Where IndyCar’s silly season sits now, expansion the talk of the paddock

INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais has a full time ride again. He will race the final three events of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season as well as the full slate in 2021 in the famed No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing. This move should start a flurry over silly season moves in the Indy Car paddock this Fall. 

The thing is though, expansion is on the radar for several teams. That shows you just how well that this series has been run lately. We’re in a pandemic still. Business are in a fight for their lives around this world just trying to stay afloat. Nothing as we know it now is the same as it was in early spring. 

Still, while business in terms of revenue has taken a hit not just in INDYCAR, but most other places too, a good sign of things to come is on the horizon. I mean, just look at the hints being dropped of maybe even adding more cars to the grid as soon as 2021. 

Jimmie Johnson will try INDYCAR next year, but how many races?

Chip Ganassi signed Jimmie Johnson with the plan to run all road/street courses next season. That is a new ride, not him taking one of the other three drivers’ seats. That’s a +1 in my book for car counts. 

Roger Penske may even add another car again. While Tim Cindric isn’t keen on having more than three full time cars, we know Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are back for Penske in 2021, but it’s also rumored that Will Power is too. If that’s the case, the team certainly has plans for Scott McLaughlin to come over. To what capacity? If all three current drivers are back, that means they will have a fourth car in at the very least some races next year if not a potential for a full season. I mean, they’re shuttering their two car IMSA program at seasons end, they can move all of those resources back to INDYCAR for a fourth team again too. 

Michael Andretti says that he’d like to keep five full time cars again. Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi aren’t going anywhere. Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach are free agents. I don’t see Marco firing himself and he just won the pole last month for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He’s not leaving. I can’t see Hunter-Reay going anywhere either unless DHL completely leaves. The only ride left would be if Veach can bring funding again. If not, Andretti has talked openly about how much he’d love to bring James Hinchcliffe back full time. That could be a destination for him. 

Jack Harvey will be back for a 3rd straight season with MSR

They could also keep their alliance with Meyer Shank Racing who confirmed last week that they’ll be back with Jack Harvey in 2021. They also would like to expand to a second car. Does Veach, Hinchcliffe or someone else land in that seat if sponsorship is found?

When asked if he’s thinking about an expansion to his IndyCar operation, Michael Shank said bluntly, “yes.”

“We are thinking about a small expansion, only if it’s the right timing, yes,” he continued. “We’re a team that eventually will be a two-car team. I don’t know when that will be, but I can guarantee you this, it won’t be until we’re ready. I made that promise to Jack a long time ago, to Jim Meyer, my wife, that are part of this ownership group. Someday, too, whenever that someday can be, it will be when everything aligns.

“If it happens at any time, we thought through all the pros and cons, ultimately does it help Jack, does it benefit the 60 car at all. Who can we bring in to add to the program overall, whether it’s the team and engineering or with Jack as driving. Who do we think is going to add to this group, with our set of personalities, the people we have here, which are very handpicked.

“Everyone says that, but I promise you I’ve spent 26 years building a business relying on people. I’ve got many people that have worked for me for 20 years, and Jack knows a lot of them.

“If we can afford it, yes. What does it do to the whole program, help or hurt. Does it give a greater potential for the whole group. Does the tide rise.”

That sounds like another Ohio team owner in Bobby Rahal. Here’s what he said about a possible addition of a third car again. 

“I think we’d like to run a third car, but it really has to make sense,” Rahal said. “It really has to be someone who can contribute to the team. I’m not interested in running a third car just to say we’ve got a third car. We’ve kind of done that before. A lot of teams have done that. That second or third car doesn’t really contribute. It really becomes a drag on a team. We don’t want that. We work too hard to kind of create the situation that exists today.

“I think with our organization we still can be better, for sure. None of us in the team thinks we’re as good as we can be, so we’re going to continue to push, continue to try to bring good people in, build the foundation and the depth of the team from a mechanical standpoint, an engineering standpoint, you name it.

“First things first. Fortunately Graham’s sponsors are with us for several more years, so that’s a big plus for a team. As I say, I think Takuma wants to continue with us, we certainly want him to. That’s going to allow us to kind of see what’s out there. Again, it has to be contributory to the success of the team in the future. It can’t just be, as I say, running a car for the sake of running a car.”

Sato has won 2 Indy 500s in 4 years, he will be a coveted man

Eerily similar. Rahal said that while Sato is a free agent, they’re both working to stay together again for a fourth straight season. 

“I think the best thing I can tell you is that both Takuma and us, we want to work together again next year,” Rahal continued. “Takuma is, what, 43. I was racing when I was 45 and competitive. There’s no reason he can’t be either. He already is. We’ve had a number of good years with Takuma. We’d be silly not to want to continue with that. Nothing is formally done, but certainly we both would like to stay together.”

Another expansion could be with Foyt too. I think everyone took yesterday’s news that they were hosting a future of the team press conference a day later as that they were shutting down. That’s far from the case. In fact, Larry Foyt has eyes on expansion still. 

