So last night we had the NBA Draft (more via ProBasketballTalk here), and this morning, we had the announcement of a new team for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series with a rookie driver in Stefan Wilson.
Because of the rarity of a new team in IndyCar (there hasn’t been one full-time in three years), bringing in a rookie driver, it got me thinking: Who are the blue-chip prospects IndyCar teams could pick if bringing money were no object and the opportunity was there to just pick their drivers on outright talent?
Yes, this will never happen and yes, money remains the calling card to get into IndyCar. I get it, but this is meant to be fun.
It’s probably worth sorting through the prospects first, then envisioning their potential suitors. This is in no particular order, but these are some current and past drivers from the Mazda Road to Indy without a full season of IndyCar experience we should be watching for over the next two-three years:
- Sage Karam: Has some serious star potential, already four years experience in the Mazda Road to Indy, two championships (USF2000 and Indy Lights) and made a serious case for Rookie-of-the-Year honors at the Indianapolis 500.
- Conor Daly: Has the name, a single Indianapolis 500 start under his belt, and versatility that’s been unmatched over the last couple years between various series and type of cars he’s raced. He’s hungry for a full-season chance.
- Gabby Chaves: Has taken the next step in Indy Lights this year, and added sports car racing to his repertoire with testing and racing the DeltaWing. The next possible Colombian star, although he shares dual citizenship with the U.S.
- Matthew Brabham: Like Daly, has a legendary surname. Fearless, fast and already fairly mature for his age, although he hasn’t been as impressive in Indy Lights as he was on his way to winning championships in Pro Mazda and USF2000.
- Zach Veach: Veach’s marketing game was long his top selling point, but he’s substantially improved as a driver this year in Indy Lights. Perhaps not the out-and-out fastest prospect, but brings a good package to a team.
- Luiz Razia: The Brazilian was on the doorstep of Formula One a year and a half ago and has the chops and speed needed to advance next year.
- Jack Harvey: The Englishman might need another year in Indy Lights if he doesn’t win this year, but has potential.
- Spencer Pigot: Top American talent in Pro Mazda is probably two years away from IndyCar, but has succeeded in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda.
- Scott Hargrove: We need another top-level Canadian and the 2013 USF2000 champion is the best Canuck candidate at the moment. Has expanded his horizons to sports cars, and already has bagged three wins in Porsche GT3 Canada this year.
- Shelby Blackstock: Versatility is his big selling point, having raced Pro Mazda, CTSC GS cars and the Nurburgring 24 this year. Yes, he’s Reba’s son, but he’s got a great work ethic and way of going about developing his career.
- Garett Grist: Blackstock’s Andretti Autosport Pro Mazda teammate has a win on his belt and is quietly talented. He’s not the first guy you’d pick if you had the chance, but he’s very solid.
- Neil Alberico: Has shaded Hargrove a bit in Pro Mazda this year. Has potential, but at the moment feels like a driver who – in stick-and-ball terms – had a great freshman or sophomore year but hasn’t made that next level leap.
- Peter Dempsey: The 2013 Freedom 100 winner hasn’t had a full-time ride this season, so he’s on an unofficial “redshirt” year where scouts would be evaluating him based on his making the most of limited opportunities from 2009 through 2013.
- Alex Baron: Young French driver perhaps moved up to Indy Lights too soon this year. He could use another year of seasoning before he would declare for IndyCar. That said, has potential and speed to burn based on his USF2000 cameos in 2013.
- Mikael Grenier: French-Canadian already has a development deal with KV Racing Technology, so he’s halfway in already. Has done fine in limited Indy Lights action.
- RC Enerson: First of the USF2000 drivers we’d be looking at. Young Floridian’s the equivalent of a college sophomore in racing terms, who’s racing wiser and more mature than he did as a freshman, but still with room to grow.
- Florian Latorre: French USF2000 sophomore has done the equivalent of transferring colleges, in switching from the Belardi to Cape teams, and has excelled in his new environment. Still two to three years away, but has good racecraft.
- Jake Eidson: Team USA Scholarship winner is consistent and doesn’t make mistakes, but hasn’t yet found the out-and-out pace needed to be a contender.
- Aaron Telitz/Peter Portante: The two ArmsUp Motorsports USF2000 teammates are something of a package deal for their mix of humor, racecraft and potential. I’m not sure whether either will ever make it to IndyCar, but they make life fun in the USF2000 series.
- Daniel Burkett: Same story as above for the Belardi USF2000 shoe, who could parlay his humor and red hair into an opportunity down the road.
If you don’t have a development or junior contract with a Formula One team, or millions in your pockets, it’s going to be hard to make it into F1. So some of these GP2 or GP3 drivers might be worth considering:
- GP2: Jolyon Palmer, Julian Leal, Stefano Coletti, Mitch Evans, Raffaele Marciello, Tom Dillmann
- GP3: Alex Lynn, Richie Stanaway, Dean Stoneman, Dino Zamparelli
LIMITED, BUT ACTUAL, INDYCAR EXPERIENCE
There’s several drivers – think a Luca Filippi, Martin Plowman, James Davison, Pippa Mann, and on down the line – who have had IndyCar race experience over the last few years but never a full season in the championship. You’d like to see them have a shot, but I wouldn’t factor them into this hypothetical, completely fictional draft.
SO WHERE COULD THEY LAND?
Now, obviously, there’s more drivers worth watching than there are available seats. Where could these prospects land over the next few years?
- Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Figure Tony Kanaan has in the neighborhood of two to three years left, likely, so the potential of a seat in one of the marquee Target cars could become available.
- Team Penske: Two seats are possible, if Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya opt to hang it up sooner rather than later.
- Andretti Autosport: A seat only opens here if one of the team’s four drivers moves on. But Michael Andretti has an internal ladder system and could easily promote a Brabham, a Veach or a Blackstock two or three years from now.
- Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: If Simon Pagenaud was to move up to another team, perhaps a spot opens here?
- Dale Coyne Racing: Always a possible seat here in the second car.
- Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Much as was done for Josef Newgarden, here’s a perfect place for a youngster to learn and develop if Newgarden gets the call up to a bigger team.
Again, this is purely hypothetical, but is interesting to project over the next couple years if and when there’s a changing of the guard on the grid.