Yesterday I confirmed that Josef Newgarden might have a full time ride, maybe even Simon Pagenaud. Giorgio Pantano looks all but confirmed at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in Justin Wilson’s former ride. Maybe Wilson’s brother Stefan gets into the series. Andretti Autosport tested IndyLights veteran James Davison a few weeks ago. You could still consider Wade Cunningham a rookie. Pippa Mann might get the second ride at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Ho Pin Tung maybe in a second car at HVM (not yet confirmed). Now what I’m going to do is breakdown every driver I just listed. I will state if they belong in the IndyCar Series or not.
Josef Newgarden: The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Champion is searching for an IndyCar Series ride. He is rumored to go to Sam Schmidt Motorsports, the same team that he won IndyLights with. He would be teammates with another so called rookie Simon Pagenaud. Newgarden would be a good fit for Sam Schmidt Motorsports because he knows the team and we need Americans in IndyCar.
Simon Pagenaud: For Simon this is easy. He was a fill in driver last year and performed excellently. He has experience with Sports Cars and Prototypes so with his driving ability, I expect him to be a front runner every week on the road and street courses. When he had to fill in for Ana Beatriz at Barber this year he finished 8th! Simon was Champ Car’s rookie of the year in 2007.
Stefan Wilson: Stefan Wilson drove the 2011 Indy Lights season with Andretti Autosport, he won a race at Toronto. He could be moving up with the team in their fourth car but it seems that is highly unlikely. I would love to see Stefan in a car. He’s got a bright future ahead of him but he should stay in Lights for another year.
James Davison: James recently tested with Andretti Autosport at Palm Beach International Raceway in effort to land a spot with the team. It looks like he will be a full time driver in 2012 with Andretti Autosport. Odds are he will take Ryan Hunter-Reay’s old ride and Hunter-Reay moves into the GODADDY car. Davison is a perfect fit for the IndyCar Series.
Wade Cunningham: Wade made a few starts in 2011 with AFS Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. When Wade raced he was very impressive. Wade would be a perfect fit with AFS Racing or Sarah Fisher Racing in a ovals only program. Wade is a Indy Lights champion that needs to be in the series.
Giorgio Pantano: The 2008 GP2 Champion had filled in for an injured Justin Wilson at Infineon, Baltimore and Motegi. He had his best run at Infineon where he should have finished sixth! If he gets this ride with DRR expect him to be strong on the road and street course section of the schedule.
Ho Pin Tung: Ho made a few starts in 2011 with Dragon racing. It was mostly crashing so we don’t really know what he has yet. If last year repeats it could be a disaster. He doesn’t belong in IndyCar if thats going to be the story of his career.
Pippa Mann: Pippa made three starts last year with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Those three starts were about expected from her. The other start came at Indy were she finished in the bottom but still proved that she could race. I believe that Pippa will be even stronger if she gets a full time ride next season.
Overall I think the rookie of the year race for 2012 could be a tight one. It could be a four way battle between Newgarden, Pagenaud, Davison, and Cunningham. If I had to pick a winner out of those four I would have to go with Pagenaud just because of his ChampCar experience and with the road and street courses.
Next up in this series is exploring the new teams/returning teams for 2012.