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2012 IndyCar grid taking shape

Panther Racing: The team has exercised a two-year option to retain JR Hildebrand, who was runner-up in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 in his rookie season after a last-turn crash. That means Hildebrand will stay in the cockpit of the #4 National Guard car through to the end of 2013. He is unlikely to have a full-time team mate in a second car, although Tomas Scheckter's name has been mentioned if the funding did become available. Panther is among those teams making a switch to Chevrolet power for the new season.

HVM Racing: HVM will be relying on another solid year ahead for Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, and a second car is a possibility but a long way from being assured. HVM is one of the Lotus factory teams in 2012, but the #78 will be primarily retaining the Nuclear Clean Air Energy livery they ran in 2011. A second car is not entirely out of the running, but not considered particularly likely at this stage.

One or more race seats still to be confirmed

KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan will once again be at the wheel of the #11 car, and Venezuelan driver EJ Viso is highly likely to be back in the seat of the #59. The final spot in the expected three-car line-up looked set to go to 2011 Firestone Indy Lights' runner-up Esteban Guerrieri, but the appearance of Rubens Barrichello for three days of testing with the team at Sebring International Raceway last week put the cat firmly among the pigeons. The latest word is that if the funding is locked down, Rubens is set to say 'yes'. The team will be running Chevrolet engines in 2012.

Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: The team have picked up Oriol Servia to drive the #2 car, who last year excelled by coming fourth in the IndyCar championship but who found himself out of a job when his team Newman/Haas suddenly pulled out of open wheel competition over the winter. The second seat with LDRR (last year filled by Ana Beatriz) is currently one of the grid vacancies. The team is now officially badged with the name and livery of its engine supplier, Lotus.

Lotus Dragon Racing: After a near-death experience at the start of 2011 and a failed attempt to make it onto the grid of the Indianapolis 500, Dragon is making a determined effort to get back to the front of the grid by announcing a factory deal with engine suppliers Lotus. That's enabled it to sign up Katherine Legge for the #6 car and pull off a major coup by bringing four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais back to full-time US open wheel competition for the first time since 2007 in the #8.

Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson will return to the team for which he won at Watkins Glen in 2009, and he'll be hoping to put the 2012 Honda engine to good use. Wilson was sidelined with a back injury for the latter half of the 2011 season, but a triumphant return to action at the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona proved that he's fully race-fit again. With Wilson in the #22, it's likely that the team will retain another Brit, James Jakes, for the second seat - although Jay Howard is another option still on the table, and Paul Tracy's name had also been mentioned.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Takuma Sato has been officially confirmed as the lead driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's return to full-time IndyCar competition since 2008. The team intend to add a second seat as well, if they can raise the money: Pippa Mann raced for the team last year and has good relations with team co-owner Bobby Rahal, but whether or not she stands any chance of getting the second seat will depend on sponsorship money coming together; fellow Brit Jay Howard is another option as is Belgium's Bertrand Baquette. The team have lined up Honda engines for 2012.

Still to confirm any drivers

Michael Shank Racing: While no driver has been confirmed by MSR, Paul Tracy revealed that he was in advanced talks with the team while he was competing at the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona - which MSR's GRAND-AM team went on to win with their Daytona Prototype. "We have a car, we have a sponsor, but we need to put an engine package together," Tracy was quoted as saying about the situation. The team had previously announced that they had signed up with Lotus, but the engine manufacturer has pointedly not included MSR in the list of their partner teams for 2012 so far.

Conquest Racing: While team boss Eric Bachelart has confirmed that the team will have at least one full-time car in 2012, there's been no word yet as to who the driver will be, the identity of any sponsors, or who will be supplying the tea's engines. Sebastian Saavedra took the wheel of the #34 car in 2011 but is not considered likely to return to the team line-up again this season.

That leaves a total of 23 confirmed car/driver combinations for 2012, plus another 'all-but confirmed' signing with Viso. With just under six weeks until the first race of 2012 on March 25, there's still plenty of time for teams to make their final decisions: last year, Tony Kanaan did not land his seat at KV Racing Technology until just two days before cars went out onto the street course at St Petersburg. And James Hinchcliffe's deal with Newman/Haas was even later in coming together, and as a result he missed the first race altogether - but he still managed to bounce back to clinch the 2011 IndyCar Rookie of the Year title over JR Hildebrand.




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