Sizing up IndyCar’s remaining free agent pool (UPDATED)

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We did this on Monday for Formula One, and now with most of the top seats filled in IndyCar, here’s a look at its remaining free agent pool for 2014. Only four to potentially six full-time seats remain to be filled (Barracuda, second cars for KV, RLL and Coyne, with Panther, Dragon and Dreyer & Reinbold statuses to be determined).

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m. ET: Take Takuma Sato off the free agent board as his return with A.J. Foyt Racing was confirmed this afternoon.

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO, 13th in 2013

  • GOOD: Her seemingly never-ending positive attitude, high paddock support, consistent improvement and strong finish to 2013 has boosted her stock after her first three years had more valleys than peaks.
  • BAD: A liability on ovals, even though she has made some strides on them in 2013.
  • VERDICT: With the continued support of her partners, who would likely seek a minority ownership stake in a team’s second car, de Silvestro will land in one of the remaining second seats. Coyne more likely than RLL or KV, though, at this stage.

E.J. VISO, 15th in 2013

  • GOOD: Has really, really calmed down on track the last three years with far fewer accidents after denting his reputation his first few years in the series.
  • BAD: Has more or less gone silent, save for a handful of Instagram posts and maybe one news report or two, since missing the season finale at Fontana.
  • VERDICT: Viso might not have enough of a budget for IndyCar next year anyway. A move to sports cars seems probable.

JAMES JAKES, 19th in 2013

  • GOOD: Quick on his day and brings a healthy budget to any available seat.
  • BAD: No one would accuse him of being the hardest worker in IndyCar.
  • VERDICT: Like de Silvestro, figures to land somewhere depending on where the dollars and chips may fall.

TRISTAN VAUTIER, 20th in 2013

  • GOOD: Unfulfilled potential after three great years in ladder series, the pace to match and a very positive attitude.
  • BAD: Trial-by-fire as a rookie led to a lot of mistakes in 2013.
  • VERDICT: Likely out for 2014, but could re-emerge as a one-off later in the year.

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA, 21st in 2013

  • GOOD: Had some great qualifying efforts early in the year.
  • BAD: Dwelled in anonymity the rest of the year.
  • VERDICT: With two other Colombians on the grid in 2014, hard to see where Seb junior fits unless Dragon continues for a handful of events.

ORIOL SERVIA, 22nd in 2013

  • GOOD: IndyCar’s most underrated shoe. Consistent, quick, dependable, and an asset to any team he would join.
  • BAD: Flies so far under the radar that TV cameras often miss him. And has a horrible streak of driving for teams that ultimately run out of funding.
  • VERDICT: If talent alone merited a spot, Servia’s place would be set. Alas, it’s not.

ALEX TAGLIANI, 24th in 2013

  • GOOD: Veteran experience, quick on his day, good technical feedback.
  • BAD: Still makes more mistakes than he probably should.
  • VERDICT: With Ganassi spot gone, sports cars almost certainly beckons. Although it would not surprise me to see him in Indianapolis 500 or Toronto one-offs.

JR HILDEBRAND, 25th in 2013

  • GOOD: We forget he dominated an Indy Lights field in 2009 with 13 future IndyCar drivers in it. We also forget he was 11th in the 2012 points ahead of 13 other full-timers. Scored Panther’s best result of 2013, a forgotten fifth at Long Beach.
  • BAD: Panther’s dismissal of him left a pox on his reputation.
  • VERDICT: Good enough to merit a second chance at a proper operation, although Bryan Herta Autosport and Barracuda Racing appears his only shot at the moment.

POTENTIAL ROOKIES/PART-TIMERS

  • Ana Beatriz: Adopting another name, Bia Figueiredo, and exploring sports car racing. Doubtful she’ll have another IndyCar opportunity anytime soon.
  • Luca Filippi: Front-runner at Barracuda if funding issues don’t enter the equation, and could be placed elsewhere by Honda if he fails to land there.
  • Pippa Mann: As ever, persistently working to secure funding for future races, likely on ovals as she raced in 2013.
  • James Davison: Has a full-time sports car ride with TRG’s Aston Martin Vantage, but is in play for one Indianapolis 500 seat and perhaps more.
  • Stefan Wilson: Minimal news yet for Justin’s younger brother but we need some “Bromates” action back in IndyCar at some point.
  • Conor Daly: The European exploration nearing an end, Daly has set his sights on IndyCar. Talent would do it, but he needs to find funding to put it all together.
  • Townsend Bell: Like Davison, has a full-time sports car ride with Level 5’s Ferrari 458. Will probably do his usual Indianapolis 500-only program.
  • Katherine Legge: Like Davison and Bell, committed to the TUDOR Championship with the DeltaWing, but would welcome another IndyCar chance if the funding’s there.
  • Buddy Lazier: Seems set for another Indianapolis 500 program.
  • Sam Bird: Rumored by RACER to make the switch to IndyCar, Bird’s starred in GP2 but lacks the budget needed for F1. It could be viable in IndyCar.
  • Sage Karam: The Indy Lights champion has some funding and is still working to find more for the step up.
  • Mikael Grenier: Young French-Canadian who tested for KV in November is not particularly likely to find the budget needed for a series debut.
  • Jack Hawksworth: Will test for Dale Coyne Racing this week, which already is his second in an IndyCar. The Englishman could use more seasoning, but may make the jump if his management team finds the funding.
  • Arie Luyendyk Jr.: Seems bullish on an IndyCar return and has tested once for Coyne already. If a full-season ride doesn’t happen, a month of May program could.
  • Francesco Dracone/Giuseppe Cipriani: They either have tested or will test for Coyne. Anything beyond that for either of them would be a serious stretch.
  • A.N. Other: There’s always at least one other driver completely out of the woodwork that could appear, so reserving this bullet point for them. 

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images