INDIANAPOLIS — Pato O’Ward is back with Arrow McLaren SP. Oliver Askew is out. Felix Rosenqvist won’t be returning to Chip Ganassi Racing but rather replacing Askew with McLaren. All this happened in just the first three days of the week.
It’s started a domino effect to which could lead to a wild few months of Silly Season. So, what’s next?
As we head into the finale next weekend on the same St. Pete streets, I still count 12 rides that have openings between now and when we come back in five months.
Those rides that are open are as follows –
Chip Ganassi Racing: No. 8 and No. 10 Honda’s
Andretti Autosport: No. 26, No. 28 and No. 98 Honda’s
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing: No. 30 Honda
Dale Coyne Racing: No. 18 and No. 55 Honda’s
Arrow McLaren SP: No. 7 Chevrolet
Ed Carpenter Racing: No. 20 (part-time?), No. 21 Chevrolet’s
AJ Foyt Racing: No. 4 Chevrolet
There’s also talks of expansions to these teams too. 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.”
“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.
“Our goal is to grow,” Foyt said when announcing Sebastien Bourdais’ signing. “This is a big piece of that, a big part of that, to start that.”
“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.”
Team Penske seems to be expanding back to a four car operation again with the same three drivers returning with Scott McLaughlin coming onboard in the fourth car. Chip Ganassi Racing once looked to be expanding but may just stay put at three cars. Jimmie Johnson looks to be taking over the 10 seat on all road/street courses since it’s fully funded by NTT Data and the favorite to split duties on the ovals with him is Tony Kanaan. The third car is likely heading towards Marcus Ericsson again so long as he can secure the same amount of funding.
“We’re still in talks,” said the second year driver to me at Indy a few weeks ago. “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.”
Ericsson, 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.”
The third and potential fourth seats come down to the almighty dollar. Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou have also been in contact with they’re short on money to get that seat.
Palou, told me in Indy 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.”
VeeKay has a bright future in the sport, but with whom?
VeeKay, does have some funding and if it doesn’t work for Ganassi, it may be enough elsewhere.
“I have no contract yet,” VeeKay told me in Indy. “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 Indy 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.”
Right now, Ganassi has Dixon in the 9, likely Johnson/Kanaan in the 10, Ericsson as the favorite in the 8, but it’s a combo of Ericsson, VeeKay and Palou for the third and fourth seat.
Also, don’t fully count out an Oliver Askew, Helio Castroneves or Juan Pablo Montoya deal with Ganassi either. The thing is for them though, they would need to likely bring money.
If they don’t land there, Ed Carpenter Racing could take a look. Team owner Ed Carpenter said back in August that he would absolutely take a look at Castroneves.
“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.”
If VeeKay leaves, Ed has some decisions to make. The 21 car is full time. The 20 car could go to full time if Ed decides to just bring that third car out that he typically runs at Indy for him now. I mean, there’s only three oval race weekends. Why not go back to two full time drivers with Carpenter in a third seat?
The thing that could hinder that is if the No. 20 entry falls out of the top 22 in the entrant points and doesn’t receive the leaders circle money.
Still, Castroneves and Montoya should get looks from ECR but another driver would love nothing more to return. That’s Conor Daly. His future is all dependent on US Air Force.
“I hope so,” Daly said to me. “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.”
Daly, could also take his funding back to Andretti and take over the 26 too. But, it sounds to me as if he’d like to just stay put at ECR.
For Andretti, I don’t see Marco firing himself so as long as he wants to still be full time, I can see him back in the 98. Rossi and Herta are back in their rides. Gainbridge is back but will they stay on the 26 car or move to Herta’s 88 car? James Hinchcliffe is trying hard to come back to Andretti but nothing is set yet. The 26 car may not be in the cards for him but there’s another path too stay though. If DHL doesn’t return to the 28, then Ryan Hunter-Reay may be gone which paves a path for someone else. Some have said Santino Ferrucci, but that appears to be gone now.
“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.”
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.
But, back to Andretti. They’ll need funding from whomever but have Gainbridge there too. Montoya, Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Oliver Askew, VeeKay or anyone else intriguing would be a good fit there.
Carlin and Foyt will likely be the last dominos but they can do so because look at the talent pool available. Not all of those drivers above will land somewhere and some may still have some funding left to take to Carlin or Foyt too.