MONTEREY, Calif. — The operable phrase around the paddock at Laguna Seca Raceway Friday was, "It's a done deal, believe me."
The Champion Spark Plug 300 here Sunday will be the final CART Indy-car race of the 1990 season and there are a number of seat assignments still vacant as teams and drivers begin looking forward to 1991.
Al Unser Jr. has already clinched the championship and its $400,000 bonus, so most of the talk between practice and qualifying sessions was about who might be going where.
"It's a done deal. Danny Sullivan will sign any minute now with Alfa Romeo and drive next year for Pat Patrick," said one Patrick insider.
Minutes later, across the paddock in another motorhome, a Sullivan confidant said, "Believe me, it's a done deal. Danny is going to Newman-Haas to take Michael Andretti's spot as Mario's teammate."
And where is Michael Andretti going?
"Michael's going to Formula One to drive the Bennetton Ford in place of Sandro Nannini," confided another insider. "It's a done deal."
Curiously, a helicopter crash last week near Florence, Italy, triggered most of the speculation. It involved Nannini, one of the more promising young Formula One drivers. His right arm was severed and his left hand was crushed when his chopper crashed in the garden of his father's home as his wife, his father and his brother watched.
Nannini's arm was grafted back in a lengthy operation, by Carlo Bufarini, Italy's leading micro-surgeon, but even if the arm regains its strength, Nannini's hand was apparently so severely damaged that driving a Formula One car is out of the question.
Michael Andretti, who has often said his ambition was to drive in Formula One, as did his father, Mario, was offered the ride with Bennetton Ford.
Before the accident, Sullivan had been projected as the driver of the Patrick Alfa, replacing Roberto Guerrero, who was let go after struggling with the new car through its development pains.
Sullivan, the 1985 Indy 500 winner and 1988 national driving champion, became available after he was cut loose by Roger Penske when Marlboro, Penske's No. 1 sponsor, wanted a two-car team of Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi for next year.
Michael Andretti said after practice, "I'd have loved the chance but it looks like Danny's gone too far in his negotiations with Alfa, so I guess I'll have to look at 1992 for Formula One."
However, a team representative said: "Danny (Sullivan) hasn't actually signed yet (with Alfa). Something could still happen."
Don Henderson, personal agent for the Andrettis, said there was no chance that Michael was leaving for Europe.
"We ironed things out at a team meeting this morning, and he is definitely staying where he is for 1991," Henderson said. "It's a done deal," he said, laughing.
Another Andretti may be joining the Indy-car circuit next year. Jeff, younger brother of Michael, is apparently going to move into Bruce Leven's car as a replacement for Dominic Dobson. If he does, a Chevrolet engine contract--an important ingredient in forming a winning team--is expected to come with him.
And still another Andretti, John, who is a cousin of Michael and Jeff, has done his deal. With Porsche announcing its retirement from Indy-car racing after Sunday's 300-kilometer race here, John has signed to drive next year for Jim Hall's new Chevrolet-powered team. Sunday will mark the end of the Porsche experiment, which began here in 1987.
One reason that many of the "done deals" can't be announced is that the public relations directors and the sponsors have to plan announcement parties.
One deal that \o7 is \f7 done involves the Galles-Kraco championship team of Unser and Bobby Rahal. It received a new three-year contract Friday from Valvoline, its major sponsor.
Rick Mears had Friday's fastest lap, 109.461 m.p.h., with more qualifying scheduled today. Mario Andretti was at 109.225.