The speculation surrounding Ryan Hunter-Reay's possible return to the IndyCar Series moved up a notch over the weekend with confirmation that the American is due to run with HVM Racing at this week's Barber Motorsports Park group test.
The two parties are well acquainted from their time together in the old Champ Car World Series, and have become potential bedfellows for this year's IndyCar competition after it became clear that Hunter-Reay would not be able to keep his ride at Rahal Letterman Racing without a substantial injection of sponsorship. While RLR - with which he won at Watkins Glen last season - would have been his preferred choice for 2009, Hunter-Reay now looks likely to bank on former employer Keith Wiggins to keep him in the IRL fold, according to SpeedTV
''I spoke with Keith Wiggins this morning and it looks like HVM will test Ryan at Birmingham next weekend - but there still is no deal to run the season,'' series insider Robin Miller wrote in a recent forum chat, ''But I'd say HVM is Ryan's only option 20-some days before the season opener. [It's a] very sad situation, and ditto for Buddy Rice, [Oriol] Servia, [Paul] Tracy and [Tomas] Scheckter.''
Miller went on to reveal that he was sceptical of claims that there could be between 20-22 cars on the grid when the season kicks off in St Petersburg next month, forecasting instead that the field could be much reduced over last year.
2[There is] just a general concern about car count and how many teams can actually afford to run 17 races,'' he noted, ''I understand only 12-13 cars are signed up for [Tony George]'s Team programme and have paid the Honda and Firestone payments - and at least one of the new teams may have lost its backer already.
''If there are 20 cars, I think everybody will be happy or surprised or both, considering what I've been told the past few days. But if TG spends a little money and a couple of these iffy deals come together, there could be 22.''
Among those yet to confirm are the rumoured deal involving Buddy Rice and the revamped Rubicon Racing effort, which is claimed to have lined up several sponsors in order to bring the veteran on board, while Scheckter was also recently linked to a new ride that has yet to materialise any further. Tracy and Servia, meanwhile, are understood to be talking with Jimmy Vasser at KV Racing Technology, but remain hamstrung by a lack of sponsorship to run a second car alongside Mario Moraes.
''I talk with Buddy a couple times a week and, right now, he's in an holding pattern,'' Miller revealed, ''He's being told there are a couple of big deals pending and, if one gets the green light, he's good. But he's been hearing that for several weeks now and I think he's starting to come to the reality he may be an Indy 500 driver only.
''Tomas is working on something, but haven't heard from him lately, [and] why should an accomplished racer [like Tracy], who can actually sell tickets, spend his own money to do something he's been paid for his whole life? PT has also been divorced a couple times and he's not rolling in the money like you might think. He's far from wealthy....''