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.