Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
'07 Season Sees Many Familiar Faces In New Places
Scott Sharp isn't in the Delphi car. Danica Patrick is no longer with Bobby Rahal. Buddy Rice has a new team. Sarah Fisher is back in the series. Anthony Foyt IV isn't driving for his grandfather. Kosuke Matsuura is at a different address.
The Indy Racing League doesn't have many new faces in 2007, but it certainly does sport some new looks in the lineup.
Sharp, the only driver from the IRL's first race in 1996 who is still competing, embarks on his 12th season with new sponsors and a fresh start at Rahal Letterman Racing.
"I think I'm coming to the Rahal Letterman team at a time when they're really hungry to get back to the top and so am I," said the 39-year-old veteran, who shared the initial IRL championship with Buzz Calkins.
"I know that personally, I certainly came off 2006 very unhappy with our results and very hungry to get back to the front. I think I'm moving at the right time."
The man with 121 consecutive starts and nine victories spent a decade with Delphi as his sponsorship partner. Now, he's got Patron tequila backing his effort.
"I thought about starting my own team but I want to concentrate on driving and I think I'm driving as good as I ever have, so running a business and all that stuff can wait," said Sharp.
"I feel like the best is yet to come and I can't wait for '07 to get started."
Sharp stepped in to fill one of the seats left open by Patrick's departure to Andretti Green Racing, where Motorola stepped up to be her primary sponsor.
"I'll always be grateful to Bobby [Rahal] for taking a chance on me and taking me up to this level," said the first female to ever lead the Indianapolis 500. "But he's concentrating on his son's [Graham's] career and that's perfectly understandable. It's just that I had a great opportunity in front of me.
"I think learning from [Andretti Green teammates] Tony [Kanaan] and Dario [Franchitti] will be the best thing that's happened to me in a long time."
The aggressive 25-year-old struggled in 2006 and was constantly bombarded with the same old question about winning her first race, but she handles the press as easily as a 225 mph IndyCar.
"Of course I'm frustrated and of course I want to win and I'm at the point where I just want to get the first one out of the way," she said. "I can't wait and it will be a big relief."
Following his Indy win and run for the title in '04, Rice was injured in 2005
and had a tough time last year. Instead of returning to Rahal Letterman, he
moved over to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, where he
senses a new commitment.
"It starts at the top, and Dennis [Reinbold] and Robbie [Buhl, co-owner] don't run at the back anymore," said Rice. "And I certainly don't want to run back there like I did the last two years. I haven't forgotten how to drive and we both have something to prove.
"They've gone out and ramped up their engineering department and I don't see why this group can't be inside the Top 10 solidly, week-in and week-out."
Rice's teammate for all the oval races will be the IRL's Most Popular Driver from 2000-2003, and Ms. Fisher is thrilled to get a second chance.
"I didn't think my open-wheel career was over because I kept hearing there were some possibilities and then, thankfully, Dennis [Reinbold] asked me if I'd be interested in driving his car. I couldn't say 'yes' fast enough," said the first woman to win an IndyCar pole and the only woman to ever score a podium finish [twice].
"I'm going to come back and show people I'm a first-class driver who belongs here."
Fisher isn't making predictions, but likes what she's seen in testing.
"This is the best package Dreyer & Reinbold have ever put together, the slickest race cars and the most knowledgeable people," she said. "I started in Indy Cars when I was 19 and now I'm 26 and I've grown up a lot and learned a lot.
"I think people are happy to see me back in the IRL and I know I'm thrilled."
After dabbling in stock cars most of 2006, Foyt filled in for the injured Dario Franchitti at Andretti Green Racing in last year's finale, and he impressed Tony George enough to land a ride at Vision Racing.
"Indy Cars are my first love and I'm thankful that Tony gave me a ride," he said. "With Tomas Scheckter] and Ed [Carpenter] for teammates, we should be able to share a lot of information and make each other faster."
Matsuura, meanwhile, took his Panasonic sponsorship to Panther Racing, where he'll be teamed with Vitor Meira.