The past week which had been relatively quiet as far as driver/team news for IndyCar & the Indy Lights Series, and while we haven't exactly been flooded we have started to get some movement of the kind that many expect to continue as we get closer and closer to the start of the 2009 season.
In just two days, the Indy Lights Series has gone from zero to 2 Canadian drivers with James Hinchcliffe (former Atlantics and Team Canada A1GP driver) winning the coveted seat at Sam Schmidt Motorsports & today Guthrie Meyer Racing announced they will be a 3-car operation for 2009 adding young 24 year old Canadian Jesse Mason. For those unfamiliar, Mason competed in the Lights in 2004 (then Indy Pro), driving his way top 10 finishes in 9 of 10 starts.
I'm glad to see Mason getting a second chance at Indy cars, but you ask has Jesse been doing since his 2004 debut? More than most any drivers I can tell you:
"He completed his degree in Motorsports Engineering and Design at Swansea Institute of Higher Education in Wales and started his own company, maseRace, with the goal of developing the Canadian Motor Speedway Project near his hometown of Niagara Fall, Ontario."
In other driver news Robin Miller has sorta kinda confirmed/elaborated on what most have assumed in that Ryan Hunter-Reay will be in a car for 2009. Because if not, the IndyCar Series would set to piss off one of the biggest new sponsors of the series in IZOD who has developed an entire new clothing line around IndyCar. IZOD had said before they were going to activate but we now find out from their rep exactly the GIANT list of activations of said sponsorship entails, all of which revolve around young Hunter-Reay:
"Beginning in a few weeks there will be a national television spot, promo trailers in movie theaters, ads in major magazines and newspapers and in-store promotions at Macy's stores across the country that will also include a special Indy 500 clothing line."
And that would be in addition to the already seen 90-foot billboard in Times Square. I am definitely looking forward to some IRL apparel that doesn't resemble the crapass NASCAR-WWE type shirts you see at the races and through indycar.com (not including the nice polo shirts of which I own one). It is also great to see that RHR will be getting a ride, but I have to agree with Miller in that this should not wait any longer. RHR has already missed the oval test and may soon miss the Barber test; and to be competitive I'm sure RHR and whatever team he ends up at would like to get as much seat time as they can.
And in glass half full or half empty news we've also got the announcement that 2007 Indy Lights Champion Alex Lloyd will again be competing in the Indianapolis 500 for his 2nd year; again with a Ganassi partnership but this time reuniting Lloyd with his championship winning team Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
This of course is great for Alex because it's better than nothing and I'd hate to have his finale in indycar be his spectacular wreck into the pits in one of the best looking paint schemes around. Of course fans would much prefer it turn into a full season ride or at least add some more races. Personally I'd like to see SSM move up to the IndyCar Series as they clearly have proven they are the cream of the crop of Indy Lights.
Of course this is yet the continuation of the on-going tale of champions from the ladder series. Of course as in all sports minor-league championship can always be a fluke result of perfect luck or other things but usually those guys still get a shot. At this point looking at the past 10 champions of Indy Lights & Atlantics, 2 out of 18 guys have a current full time ride in the top level of Indy cars. Buddy Rice (2000 Atlantics champ) has been rumored to be the driver for the new Rubicon/PCM team but that still has yet to be announced.
Of the 15 other champions remaining after those potential 3 full timers we're looking at Jay Howard moving back down to Indy Lights for PBIR after his short year of being royally screwed by Roth Racing (a short year in which he quickly proved he belonged taking the car to the top 5 in St. Petersburg only to be relegated to the back by the rain mix-up).
Then we have Alex Lloyd, A.J. Foyt IV, Oriol Servia & Townsend Bell; all of whom have competed at the top level and at least proved they can compete; yet are relegated to currently fishing for a ride. And bringing up the rear are the 10 other champions who have moved on to NASCAR, sports cars or just disappeared.
Now I'm not condemning the two ladder series; they are both great series for competition and development which is their first and foremost priority; I'm just hoping as the economy improves that teams can come around to give these guys their rightful due and at least what I would consider their due chance for at least 1 full-time season at the top level of their aspired sport.