Could Ryan Phinny and Casamigos be in IndyCar in 2015?

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The answer to the above headline: Quite possibly. And the odds are better than you think.

In case your first reaction to “Ryan Phinny” is “Who?” and your first reaction to Casamigos is… well… “Who?”, here’s a couple brief primers.

Phinny, 25, is an American driver out of Los Angeles who has competed off-and-on since 2005 in Formula BMW USA, the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, American Le Mans Series and most recently, Indy Lights. He ran five Indy Lights races this past season, three with Bryan Herta Autosport before switching to Belardi Auto Racing for the Sonoma doubleheader season finale (best finish of sixth, but featured within top-five all weekend there in practice and qualifying).

Casamigos is an American tequila company who has three partners, George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Yes, that George Clooney (we elaborated a bit more on the brand when Phinny’s BHA Lights deal was announced this past summer).

The intriguing part of this potential deal that could see Phinny in a full-season ride in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series is that it’s an American driver putting together a business-to-business deal in order to further both entities’ respective goals.

And in 2014 into 2015, that’s the way drivers have to get rides – Americans doing it is a rare story these days.

“Basically that’s how you have to do it, just the way you mentioned it,” Phinny told MotorSportsTalk. “Tequila is a Mexican product but Casamigos is an American company; it’s a very pro-American business. So we sat down and it was, ‘This is what I can offer you,’ and we worked at it.

“I was basically broke for three years. But we made meetings at retail accounts. I worked hand-in-hand with distributors to make sure they had a great program. When you can do that for a company, i.e. a liquor company, and you can get in a big chain (California Pizza Kitchen in Casamigos’ instance) this helps a company get jump-started. It helps instill their confidence in me.

“The way people used to go about it was the sticker-slapping way of putting stickers on the car. But I had to go back and see this is what they need, what benefits them, and I had to get them what they wanted.”

So, B2B connection established, Phinny was a surprise name in the Indy Lights field when he returned after a three-year hiatus to the series starting at Toronto.

Phinny got reacclimated and by Sonoma, he was quickly on pace with new teammate Gabby Chaves at Belardi – Chaves, of course, went on to win this year’s Indy Lights championship. And Casamigos liked what they saw both in the driver and the series, as a new sponsor.

“I think right now, we both see there’s more potential in IndyCar now than in F1 or Europe,” Phinny explained. “They see a sport that’s ramping up. It fits their profile, which is an ultra premium beverage, and a sport that is a high-end lifestyle. I see a lot of potential in it.”

This then leads to the next part… an available team. Phinny has said he has been in talks with Chevrolet teams, and by process of elimination that rules out Penske and Ganassi, but leaves open CFH and KVSH Racing.

CFH is out though, for two reasons. One, the team’s only open seat is a partial season ride for road and street courses with Ed Carpenter driving the ovals. And two, tequila and vodka generally don’t mix well.

“That wasn’t so much an issue for Casamigos, because it’s vodka and tequila – two entirely different types,” Phinny said. “It’s just confusing for (CFH) to have both. Fuzzy’s is a great partner for them, and they’re committed to the season.”

KVSH – either as KVSH or as just KV Racing Technology – has its second seat available. A third car there also could be possible; the team has operated three full-time cars before (2010-2012).

Phinny is optimistic he’ll be testing by mid-January at Sebring and potentially New Orleans. If he does, that will be his first day in the latest Dallara DW12 chassis.

Like other drivers, Phinny’s biggest stumbling block throughout his career has been a steady, consistent full-time program, which is why he is seeking and pushing for this so hard right now.

“My issue in Lights seemed to be the inconsistencies of the program itself,” he said. “In sports cars when I had a consistent program and good testing, we were at the front of the pack.

“I’ve grown up with most guys that would be rookies. It’s been a while since (Alexander) Rossi and I raced. But people’s styles don’t change. It could be a great year.”

Casamigos has let the cat out of the bag with a teaser image posted to its social media channels (the lead image here), and Phinny tweeted this just after the holidays.

View this post on Instagram

The Casamigos Sleigh #CasamigosGear

A post shared by Casamigos (@casamigos) on

And additionally, with American rookies in IndyCar so rare these days –Josef Newgarden was the most recent one in 2012, with Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand in 2011 before that – it’s been a while since there’s been this fresh a face.

We’ll see whether this materializes in full, but the odds are good this could go down smooth.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).