With Thursday’s news that Mike Conway won’t be returning to the merged CFH Racing in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series, there is a golden opportunity for the team to become the all-American darling of the championship.
The vacancy alongside Ed Carpenter in the shared No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet is bound to attract a wealth of interest.
However, for a series struggling at times with a lack of identifiable drivers, or with a substantial American driver presence, it would likely behoove the series if CFH is able to bring in another American alongside Carpenter for the road and street races.
This past season, there were only five full-time American drivers: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. Carpenter and a handful of others ran partial seasons.
While it is not ideal for a series to feature only Americans – IndyCar’s strength has always been its diversity of drivers – IndyCar could use more in the series for 2015 and beyond.
It would be an identifiable selling point for CFH, which holds the last links in modern day IndyCar to the prior Indy Racing League era, where homegrown American talent and an all-oval series were selling points.
In Carpenter, they have a canny businessman who is still one of the series’ best on ovals, partnered with team co-owner Sarah Fisher, a popular driver and team owner in her own right for more than a decade.
In Newgarden, they have the series’ only American driver for the moment under age 25 – Rahal turns 26 in January. Young, marketable, personable, comedic and certainly quick, Newgarden is one of IndyCar’s rising stars who was desperately unlucky not to have come away with his first series victory this season.
And here’s who they should be considering for the vacant seat alongside Carpenter, all of whom carry the red, white and blue:
- JR Hildebrand. The leading candidate who has one race and one additional test with Ed Carpenter Racing already under his belt, the 26-year-old Californian deserves a second chance after his time with Panther Racing ended mid-2013 when his contract was terminated.
- Conor Daly. Stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, Daly has had his eyes set on a full-season IndyCar for years, but has seemingly had to take anything and everything both domestically and internationally to keep his career going. Hungry and no doubt focused, he would be a welcome first-year participant to the series.
- Alexander Rossi. Rossi could enter the discussion here given some previous press clippings where he mentioned his dislike of ovals, but is still keen on running in IndyCar next season. Rossi has long been America’s best F1 hope, before a challenging 2014 season saw him aligned with both Caterham and Marussia, who each went into the administration.
- Gabby Chaves. Although a joint Colombian American, Chaves could fit in well here and still maintain the all-American vibe. Chaves may only have the budget for a partial season, although he remains focused on securing a full-season effort. With that as the goal, that may take him out of consideration here.
- A.N. Other. Sage Karam and Zach Veach, Americans who have spent years in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, each could work here but are pursuing other team options. Guy Cosmo, an American sports car veteran, has also made overtones about wanting to race in IndyCar. There are others as well who could work and fit the all-American description.