Chip Ganassi Racing is close to finalizing the identity of Dario Franchitti's replacement in its No. 10 IndyCar and expects an announcement before the holidays.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Franchitti announced his medically enforced retirement last month.
The team's managing director Mike Hull said: "We decided that the best thing for us to do, because we're not pressed, is just to get a good vision of the landscape. And yeah, we're getting closer -- finally. I guess we have been contacted by 40 to 50 people that you'd consider to be candidates to drive an IndyCar. I think [the announcement] will be before the holidays."
Interest in the seat has not been limited to US-based drivers, with ex-McLaren Formula 1 racer Sergio Perez among those to eye Ganassi. Hull said that the specific demands of IndyCar, coupled with limited testing, made series experience important.
"I think IndyCar experience is at 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.
"You just don't get anything like that in an intermediate-sized car—you have to drive an IndyCar on an oval in order to learn to drive an IndyCar on an oval. The second thing that happens is that an IndyCar runs two-hour races, and you need to have drivers who understand that physically. And that in turn controls the mental side of what you're doing. With wheel-to-wheel action non-stop for the pretty much the entire time, you can see how important that is."
Hull said F1's comparable race lengths would assist the learning curve for a grand prix driver moving across. But asked if Rubens Barrichello's tough IndyCar season in 2012 suggested a long F1 pedigree alone was not enough, Hull replied: "That's true. I agree with that.
"One thing that a Formula 1 driver does have is that they've raced for two hours under a lot of pressure. Barrichello didn't make a lot of mistakes [in IndyCar], did he? So I think that shows you where a driver from that would be in an IndyCar.
"He's not learning to drive a longer-distance race. He's just learning to drive an IndyCar. And that's one big step right there."
Ryan Briscoe has been strongly linked with the seat, while Alex Tagliani reprised his understudy spot from the Fontana finale when he drove the No. 10 in testing at Sebring on Wednesday.
According to Hull, Tagliani's primary role was to provide the team with an additional reference point on its debut with Chevrolet power and new arrival Tony Kanaan.