IndyCar’s American driver contingent set to grow by two
If you’re an IZOD IndyCar Series fan and like homegrown driving talent, it appears that this week will make you quite happy.
ESPN’s John Oreovicz is reporting that Graham Rahal will indeed run in 2011 with a satellite operation from Chip Ganassi. According to Oreovicz, the team will have drag racing legend Don Prudhomme as a co-partner and will have its base at his shop in Brownsburg, Ind.
Oreovicz also writes that Firestone Indy Lights veteran Charlie Kimball will be Rahal’s teammate for the Ganassi/Prudhomme collaboration. On Monday, media alerts went out from both Chip Ganassi Racing and IndyCar about a Thursday press conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, presumably to announce these moves.
Meanwhile, both “Oreo” and SPEED Channel’s Robin Miller are reporting that 2009 FIL champion J.R. Hildebrand will officially be announced tomorrow as the new driver of the No. 4 National Guard-backed machine for Panther Racing. Hildebrand tested last week with Panther at Phoenix International Raceway and will make his full-time debut in 2011 after running the Mid-Ohio and Sonoma rounds last season with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing.
These moves should continue the wave of momentum that IndyCar has created so far this offseason, building on top of the news that Chevrolet and Lotus will join the series as engine manufacturers starting in 2012.
Rahal has the potential to be a major player for the series as it continues its resurgence, but he needed a contending ride to do it. While this Ganassi/Prudhomme team hasn’t hit the track yet, you’d assume that because this is a Ganassi satellite operation, Rahal won’t be wanting for resources and good equipment.
As for Hildebrand, it appears that he’s passed the test — not just on the track, but off of it as well. Panther Racing deeply cares about its affiliation with the National Guard and America’s military. After all, it’s one thing to be sponsored by a phone company or a convenience store. It’s another to be sponsored by a branch of the armed forces made up of men and women putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms.
Panther needed to find the right representative for the Guard and it looks like Hildebrand impressed them enough.
Finally, Kimball will make the jump to the big cars after running with Andretti Autosport’s FIL operation last season. The Californian has managed to rise through the ranks of the open-wheel world despite battling with Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed in 2007. Now he’ll look to reach his goal and become the first driver with the disease to race — and win — the Indianapolis 500.