Several candidates could fill Franchitti’s seat at Fontana

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Several drivers could be in play for Dario Franchitti’s now vacant seat at Target Chip Ganassi Racing for the IndyCar 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Eight drivers have prior “big oval experience” in the Dallara DW12. Between 2012 and 2013, Alex Tagliani, Conor Daly, Ana Beatriz, Wade Cunningham, Buddy Lazier, Michel Jourdain Jr., Carlos Munoz and Rubens Barrichello have competed at either or both of Fontana and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tagliani is potentially the strongest candidate among that group given his IndyCar career experience level, but the Canadian endured a tough first 13 races this year with the Barracuda Racing team.

He’s also developing a relationship with Ferrari in sports cars, having scored a pole position in his first drive for the R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458 in the Rolex Series race at Kansas about a month and a half ago. Tagliani raced the last three events of the Rolex season in that GT class car.

Cunningham, interestingly, found himself in a last-minute race at Fontana situation a year ago. Mike Conway stepped out of A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Honda citing a discomfort of racing on ovals, and Cunningham filled the void there.

Jourdain has prior starts at Fontana from his CART days, each year from 1997 through 2002, and Munoz won the Indy Lights race there last year. Neither is a realistic candidate this time around though; expect Munoz to focus solely on his Indy Lights commitments.

And three others who competed at this year’s Indianapolis 500 can very likely be ruled out: Ryan Briscoe, Townsend Bell and Katherine Legge. All three have had full-season commitments in the American Le Mans Series with Level 5 Motorsports, Team West/AJR/Boardwalk Ferrari and DeltaWing Racing Cars, respectively. The ALMS wraps its season – and series history – the same day as Fontana, with the 16th running of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

This isn’t the first time Ganassi has needed to replace a champion at the Fontana season finale. Alex Zanardi had captured the 1997 CART title the race prior to Fontana, but was injured in a practice crash. Arie Luyendyk stepped in as a replacement and moved forward from last on the grid until getting collected in a crash with Arnd Meier.