Ganassi rebuttal to Penske could include TK, Hinch, or another wild card

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Roger Penske’s made his next move for the 2014 IZOD IndyCar Series with the signing of Juan Pablo Montoya. And now we await the rebuttal from Penske’s archrival Chip Ganassi, if he opts to bring back a fourth full-time car.

Some Ganassi team officials have said this year that a four-car program – two apiece between the Target team and the Novo Nordisk and other sponsor (NTT Data 2013, Service Central 2011-2012) second squad – makes more sense as an overall program in terms of data and resource sharing.

With three full-time cars this year, though, Charlie Kimball’s maturation and development has increased in the Novo Nordisk camp. He’s been working in greater harmony with Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti than he did in his first two seasons, 2011 and 2012, in the second squad.

Anyway, there seem to be four options for Ganassi’s fourth car in 2014, if it returns after a year’s hiatus:

  • Tony Kanaan. The Indianapolis 500 champ gives Ganassi another bullet at Indy, of course, and his oval ability remains near the top of the grid. He and Franchitti gelled as teammates at Andretti Green Racing half a decade before, and Kanaan wouldn’t have to be the “setup mule” he’s often needed to be in his final Andretti years and at KV Racing Technology-SH, his current squad. On the downside, his qualifying on road and street courses the last few years has left something to be desired, although that’s largely down to KV’s erratic form. The car would be there if TK can scrounge together the sponsorship, though.
  • James Hinchcliffe. From a long-term growth standpoint, “Hinch” is your better option. Why, you ask? At 26, he’s just entering the prime years of his driving career and at 28 or 29, in a couple years, he’d be ready to move into one of the Target cars and be the face of the franchise. Target is keen to expand in Canada and Oakville’s “Mayor of Hinchtown” would be an excellent face. That said, he’s played a big role in the improved chemistry at Andretti Autosport, and has thrived with engineer Craig Hampson – it’s doubtful that on the surface, he’d want to leave those surroundings.
  • Ryan Briscoe. The anti-Montoya move, if you will. Briscoe was a Ganassi driver first, enduring a challenging rookie season in 2005. He had varying levels of success at Penske from 2008 through 2012 but never won a title, most notably missing out in 2009. He returned to CGR at this year’s Indianapolis 500 and while the team still rates him highly, he’s more likely to take the seat at Panther Racing for 2014.
  • The Montoya “out of left field” option. If budget weren’t the issue, you’d love to see a Justin Wilson, a Sebastien Bourdais or a Simon Pagenaud in the Ganassi stable next year. But of those three, Pagenaud seems set to stay with Schmidt Hamilton in 2014 and Wilson is contracted to Dale Coyne Racing for three years.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).