Friday, February 1, 2013

Another Ride Domino Falls

Ever since Tristan Vautier put on an impressive display of driving during a test at Sebring in December, the 23-year-old Frenchman's name had been added to the list of drivers who were in the mix for one of the several open seats that were left for 2013.

Vautier grabbed one of those seats earlier this week when he was chosen by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to drive the team's second car as a compliment to fellow countryman Simon Pagenaud. He also brings $1 million in Road to Indy scholarship money with him as the 2012 Indy Lights champion.

He has been nothing but impressive since coming to the United States in 2010 to drive in the Star Mazda Series, posting 10 wins and 16 podiums to go along with two championships (he was the Star Mazda champ in 2011), and his pairing with Pagenaud should be a comfortable one that benefits both drivers.

In Pagenaud, Vautier gets a talented, experienced driver who can help him through the learning curve after going through it himself last year as he finished fifth in points and earned the 2012 IndyCar Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Pagenaud, the only single-car team driver in the top 10 in the points in 2012, gets a teammate that can give him valuable information that may not have been available last year.

I like the move because it shows that the ladder program works. A majority of drivers now in IndyCar competed in one of the ladder series at one time or another, and hopefully IndyCar keeps the ladder and scholarship programs going, because if you want to see American drivers in the series, this is how it's going to happen.

JR Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden are two Americans who came up through Indy Lights (Newgarden is also a scholarship recipient), and Zach Veach and Conor Daly could both only be a couple of years away (although Daly has taken a detour through Europe). I hope the people who plan on following the series "when there are more Americans to root for" are paying attention so they can jump on the bandwagon sometime down the road.

Please...if that is the only thing keeping someone from following IndyCar, I feel bad for them because they are so short-sided, and if they are, TFB, because they are missing some good stuff on the racetrack.

What I also like is that Vautier has earned this, from every level at which he has competed. One of the things I hear talked about a lot is that Vautier doesn't have a lot of money or someone backing him, he's had to dig and work hard for his rides, and that is admirable. Not only that, it's also the fact that he is doing this mostly on his talent.

So that drops one more domino, and makes you wonder where Ryan Briscoe is ending up. The clock is now ticking on Ryan, and you have to really shake your head and wonder how a driver with his credentials is not in a car somewhere. It sure is the new normal, isn't it?

OK, if you want to argue that he has had the best of the best, I'll give you that. But there are several drivers who Roger Penske has employed over the years that haven't got it done with the same advantages, and there have been drivers with other teams, such as Andretti Autosport, that couldn't get their car to the front despite being with an elite team.
You still have to drive the car and compete, and more often than not Briscoe gets cars to the front. He has won eight times, has been on the podium 27 total times and has been in the Top 10 in more than half his career starts. Why wouldn't you want him driving your car?

I get the economics of it, but still, it's unfortunate to see it happening, just like it was with Dan Wheldon a couple of years back. The guy deserves better.

(Note: I'm sure within a couple of hours of writing this, Marshall Pruett will come up with some awesome story to confirm something for Briscoe this year. It usually happens, but I'm not mad.)

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