Nearly 10 years after series merger, Coyne is last Champ Car team left
Verizon IndyCar Series fans of a certain age might remember the term “transition teams,” which was used in 2008 when Champ Car and IndyCar announced a merger that brought an end to a divisive and nasty, 12-year split that hurt North American open-wheel racing.
Champ Car teams partnered with IndyCar teams for technical support to ease in the transition process, before striking out on their own as the 2008 season progressed.
Not all of the teams from Champ Car made it over. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, KV Racing Technology, HVM Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Conquest Racing all acquired the base Dallara chassis with Honda engines, with Pacific Coast Motorsports joining from Long Beach.
Rocketsports Racing, Walker Racing and Forsythe/Pettit Racing raced only at the Champ Car finale at Long Beach and were not seen under IndyCar team auspices again, although Derrick Walker had stints with Vision Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and INDYCAR itself in the coming years.
Anyway, those five teams provided nine cars, with two cars each for all teams except HVM, which only ran one. Once Pacific Coast joined, that made it six teams and 10 cars.
But one-by-one, as part of a larger loss of teams over this 10-year period, the teams have faded.
PCM was the first to go. Mario Dominguez’s last-ditch shot to make the Indianapolis 500 ended in the Turn 1 wall, and killed the team’s financial hopes for the year. Although Tyler Tadevic’s team made it the rest of the year, PCM’s time as an IndyCar entrant was done at the end of 2008. Tadevic remains active in racing via his TruSpeed Autosport team, which has had success in sports car racing.
Mike Lanigan shifted his minor ownership stake to what was Rahal Letterman Racing at the end of 2010 and the team is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
The Newman/Haas name carried on for one more year into 2011 and Oriol Servia performed one of the best overachieving years in recent history when he finished fourth in the series, and James Hinchcliffe won rookie-of-the-year honors from a deep rookie class that also included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes. With a lack of sponsorship and with new cars on the horizon for 2012, Newman/Haas folded over the winter, bringing to an end a near-30-year run of success.
Conquest, Eric Bachelart’s team, also failed to answer the 2012 bell despite a couple rumored drivers being linked to seats. Beatriz worked with Bachelart in an extra Andretti Autosport entry at selected 2012 races but the Conquest name was no more.
HVM, Keith Wiggins’ outfit, made it to 2012 but endured a nightmare season saddled with the uncompetitive Lotus engine. Simona de Silvestro did her best to press on and keep a brave face but it was for naught. She left for KV a year later and Wiggins’ time as a team owner ended, although like Bachelart, he was briefly involved with Andretti in one of its entries. Carlos Munoz’s car was entered under the Andretti-HVM banner a couple years ago.
This then brings us to KV, which went through various name changes over its history. Long story short, KV rose from PacWest’s ashes in 2003 and had numerous other co-owners beyond primary co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser. The team’s best success came in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 when Tony Kanaan scored his elusive first win there in the car co-owned by Kalkhoven, Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.
But that win proved a false dawn longer-term and outside of a handful of wins the last few years, there’s not been a consistent championship challenge. KV’s equipment has moved elsewhere - expected to be utilized by Juncos Racing ahead of its possible step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after plying its trade on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires (more via RACER.com on that) - and KV has now joined the list of teams that have left the grid.
"(With) that team that we won the biggest race of our lives together, and that’s the team that we struggled together, and I remember how we struggled to get where we got. And honestly, we only made it this far because of that win,” Kanaan told assembled reporters during the Phoenix test this weekend.
So, this brings us to Dale Coyne Racing. We’ve written quite a bit about how much of a survivor Coyne is, with a tenure in the sport third only to A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske - that’s pretty illustrious company.
And with Coyne’s business savvy outside the track, but now a rare offseason of harmony where his program’s been set for months - not days - before the season opener at St. Petersburg, hopes are high the proverbial minnows will make inroads into the higher end of the top-10 on a more regular basis in 2017 with drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones, the latter of whom had a busy test.
It’s not a surprise that Coyne’s still here, nearly 10 years on from that merger. But as other teams from both the transition and IndyCar have dropped out, and the lack of new blood has entered, it’s left IndyCar requiring more from its existing owners to fill in the car count gaps.
Lest it seem that it’s just the Champ Car teams that have dropped out, the teams from the Indy Racing League arena haven’t all endured either. Since the 2008 regular season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, teams that were active then that aren’t now, full-time, are these: Panther Racing, Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Roth Racing, Sarah Fisher Racing and Dragon Racing (then Luczo Dragon Racing).
Anyway, that 28-car field featured cars from 16 teams (Penske 2, Ganassi 2, Andretti 4, Foyt 2, Rahal 1, KV 2, Newman/Haas 2, Coyne 2, Conquest 2, HVM 1, Panther 1, Vision 2, DRR 2, Roth 1, Fisher 1, Dragon 1).
Nearly 10 years later, the expected season opener at St. Petersburg will feature 21 cars from eight teams, with three of those teams holding 12 of the 21 cars (Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all 4, Foyt 2, Coyne 2, Carpenter 2, SPM 2, Rahal 1).
So over 10 years, Penske and Ganassi have added cars, Foyt’s added a second full-time car, Carpenter was born from Vision’s ashes and absorbed what was Fisher’s team, Bryan Herta joined with his own team and then joined Andretti Autosport, and SPM came from FAZZT (Alex Tagliani’s team), which came from Roth. Rahal also spent three years part-time only in IndyCar after a sponsor loss and came back full-time in 2012. So the new teams have more or less been present in other guises first.
To be fair, the economic recession of 2008 was a big part of hurting car counts for 2009, and IndyCar opened the 2009 season with just 22 cars at St. Petersburg. In subsequent years, the season opener has featured 24, 25, 26, 25, 22, 24 and 22 cars.
Fortunately, IndyCar enters 2017 with a lack of serious concerns over management, scheduling or the lineup.
But it could do with its next transition - to finding a way to attract new full-time teams to bolster the existing eight teams that are left.