money is what makes the world go ‘round.
But it’s still a little sad to watch the end of the last bastion of motorsport idealism fall prey to the filthy lucre.
Moving right along, but staying with the “money talks and everyone else walks” topic, F1 driver Sebastien Buemi has been named as Red Bull Racing’s official reserve driver for 2012. Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were both dropped by Scuderia Toro Rosso a few weeks ago and have been looking for work ever since. In last year’s F1 championship, Alguersuari outpointed Buemi 26 to 15. Both drivers have the ability to write large cheques -- but guess which one writes bigger ones?
Still with F1, AT&T has ended its relationship with Williams, which means Sir Frank’s team has to find a new title sponsor before the season opens in March. Which also means that another driver like Pastor Maldonado who can write the big cheque will be in a Williams this year.
It looks like Andretti Autosport will finally announce the driver for the No. 7 GoDaddy car in Indianapolis on Friday and the betting is it will be James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, who found himself on the market after Newman-Haas Racing announced it wouldn't compete in IndyCar in 2012.
Toronto racing driver Scott Maxwell and his Multimatic Motorsports team will be at Daytona tomorrow and Saturday for the Roar Before the Rolex 24, a two-day practice/shakedown session in advance of the first 24-hour race of the season Jan. 26-29. Multimatic, a Markham-based racing organization that is better known internationally, it seems, that it is in its home country, is entering its twentieth year of competition, primarily with Ford, with four cars entered in two classes. A constant has been Maxwell, who’s been their primary pilot from the very start. Maxwell leads the driver line-up in the team’s #55 Aston Martin this year. Team Principal Larry Holt will continue to attend all of the races as he has for the past 20 years and Team Manager Sean Mason will again be coordinating the entire program.
IndyCar announced this week that Beaux Barfield will be the new Race Director for the IZOD IndyCar Series. He’s previously served as race director of the American Le Mans Series, was chief steward for Champ Car, Champ Car Atlantics and the Trans-Am Series and USF2000 series. He replaces Brian Barnhart.