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Nearly 10 years after series merger, Coyne is last Champ Car team left

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Verizon IndyCar Series fans of a certain age might remember the term “transition teams,” which was used in 2008 when Champ Car and IndyCar announced a merger that brought an end to a divisive and nasty, 12-year split that hurt North American open-wheel racing.

Champ Car teams partnered with IndyCar teams for technical support to ease in the transition process, before striking out on their own as the 2008 season progressed.

Not all of the teams from Champ Car made it over. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, KV Racing Technology, HVM Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Conquest Racing all acquired the base Dallara chassis with Honda engines, with Pacific Coast Motorsports joining from Long Beach.

Rocketsports Racing, Walker Racing and Forsythe/Pettit Racing raced only at the Champ Car finale at Long Beach and were not seen under IndyCar team auspices again, although Derrick Walker had stints with Vision Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and INDYCAR itself in the coming years.

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Anyway, those five teams provided nine cars, with two cars each for all teams except HVM, which only ran one. Once Pacific Coast joined, that made it six teams and 10 cars.

But one-by-one, as part of a larger loss of teams over this 10-year period, the teams have faded.

PCM was the first to go. Mario Dominguez’s last-ditch shot to make the Indianapolis 500 ended in the Turn 1 wall, and killed the team’s financial hopes for the year. Although Tyler Tadevic’s team made it the rest of the year, PCM’s time as an IndyCar entrant was done at the end of 2008. Tadevic remains active in racing via his TruSpeed Autosport team, which has had success in sports car racing.

Mike Lanigan shifted his minor ownership stake to what was Rahal Letterman Racing at the end of 2010 and the team is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The Newman/Haas name carried on for one more year into 2011 and Oriol Servia performed one of the best overachieving years in recent history when he finished fourth in the series, and James Hinchcliffe won rookie-of-the-year honors from a deep rookie class that also included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes. With a lack of sponsorship and with new cars on the horizon for 2012, Newman/Haas folded over the winter, bringing to an end a near-30-year run of success.

Conquest, Eric Bachelart’s team, also failed to answer the 2012 bell despite a couple rumored drivers being linked to seats. Beatriz worked with Bachelart in an extra Andretti Autosport entry at selected 2012 races but the Conquest name was no more.

HVM, Keith Wiggins’ outfit, made it to 2012 but endured a nightmare season saddled with the uncompetitive Lotus engine. Simona de Silvestro did her best to press on and keep a brave face but it was for naught. She left for KV a year later and Wiggins’ time as a team owner ended, although like Bachelart, he was briefly involved with Andretti in one of its entries. Carlos Munoz’s car was entered under the Andretti-HVM banner a couple years ago.

This then brings us to KV, which went through various name changes over its history. Long story short, KV rose from PacWest’s ashes in 2003 and had numerous other co-owners beyond primary co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser. The team’s best success came in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 when Tony Kanaan scored his elusive first win there in the car co-owned by Kalkhoven, Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.

But that win proved a false dawn longer-term and outside of a handful of wins the last few years, there’s not been a consistent championship challenge. KV’s equipment has moved elsewhere – expected to be utilized by Juncos Racing ahead of its possible step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after plying its trade on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires (more via RACER.com on that) – and KV has now joined the list of teams that have left the grid.

“(With) that team that we won the biggest race of our lives together, and that’s the team that we struggled together, and I remember how we struggled to get where we got. And honestly, we only made it this far because of that win,” Kanaan told assembled reporters during the Phoenix test this weekend.

Pippa Mann at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So, this brings us to Dale Coyne Racing. We’ve written quite a bit about how much of a survivor Coyne is, with a tenure in the sport third only to A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske – that’s pretty illustrious company.

And with Coyne’s business savvy outside the track, but now a rare offseason of harmony where his program’s been set for months – not days – before the season opener at St. Petersburg, hopes are high the proverbial minnows will make inroads into the higher end of the top-10 on a more regular basis in 2017 with drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones, the latter of whom had a busy test.

It’s not a surprise that Coyne’s still here, nearly 10 years on from that merger. But as other teams from both the transition and IndyCar have dropped out, and the lack of new blood has entered, it’s left IndyCar requiring more from its existing owners to fill in the car count gaps.

Lest it seem that it’s just the Champ Car teams that have dropped out, the teams from the Indy Racing League arena haven’t all endured either. Since the 2008 regular season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, teams that were active then that aren’t now, full-time, are these: Panther Racing, Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Roth Racing, Sarah Fisher Racing and Dragon Racing (then Luczo Dragon Racing).

Anyway, that 28-car field featured cars from 16 teams (Penske 2, Ganassi 2, Andretti 4, Foyt 2, Rahal 1, KV 2, Newman/Haas 2, Coyne 2, Conquest 2, HVM 1, Panther 1, Vision 2, DRR 2, Roth 1, Fisher 1, Dragon 1).

Nearly 10 years later, the expected season opener at St. Petersburg will feature 21 cars from eight teams, with three of those teams holding 12 of the 21 cars (Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all 4, Foyt 2, Coyne 2, Carpenter 2, SPM 2, Rahal 1).

So over 10 years, Penske and Ganassi have added cars, Foyt’s added a second full-time car, Carpenter was born from Vision’s ashes and absorbed what was Fisher’s team, Bryan Herta joined with his own team and then joined Andretti Autosport, and SPM came from FAZZT (Alex Tagliani’s team), which came from Roth. Rahal also spent three years part-time only in IndyCar after a sponsor loss and came back full-time in 2012. So the new teams have more or less been present in other guises first.

To be fair, the economic recession of 2008 was a big part of hurting car counts for 2009, and IndyCar opened the 2009 season with just 22 cars at St. Petersburg. In subsequent years, the season opener has featured 24, 25, 26, 25, 22, 24 and 22 cars.

Fortunately, IndyCar enters 2017 with a lack of serious concerns over management, scheduling or the lineup.

But it could do with its next transition – to finding a way to attract new full-time teams to bolster the existing eight teams that are left.

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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