IndyCar 2014 silly season update, round 2

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A few more pieces have fallen into place for IndyCar 2014, with the biggest remaining domino on the market, the fourth Chip Ganassi Racing seat, now filled today with Ryan Briscoe.

Here’s what we know since our last update immediately after Fontana:

CONFIRMED CARS (21)

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (4 cars, Chevrolet): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Charlie Kimball. Two former series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners, and four drivers with wins. A solid lineup, although Dixon’s the best of the lot.
  • Team Penske (3 cars, Chevrolet): Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power. Montoya’s gotten several days testing in and is already up to speed. Meanwhile, Power is Vining and growing a mustache.
  • Andretti Autosport (4 cars, Honda): Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Munoz is confirmed although his number hasn’t been, but he’s worthy of the promotion from Indy Lights.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2 cars, Honda): Simon Pagenaud, Mikhail Aleshin. Team nomenclature changes depending on partners and Aleshin confirmed since last update, a potential surprise driver in 2014.
  • KVSH Racing (2 cars, Chevrolet): Sebastien Bourdais, TBD. No changes, second car up for grabs.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2 cars, Honda): Graham Rahal, TBD. Second car will require additional funding if the National Guard deal doesn’t come through, but may not if it does.
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1 car, Chevrolet): Mike Conway/Ed Carpenter. Ed does a great thing for the team with Conway addition; team a genuine contender on all circuits now.
  • Dale Coyne Racing (2 cars, Honda): Justin Wilson, TBD. His opportunity in a top-flight ride past for now yet again, so Wilson’s giant-killing display will have to occur once more. Francesco Dracone and Arie Luyendyk Jr. have tested the team’s second car, but neither appears a realistic full-season contender for that seat.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (1 car, Honda): Josef Newgarden. Contract year for Josef and we’ll see how he develops.

ALL BUT OFFICIAL (1)

  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: The Takuma Sato and Honda confirmations appear close to a formality at this point, even with Sato testing in Formula E.

LIKELY (1)

  • Barracuda Racing: Luca Filippi. Filippi seems to have the edge over JR Hildebrand at the moment, after we reported at Austin the Italian was close to a deal. But a signing does not seem imminent, as Hildebrand is still working on his own future. The team may need additional budget to close the gap for its first seat, and that could bring other drivers into the equation.

WILD CARDS (3)

  • Panther Racing: Will likely require a funded driver as team reorganizes over the offseason.
  • Dragon Racing: Per RACER.com, a likely Indianapolis-only entry for the month of May with the team’s full efforts focused on FIA Formula E.
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Also per RACER.com, Dennis Reinbold’s team seeks a full-season return after a truncated 2013.

FREE AGENTS

  • 2013 full-timers: Simona de Silvestro and James Jakes have their pick of seats at the moment and backing to support their efforts. Tristan Vautier and Sebastian Saavedra, meanwhile, don’t seem likely to appear on the 2014 grid.
  • 2013 part-timers: Alex Tagliani’s best shot has closed at Ganassi and a move to sports cars full-time seems all but inevitable, although with what team and car remains to be seen. Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand and the rest of the drivers through to P39 from 2013, who knows.
  • Potential rookies: Sage Karam would seem to figure into the equation, even with his available support, but windows are closing rapidly. His best chance went out the window when Schmidt signed Aleshin for the second seat. The same concern exists for Conor Daly, who’d be an invaluable addition to the field but might need to find further support to make that dream a reality. Other Indy Lights hopefuls – Gabby Chaves, Peter Dempsey, Stefan Wilson, Jack Hawksworth and on down the line – might need a Christmas miracle at this point. 

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”