With more driver signings being confirmed by the week, the remaining openings on the starting grid for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar season are the focus of increasingly desperate attempts to land a race seat for those still lacking a contract - including several big names.
Here's how the starting grid is looking early in February:Fully confirmed line-upsGanassi:
The Ganassi line-up remains the same as it did in 2011, with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti returning to the 'top tier' Target Chip Ganassi #9 and #10 cars, Graham Rahal back in the #38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing car and Charlie Kimball once more back in the #83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing seat. All four cars will be running Honda engines.Team Penske:
Penske will also be fielding an unchanged line-up, despite some uncertainty toward the end of 2011 that a lack of sponsorship might force them to slim down to a two-car line-up that might have forced Ryan Briscoe out of the squad. Instead, Briscoe is now confirmed back in the #2 with Helio Castroneves in the #3 Penske car and Will Power running the #12. All three cars will be powered by Chevrolet engines.Bryan Herta Autosport:
After the team's shock victory in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon, BHA will be hoping Alex Tagliani will be able to pick up the driver's baton in the #98 in their first full season back in IndyCar. They have the edge of having been involved in the summer testing of the new Dallara DW12 chassis and will be relying on Lotus engine power for its single-car line-up.Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing:
Sarah Fisher's team has found a new co-owner to replace the backing of departed long-time sponsor Dollar General, and celebrates with new talent behind the wheel in the form of Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden in the sole #67 car. The team says that an engine agreement is in place, but it has not yet been announced.Ed Carpenter Racing:
Sarah Fisher Racing's 2011 driver Ed Carpenter gifted the team their maiden win in the final completed race last season at Kentucky, but then confirmed he was leaving to set up his own squad co-owned with former IRL chairman Tony George. Unsurprisingly, Carpenter will be at the wheel of the team's sole #20 entry, but the make of engine is still to be confirmed.All seats filled, possible extra seats to be addedAndretti Autosport:
Despite a disappointing 2011 season as a whole for the team, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay both claimed race wins and are back in the line-up for 2012 in the #26 and #28 cars. Danica Patrick and Mike Conway have both departed, leaving the mantle of the "Go Daddy Driver" now in the hands of Canada's James Hinchcliffe in the #27 car. A fourth car is possible, with team boss Michael Andretti putting the odds at 60%. The team are switching to Chevrolet engines for the upcoming season.Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
After working hard in 2011 in test sessions and as a "super-sub" stand-in, French supercars star Simon Pagenaud is finally ready to start a full season in IndyCar with the Honda-powered Sam Schmidt squad. Pagenaud will be in the #77 car; SSM were initially optimistic about putting together a second car to partner Pagenaud for the year, but the odds on that are said to be declining by the day.AJ Foyt Enterprises:
Mike Conway claimed his first race win in IndyCar in 2011 at Long Beach, but after that the season at Andretti Autosport proved something of a damp squib. He'll be hoping that a change of scene and the support of racing legend AJ Foyt will get him back to the podium now he's in charge of the #14 ABC Supply car powered by Honda. It's currently the team's only entry in 2012, although a second car has been mooted.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 confirmedKV 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 driversMichael 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.
Among the experienced IndyCar drivers still in the mix and hoping for a 2012 deal include those named in the rundown above - Tomas Sheckter, Paul Tracy, James Jakes, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra, Bertrand Baquette and Esteban Guerrieri - and a few others not yet mentioned, including Vitor Meira, Raphael Matos, Ho-Pin Tung, Martin Plowman, Wade Cunningham and Townsend Bell.Jean Alesi has been announced
as wanting a shot at the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with a Lotus-badged team, and other traditional one-off Indy 500 competitors include John Andretti, Davey Hamilton and Buddy Rice.
However, one person who won't be back in May is Danica Patrick, who has confirmed that she will not be attempting a one-off return
to IndyCar even for the greatest spectacle in motorsport.