“Our goal is to grow,” Foyt said on Tuesday. “This is a big piece of that, a big part of that, to start that.”

Kimball was brought in for his set up help, he and Bourdais would make a great team for Foyt

So, who drives the second car? Is Charlie Kimball back? Is there two full time cars and third part time one?

“Not certain at the moment,” Foyt continued. “We’ll certainly be two cars. If the right opportunity came to grow to three, we would do it the right way, we would potentially look at that.

“We’re talking to all our current guys right now. It’s a bit open at the time. We’re just going to see where that shakes out. This was the first piece that we wanted to get in place, and now we’ll start working on the others.”

Expansion would be huge. There’s been talks of expansions in the past but they were just that, talk. This year, there’s more substance to that punch and I take them at their words that we can even an even higher car count for 2021. 

Ed Carpenter Racing is taking a look at Helio Castroneves. Ed Carpenter admitted that last month. 

“I would never rule it out,” Carpenter said of Castroneves joining the team. “I think Helio is an amazing talent. I’m not going to knock a guy for his age, being old myself. We’re similar in age, although I think he’s a couple years older than me.

“I know that the passion is still there for him. It wasn’t his decision fully, I don’t think, to be a full-time sports car driver at this point. His heart has been in INDYCAR the whole time. I’ve had friendly discussions with him just as a friend over his time in sports cars.

“If there’s an opportunity, I would 100% be in interested in working with a guy like Helio. I know he wants to add his name to the list of four-time winners. He’s going to be motivated for that for a while.”

Does that cost Rinus VeeKay a seat or does VeeKay return, Carpenter slide into a second full time seat and Carpenter move to a third part time seat for ovals only? What happens to Conor Daly? Carlin would be wise to hire him full time in their second car and bring someone else in to drive the ovals with Max Chilton taking all road/street courses. Juan Pablo Montoya? Tony Kanaan?

Right now, here’s what we know is happening – 

Chevrolet (11-18)

Team Penske (3-4) – Newgarden, Pagenaud are back. Power and McLaughlin in the mix for the 3rd seat and maybe an expansion to 4. 

Arrow McLaren SP (2-3) – No way they let Pato O’Ward get away. That would be foolish. Oliver Askew could be back as I don’t see them letting him go unless Sergio Perez is offered his seat. They can even expand to just three full time cars too since Alonso won’t be back over here until 2023 at the earliest. 

AJ Foyt Racing (2-3) – Bourdais is in the 14. The 4 will be back. Will it be 1 full time driver or multiple drivers sharing the seat? Does the third car come out full time then?

Ed Carpenter Racing (2-3) – Carpenter will do ovals only. Does he bring out a third car just for that and move to two full time cars again? VeeKay has proven he should remain in that seat but the team has said Castroneves is in play too. Do they sign both and bring out a third car for Carpenter?

Carlin (1-2) – I don’t see Chilton going away so he would need a part time driver for all ovals to share his seat with him. They could give that seat to Daly again or be wise and pay Daly to be their full time driver and bring out a second car again. 

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1-2) – They’ve showed up to Indy the last few years now with two cars but their plan is to expand to more races in the future. They’ve done so with Sage Karam a couple of occurrences this season. COVID halted some of those plans, but I don’t see them not trying again to expand their program in 2021. 

DragonSpeed (1) – They just ran Indy this year but from what they’re saying, they’re coming back in 2021 with more races instead of just one now. 

Honda (14-16)

Andretti Autosport (5) – Two drivers (Herta, Rossi) are back. I don’t see Andretti leaving his own team and how can you let go of Hunter-Reay? Veach may be the odd man out if he doesn’t bring money again but Hinchcliffe, Askew, Castroneves, Kanaan, Montoya, etc could be in the cars for that fifth seat too. 

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – They’ve expanded from 2 to 3 cars for this season. They’ll go from 3-4 for next. Scott Dixon would return but they’d not be wise to let Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson walk. I think they remain status quo and bring in Johnson’s fourth seat. For ovals, Castroneves, Montoya, Kanaan and others could be in the mix. 

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2-3) – Graham Rahal is back. The team wants Takuma Sato back and it sounds like Sato wants back too. Spencer Pigot ran select races in a third car this year with Citrone Buhl. I can see this expanding to more races in 2021 too. 

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – Santino Ferrucci should be back but if he’s not, that’s a fully funded car from SealMaster sitting there. Daly would jump at that chance if given. Ferrucci would be in play for seats from Andretti to McLaren to RLL, etc. I don’t see DCR letting him go unless they don’t hold his option. The second seat is a pay for play seat and Alex Palou right now says he doesn’t have anything planned to be back in that ride for 2021. He wants to, but he needs money. Do they make it happen or does a deadline came and go and he finds money and lands elsewhere. 

Meyer Shank Racing (1-2) – Harvey is back but as I said above, they’re eyeing future expansion. Does that happen this offseason?

As you can see, if all these teams expand, that’s 34 cars. That’s not going to happen full time but, you get the sense IndyCar is going to have tons of growth.

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