Who will Ganassi hire?

As Autosport reported Saturday, Target Chip Ganassi Racing has reported that they are close to making on a decision on who they will hire to fill the #10 Target car vacated by the retiring Dario Franchitti.

RACER also reported in its silly season update that former Ganassi and Penske pilot Ryan Briscoe seems like a sure bet for the ride. Briscoe has won races for Penske and almost pulled off a championship in 2009. Indycar.com also hinted that Alex Tagliani, who filled in for Franchitti at Fontana and took part in last weeks test at Sebring, is another strong contender for the ride as well.

Briscoe has been largely silent since the season ended, while Tagliani hinted to IndyCar.com that he is ready if the opportunity comes to him.

It would be crazy for anyone not to want that opportunity. It’s something that I’ve worked for my career. Teams of this caliber create stability in their organization and seats don’t become available every year like in other teams. I would really like to see what I could do in that type of organization. If that opportunity comes I will definitely take it.

Hiring Briscoe would make it the 2nd time he would drive for Ganassi in his career. His first stint with Ganassi was his 2005 rookie campaign where it was very rocky and had 8 DNFs due to crashes, including a frightening crash at Chicago. He did have a sure win wrapped up at St. Petersburg where he led 43 laps and crashed while leading as Tony Kanaan was hot on his tail with 8 laps remaining.

His stint with Penske produced 7 wins and a near championship in 2009 which he had in the palm of his hands until losing control pulling out of the pits at Motegi and crashing into the wall. He still had a shot going into the last race, but wound up 3rd 12 points behind champion Dario Franchitti. Since then he has a pole at the Indianapolis 500 and only won 2 races and did not race full time last year, instead taking a step into sportscars and a part time IndyCar deal with Ganassi at the Indianapolis 500 and Panther Racing for 6 more races.

On his best days, Briscoe is very good and can contend for wins, but he has had the bad habit of making mistakes like crashing while leading at St. Pete in 2005 and at Sao Paulo in 2010 and his championship ending crash pulling out of the pits at Motegi. It’s those mistakes that separate you from the haves and the have nots.

Tagliani on the other hand has not been with a great team since his early days with Forsythe and has pulled off some spirited drives in recent years but has not always had the best finishes at the end of the day. Since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008, Tag has not scored a podium and scored his lone one win at Road America in 2004. Driving for Bryan Herta Autosport in 2012, he nearly won Edmonton and Fontana and qualified well after switching to Honda. He made the most of his opportunity with Ganassi at Fontana until he crashed out. His flashes of greatness proves he can drive, but he needs to eliminate his mistakes to be a full on championship contender.

With nothing yet being confirmed, lets have a look at some other potential candidates with contracts in place for 2014.

A driver that should be considered is Justin Wilson. Wilson contended for championships in Champ Car and has been able to make hay with limited resources driving for Dale Coyne and pull some some awesome drives during the 2013 season to finish 6th in points that really made you look twice at the Britton. If he can do well in Dale Coyne’s operation, imagine what he could do in a top flight outlet like Ganassi? The sky is the limit. He is in a contract with Coyne, though and that might be a hangup.

Simon Pagenaud is in the same boat Wilson is in in terms of talent and could do even better driving for Ganassi, but he is set to return to Sam Schmidt’s outlet in 2014 and has a good chemistry with his team and isn’t likely to leave. Plus he has connections with Honda so a move to Ganassi’s Chevrolet powered outlet maybe a problem.

Josef Newgarden also has come into his own this year with near wins at Sao Paulo and Baltimore and improved from his rookie season with good results throughout the season. With another year under his belt in 2014, he could be ready for a top flight drive.

Now some free agent possibilities:

Oriol Servia is another free agent that is out there and could be a surprising contender if he is with the correct outlet. He finished 4th in points in 2011 against the Penske and Ganassi giants and was a good championship supporter for the team in Champ Car during the 2005 season where he finished runner up to Sebastien Bourdais. Servia has always been one of those hard luck guys that would have more wins had it not been for bad luck and like Tagliani has made some spirited runs in not the best equipment that shouldn’t go overlooked.

I hinted at the possibility of Simona de Silvestro moving to the ride in my season review on her. It is an outside chance, but if Ganassi’s plan is to bring up an up-and-comer, she could fit the bill. Her oval performance has been on the steady rise and her road course performance is great. She is coming off a career best season but she still has a long way to go, maybe keep this bun in the oven for a year and see what happens after that.

With Sergio Perez landing an F1 for next season, the other F1 driver in the mix was Paul di Resta, but nothing has been leaked out about him taking the IndyCar ride. Some points that Hull mentioned to Autosport is that having a driver with IndyCar experience would be a better fit.

“I think IndyCar experience is more of a premium today than it was several years ago,” he said.

“The schedule is very compact, you don’t get very much testing now, and the thing that is really difficult to get right when you’re learning to drive an IndyCar is an oval.

He also mentioned that Rubens Barrichello’s short lived IndyCar stint is proof that just because you have 15+ years F1 experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be great in IndyCar. Then again, Barrichello drove for KV Racing, not Ganassi. That is a BIG difference that could aid with any F1 crossover.

Take Nigel Mansell for example, he drove for a multitude of teams in F1 and won a world championship in 1992 with Williams, and won the IndyCar championship in 1993 driving for the top flight Newman Hass Racing. The Newman Hass team meshed with Mansell’s talent and the combination worked in 1993. Better team usually means better results.

Nothing is out of the question yet, but an experienced IndyCar driver seems like a better bet.

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