INDIANAPOLIS — It may be race weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but some of the focus in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock remains on 2021 too. I mean, lets be honest here, this is Scott Dixon’s championship to lose. So, with the season winding down, might as well focus on getting deals together for next year while we’re at it.
Right now, all signs point to several drivers returning to their current seats in 2021. We know Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are definitely back with Team Penske for next season. Will Power is almost certain to be back while Scott McLaughlin is there waiting in the wings to either replace Power or be an addition to the team.
Andretti only has Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi back. The other three seats are available. I don’t see Marco Andretti firing himself while one rumor going around now is Santino Ferrucci taking Ryan Hunter-Reay’s seat. I asked Ferrucci about that. It sounds like he’s coming back to Coyne though.
“I’m pretty much set to be back,” Ferrucci told me on his contract status for 2021. “Obviously waiting on a couple more things and Dale. I want to be back. I want to be back with the same team, same crew, same engineering. I really think that we can do something big.”
Another topic for Andretti is Conor Daly bringing US Air Force back. But, Daly says that he’s hopeful to stay put with Ed Carpenter Racing instead. His future depends on if US Air Force will return for 2021 in the first place.
“I hope so,” Daly said. “I don’t know. I’ve still yet to progress to where I’m a driver without a sponsor. I’m still just me with the Air Force. I want to continue to make that relationship a successful one. I think this year is a really hard to judge anything because they couldn’t use their on track activations. I’m hoping we basically get a redo and say that didn’t work and get to try it again next year. A full go and everything is back to normal then we can really make it work. I think a lot of stuff we did together was really cool. They see that and take that into account.
“Realistically, my entire life hinges on if the Air Force wasn’t to come back and be involved and we’re definitely trying to make that happen with ECR for sure because I’d like to be with these guys again and be at all the races. I want to go to Long Beach. I want to go to Detroit. I want to go to all of these races I didn’t get to go to this year.
“These government deals. They’re the only ones here. When it comes to November, we have to go in and say here’s what we want to do. I personally want to be back with ECR again and hopefully in a full time sense and not just the road and street courses. Hopefully now, seeing the schedule, there’s only three ovals. I hope we can just put it together with one car and one ride, one team. But, I’m still willing to do anything.”
Chip Ganassi Racing has Scott Dixon returning but that’s it. Jimmie Johnson is set to race on all 13 road/street courses, but is that in a fourth car or does one of the other two leave? Both Felix Rosenqvist and his countrymate Marcus Ericsson don’t have contracts right now for 2021.
“I’m on a 2 year contract so it’s up in the air,” Rosenqvist told me. “Everything looks good though.”
Ericsson, also said he’s on a one-year deal but says he wants to return next season as well.
“We’re still in talks,” said the second year driver. “From my side and my management we want to keep going. From what I understand the team has been happy with me and my progress. I think it’s a common interest to continue and the 8 car program to continue. There’s a lot more things to fall into pieces before it’s done. The goal is to continue no question about that.”
Rosenqvist, has proven that if given another year to learn the tracks even further, he has a ton of potential. He’s not yet hit his ceiling.
“I’m starting to feel really comfortable on these tracks and this series,” he continued. “I think last year was a very steep learning curve for me. I thought I didn’t really show my potential. I’ve been really happy with that. I think people are noticing as well and are always there putting it in the mix. I’ve been happy with that and hopefully continue this for Year 3 and be with Ganassi again next year. I think that would really be interesting what we could do on another season.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has an opening at he moment as Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is a free agent. But, both sides want a return for a fourth straight year together.
“I think in a nutshell is different,” Sato said. “Everything is a work and go. It’s just about adjusting the last parts. I’m expecting to come back.”
If Ferrucci says, then they have one seat open with Alex Palou a free agent too. If Ferrucci bolts last minute, then DCR has two seats available.
Palou, told me on Friday that it’s not looking good on the contract front for 2021 now.
“It’s been tough,” Palou said of this season. “2020 has been tough for everybody not only for me. It’s been hard because we showed almost every weekend that we had speed. The speed was there. Even on ovals. But, we didn’t really get the results. If you look at the results, I think we’re 17th but if you look at the results on the races and qualifying and free practices, we’ve never been 17th except for now. It’s been tough but it is what it is. We have to take it. We have to learn from it.
“But, it’s tough to say to somebody when you’re like that far back as I am. It’s a good thing to have pace everywhere but it’s hard to go to a guy and say give me a chance when he may say ‘oh man I don’t know if I can give you a chance.’ Hopefully we can have another chance. That would be a dream. I don’t think that we did enough. We tried but I don’t think we have the results to deserve another year.
“It’s looking bad. It’s a bad year for everybody to commit. It’s hard to commit without the sponsors with the results that we’re having. It’s going to be tough but we’re still pushing.”
Carlin’s status is unknown. Do they bring the second car out again or still need just an oval driver to split with Max Chilton?
AJ Foyt Racing has Sebastien Bourdais in the 14 but working out who to put in the 4. We know the 4 will definitely be back.
Jack Harvey is back with Meyer Shank Racing while as Daly said, ECR is still weighing their options. Carpenter now only has four races that he can race next year with being oval only, does he just bring out a third car for himself now and move Daly to full time in a second car? Is Helio Castroneves an option still? I know Rinus VeeKay is still a free agent.
“I have no contract yet,” VeeKay told me. “I hope I can make sure I have one as soon as possible. I haven’t really talked to him (Ed Carpenter). My management takes care of that to make sure I focus on the racing. Once that is done I can jump in on that.”
VeeKay said that the pole certainly helps his cause for 2021.
“I just want to drive INDYCAR next season full time,” VeeKay said. “Having a pole helps that. I think we’re doing all fine for next year and we’ll we on where we’ll drive and how it goes.”
Castroneves could end up at Arrow McLaren SP if Oliver Askew isn’t back or even if they expand to a third team.
As you can see, Silly Season is going to be wild again with 13 of the full time rides for the taking. How many of those 13 drivers return to those seats?