Getty Images

Brian Vickers potential adds to SPM’s month of May intrigue

1 Comment

In recent days and weeks, speculation has been rife over who will fill one of two likely final entries for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Last month, and this came as a shock to many, but RACER.com discovered that NASCAR race winner and current part-timer Brian Vickers had entered the frame of discussion for the seat.

Vickers followed up on the possibility during a media availability at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, where he is filling in for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I would love to have something to announce [but] unfortunately there is nothing to announce at this point,” Vickers said.

“It is still on the table. It’s not done, but it’s not off the table yet either.”

The connection makes more sense when you realize Vickers and Jay Frye have worked together before at Red Bull’s NASCAR operation; Frye is now INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations.

Other candidates revealed publicly include Stefan Wilson, Gabby Chaves and Oriol Servia, as noted in this Motorsport.com piece.

If it’s those four who are in the frame for one seat, inevitably three of them would be left high, dry and disappointed.

And while storyline-wise all four of them make sense, only one and maybe two are feasible from a realistic helping the team for this month of May standpoint.

Vickers would draw the most attention from a 10,000 feet above, national standpoint. Everyone loves a comeback story and Vickers’ return to racing after persistent blood clots has been one of the more remarkable in recent memory.

With Kurt Busch having ruled out a run a couple weeks ago, if NASCAR wanted a driving link to this year’s 500, they’d have one in Vickers.

Realistically though, Vickers, 32, is the riskiest option. He’s never driven an IndyCar and would need to adapt quickly to his new environment, and the style of driving.

That said, he’s certainly capable of it, given what he’s done in sports cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before. He’s done well in NASCAR despite adverse circumstances facing him; he’s been picked for fill-in roles for several years over others. That speaks to his adaptability in short time frames.

Wilson would tick the emotional boxes for several reasons. The 26-year-old Englishman has been working feverishly on a program working to introduce solar to the Speedway for several months, and is keen to get back behind the wheel after an extended hiatus of his own.

Naturally, there’s also the desire of him wanting to be on the grid to fulfill the family legacy at the first ‘500 since his older brother Justin lost his life at Pocono. He’d be a heartwarming story, and he also has the talent and relevant open-wheel experience to jump in. He has raced at the Speedway before in Indy Lights, and has one career IndyCar start (2013 at Baltimore).

Chaves, 22, would measure up nicely from a perseverance standpoint. The Colombian-American did everything right last year despite running with a single-car team and a smaller budget. That Bryan Herta did nearly everything to keep him even as he was trying to ensure his team stayed in the sport, now partnered with Andretti Autosport, spoke volumes of what he thinks of Chaves.

And Gabby’s got the most recent team experience of these four, too. He tested nicely for Schmidt Peterson at both Phoenix and Sebring to help get the car more in the window for the opening rounds of the season. Mikhail Aleshin finishing fifth at St. Petersburg probably doesn’t happen without Chaves’ data and feedback from the Sebring test. He’s also kept his face out there at both events, ensuring he’s staying in the frame without being in a car. Few realize how truly talented he is.

Lastly, there’s Servia, 41, who doesn’t have the huge story line angle but would be the best of the bunch from a pure feedback and development standpoint – especially with new aerodynamic components coming into play this year the Speedway.

Servia would be the rock to aid Hinchcliffe and Aleshin back to stability and comfort after both drivers return for their first big oval races since devastating, near-fatal accidents – Hinchcliffe in practice last year at Indianapolis, and Aleshin, in night practice in 2014 at Fontana.

It’s no disrespect to the other three, but there’s a reason Servia has made a career in this series for the better part of 15 years with 13 different teams, for 198 career races. He is as plug-and-play as you get, and when your last three starts have been for three different teams (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske), the latter two with barely more than 24 hours notice, you know you can install him to do the job.

SPM is going to be a story line at this year’s Indianapolis 500 to begin with, given both drivers’ big oval race returns.

The team’s storyline may only go greater depending on who gets the nod in the team’s third car.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
Leave a comment

Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500