Franchitti’s ride appears down to Briscoe or Tagliani vs. the field

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Target Chip Ganassi Racing appears close to unwrapping an early Christmas present, in the form of the replacement for the retired Dario Franchitti in its No. 10 Target Chevrolet for 2014 in the very near future.

Reports from both Autosport and RACER this week have more or less narrowed the field of contenders, at least for 2014, down to two drivers: Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani. TCGR managing director Mike Hull told Autosport’s Mark Glendenning the decision “will be before the holidays.”

Briscoe has not spoken outwardly about the possibility – or any possibility – regarding his 2014 future in IndyCar. He and wife Nicole just welcomed their first child, daughter Finley, last week. He has been tweeting some with Franchitti, Hull and Scott Dixon lately… so make of that what you will.

Tagliani has been a little more candid, as he filled in for Franchitti both at the Fontana season finale and at last week’s Sebring test, the first for the team with Chevrolet power. His development expertise was sought, and his full focus is on securing the seat.

“I think you need to be integrated and have good chemistry and the technical ability is important to them with changing from Honda to Chevy,” Tagliani said via IndyCar.com. “There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that it changes their whole dynamic.

“Dario was a big part of this team. He was a very technical driver and when it happened to him it threw a big curveball to the team and they’re going to take their time to assess this whole thing. In that respect it’s a process, but just the fact that I’m in the car is a big statement.”

While it appears highly likely one of these two will get the seat – these two were top candidates when MST first identified the contenders for the No. 10 – the nature and length of a contract will be the thing to watch from here.

Briscoe has already spent five full seasons with Team Penske (2008-’12) and one with Ganassi (2005) in his career, with seven career wins and 12 pole positions. On his day he can be excellent. If he was to get the No. 10 car he’d probably provide consistent support to Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball with a win or two over the course of the season.

Tagliani’s never truly had a full-season, top flight opportunity in his extended career dating to 2000. You could argue Player’s/Forsythe Racing, when he was there from 2000 to 2002, had the equipment necessary to contend for championships, but Tagliani was coming into his own as a driver and hadn’t fully maximized his potential. He has his flashes – and his second half of 2012 was excellent – but he’d need to convert that into regular results if he gets the 10.

The bottom line is while either would be a decent short-term fix for 2014, they’d be increasingly under the microscope with the prospect of more attractive free agents entering the market in 2015. James Hinchcliffe is on a one-year deal with a team option at Andretti Autosport, Justin Wilson has long deserved a top flight ride to match his talent, and Josef Newgarden could play himself into contention if he grows and matures even more than he did this year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

The Target ride, as team boss Chip Ganassi said during a November teleconference, is much more than just a car on the grid. It also means being the face of a national brand and it means providing ample support to teammates.

So, the waiting period might be at an end. But rather than building up to the excitement of seeing what new blood could do in the car, it appears as though the Target car is heading toward old memory lane…

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.