It’s one of the three or four best seats in all of North American motorsports and, until Chip Ganassi or Target makes the official call, it’s available.
Dario Franchitti’s ride since 2009 comes with some built-in comforts: great teammate in Scott Dixon, sharp engineer in Chris Simmons, bright lead mechanic in Kevin O?Donnell and great pits stops from Wayne Westplate, Troy Scheller, Jamie Coates, Dave Pena and Robbie Page. You have a seasoned spotter in Scott Harner and a loyal soldier in PR man Kelby Krauss.
You also get a Target gift card for life, some flights on Chip’s jet and the opportunity to stare at Emma Dixon for hours during the season.
The downside? Ganassi will make you go to dinner with him a few times and you must act like you’re buddies in public.
It’s a great opportunity for the 10-time IndyCar champions to either elevate a promising talent, reward a proven one or possibly snatch a Montoya out of Europe. So here’s my handicapping guide, complete with odds, reasoning and knowing the team owner’s peculiar preferences.
TONY KANAAN (3 to 1): Seems like the obvious choice because Target would love him and he’ll bring lots of media as the defending Indy 500 winner (Chip loves attention). He was Ganassi’s choice for the No. 10 car a few years ago and TK can still pedal. Only hang-up might be other sponsors already lined up for the popular Brazilian.
RYAN BRISCOE (4 to 1): Certainly in the frame with the National Guard/Panther drama not yet announced, but the former Ganassi driver probably has a better shot of taking over TK’s seat on the B team.
PAUL di RESTA (5 to 1): Dario’s cousin has no F1 deal with Force India yet and says he’s got no interest in taking a downgrade. He’s young, fast and did a good job with what he’s had in F1 and you know his uncle is probably pushing hard. But di Resta’s downside with Chip would be no oval-track experience.
SERGIO PEREZ (7 to 1): Booted from McLaren, the Mexican might look stateside if Carlos Slim leans on Ganassi. Another guy with no oval miles but he could revive IndyCar interest south of the border and maybe bring back a race in Mexico City. Chip would like pleasing one of the richest men on the planet and his sports car partner.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (10-1): Probably not a big enough name for Chip but, considering Target’s demographics, the Swiss Miss might be a perfect fit. He negotiated once with Danica so maybe there’s an outside shot. Would Simona be newsworthy in one of those red cars? I believe so.
JUSTIN WILSON (15-1): If there were any justice in IndyCar racing, JWill would have already been hired. He’s a winner and a front-runner with small teams who could run away and hide in a Target car. But he’s not flashy enough for Ganassi and I doubt Chip would buy out his contract with Dale Coyne anyway.
ALEX TAGLIANI (18-1): Age and the fact he’s not considered a big hitter by Ganassi works against him, but the fact that Target is now in Canada could play into his favor. Who is to say the veteran who nice job at Fontana in the No. 10 car couldn’t drive it for one year until Hinch or Pagenaud become available? Going to run sports cars for Ganassi and a one-off at Indy seems like his best chance.
SIMON PAGENAUD (20-1): If Ganassi is looking at the future, the fast, friendly Frog is his man. A two-time winner for Sam Schmidt this past season, the 29-year-old has the chops to be champion. But Honda loves Pagenaud and now that the Chipster is wearing a Bow Tie, it might be a difficult transaction.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (25-1): The personable 22-year-old has shown he’s got the right stuff on several occasions during the past two years on Sarah Fisher’s little team so think about the possibilities with a veteran teammate and the Target treasure chest. Josef is great with fans and media and the home office in Minneapolis would love him. But he’s an American and Chip doesn’t hire them for the A team.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (30-1): Had Dario’s situation been a month earlier, Hinch would have already been fitted in a Target uniform and his name would be on the No. 10 car. The three-time winner in 2013 didn’t have his deal done with Andretti and Ganassi had shown interest in Canada’s king of social media in the B car with an eye on replacing Franchitti down the road. Timing is everything.
CONOR DALY (35-1): Just completed an impressive season in GP3, knows how to win and is only 21. Well spoken and good with sponsors and media. With Dixon as his teacher, this kid could be a star. But, again, he’s a Yank and that’s a strike against him.
KYLE LARSON (50-1): This mini version of Parnelli Jones would be the most exciting thing to happen to open wheel since Zanardi started doing doughnuts. He’s already lined up for Cup in 2014 but he could bring some magic and lots of fans to IndyCar. Best we can hope for is that Chip runs him in the Indy 500 some day.