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.
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.