Indy Car Series: Top 10 "Free Agents" Looking to Fill Open Rides in 500
With the Month of May looming, and open rides still on the entry-list, I figured we'd take a look at the Top 10 available drivers to nab rides in the coming weeks in the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. Not all of these ten will hop behind the wheel and make a go for it, but for fun lets look at the top 10 "free agents."
10. J.K. Vernay (R)
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I know it would be a long shot, but that's why I put him in at number 10. Vernay was rumored to be in position for the second car at Conquest Racing for this season, but lack of sponsorship halted those plans. He tested well at Sebring this winter in the Conquest Racing ride, but a team grabbing a rookie this late would be a long shot, especially since fellow rookie Pippa Mann got sponsorship and will drive the #36 Conquest Racing Honda next month.
J.K. had a very successful season in the Firestone Indy Lights series in 2010, nabbing the series Championship. and a season high five wins and three poles.
9. Mario Romancini
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Mario has been quiet on the racing scene since he was let go by Conquest Racing after the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton last season. Don't be shocked to see him roaming around the Speedway in the Month of May looking to grab a ride for the 100th Anniversary of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
Mario finished 13th last year in his only 500 start, and was the highest finishing rookie in the race. He was severely underpowered compared to his competition, but managed to work his way up for a great finish. Owners look for drivers to bring home the car in one piece and get a decent finish, especially in this race when the payout is so much higher than any other race.
8. Mario Moraes
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Coming in at number 8 is another Mario. This time it's Mario Moraes. Moraes has been fast every year in Indy, but his lack of patience has been the reason he doesn't have a ride right now. If you want to get the car in the field Moraes is the way to go, but if you want it to come back in one piece, he may not be your guy.
7. Scott Speed
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This could be the most intriguing driver to land a ride for the 500. Speed may be the longest shot on the list for the fact he hasn't been behind the wheel of an Izod Indy Car Series car, but he has experience behind the wheel in about every other series. He most recently lost his ride with Team Red Bull in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, so he would be available to drive immediately.
Scott is no stranger to open wheel racing being that he raced in Formula One from 2005-2007. He competed at the Speedway in every year he raced in Formula One with his best finish being 13th.
If you want someone to bring you exposure and have a cool racing name Scott Speed can be your guy.
6.. Buddy Lazier
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The 1996 Indianapolis 500 Champ would be a great proven Champion to field in a car. He joins the list in the middle only because he hasn't made the 500 since 2008. In 2009 he was too slow and got bumped from the starting field on bump day. Other than that he would be a great veteran to put in the show for the 100th Anniversary.
Lazier has 6 top 10 finishes in 16 500 starts. As before mentioned he won the 1996 Indy 500. If you're looking for a solid veteran to get your car in the show and bring it home with a solid top 20 Buddy is your guy.
5. Jacques Lazier
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Buddy's younger brother Jacques joins my list in 5th. Jacques is known to roam the garage area and pits in the month of May looking for rides. Jacques has started in six Indy 500s, but drove in seven. In 2004 Jacques didn't start, but relieved Robby Gordon in the race, because of a rain delay that forced Robby to leave and go to Charlotte and run in the NASCAR race.
Jacques doesn't have much luck at the Speedway with failing to make the race last year driving for AJ Foyt in the #41 ABC Supply Co Honda. He took the ride from AJ Foyt's grandson A.J. IVth on the morning of bump day. He never got the car fast enough to make the show. His previous finishes were as follows:
2004: 29th* replaced Robby Gordon
If you're looking for a Jacques Lazier autograph, it's a sure bet he will be roaming the Speedway grounds looking for a ride this May.
4. Scott Sharp
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Scott would come to the Speedway with a lot of Indy Car and 500 experience. He currently has 14 Indy 500 starts with the most recent coming in 2009. Scott started on the pole of the 500 in 2001, although his race was ended very early on a lap one turn one wreck.
Scott currently still holds records in the Izod Indy Car Series. He hold the most career starts with 147, most consecutive starts with 138, and most races running at the finish with 110.
Scott would be a great driver to hire and you can be assured he would immediately be fast enough to get the car in the show, and with a record 110 races running at the finish, you know he would most likely bring the car home in one piece.
3. Alex Lloyd
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The 2007 Firestone Indy Lights Champion comes in 3rd on my list of available drivers. Alex is a two time Indianapolis Motor Speedway Champ in the Indy Lights Series, so he knows what it takes to win at the Speedway. Lloyd also has three starts in the 500, with his best finish coming last year with a 4th place finish with underfunded Coyne Racing. He drove a remarkable race and was strong all day. In 2009 Lloyd started 11th and finished 13th completing all 200 laps. His rookie run in 2008 ended with a scary wreck off of turn 4 shooting him down pit road. He started 19th in 08 and finished 25th.
My prediction is he will end up back with Coyne this year driving the #19 Boys Scouts of America Honda.
2. Hideki Mutoh
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Hideki comes in as my 2nd best available driver to steal a ride and qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The former Andretti Autosport and Newman/Hass Racing driver has 3 Indy 500 starts on his resume. With two top 10 finishes in the 500 in 2008 and 2009, and two top 10 starts in 2008 and 2010, he would be a great driver to put in your car.
Hideki runs very well at the Speedway and keeps the car off the wall. In 2008 Mutoh was the fastest rookie qualifier starting 9th, and the 2nd highest finishing rookie in the field with a 7th place finish. In 2009 he started off mid pack in 16th, but rallied to finish all the way up in 10th completing all 500 miles. In 2010 it started off great for Mutoh qualifying once again outside row 3 in 9th place, but an ill handling race car forced Hideki out on lap 76 and left him with a disappointing 28th place finish.
1. Sam Hornish Jr.
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Sam comes in as my top "free agent" left to fill a seat in the 500. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 Champion would fill in very nicely. Sam most recently was released of his driving duties in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after three disappointing seasons for Team Penske. He is currently under contract to run select Nationwide Series races, but will have Memorial Day weekend open.
If I'm an owner I'd have Sam in a seat now. I know he said there's a good chance he won't run this year, but why not try. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is special, and once we get closer to Opening Day he will get the itch to come back and race again.
Sam has driven in eight 500's (2000-2007) for three different teams, PDM Racing, Panther, and Penske. He beat Marco Andretti in 2006 for the second closest finish in 500 history.
Sam also has three Izod Indy Car Series Championships to his resume, so if there's a guy you want behind the wheel to win you the 500, Sam's the guy.
Sam has two very good opportunities to hop in a ride in May. He could go back to Panther Racing, a team in which he won two of his three Izod Indy Car Series Championships. He would be a great veteran driver to help the team with their main driver rookie J.R. Hildebrand. Sam's experience would pay dividends in J.R.'s career. Panther is interested in having a two car effort this year at the 500, and Sam would make sense.
Another option would be to run for his current Nationwide Series team owner Roger Penske. Sam won the 2006 Indianapolis 500 and Izod Indy Car Series Championship with Roger, and has driven for Roger in NASCAR since 2008. Roger currently has three drivers entered in the race, but would love to match his long time rival Chip Ganassi with four cars. Ganassi has four cars entered and with four cars has one more option to win the big race than Penske right now.