INDIANAPOLIS — Its been a busy last six days on the NTT IndyCar Series front. Scott McLaughlin was announced last Friday for an expanded fourth Team Penske program. That set off the dominoes as we’ve since had several more driver announcements after.
Both Takuma Sato (Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing) and Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing) will return to their respective teams. Ed Carpenter also said that he will be back in the No. 20 Chevrolet on ovals only again.
Then, Felix Rosenqvist and Arrow McLaren SP announced that the Swedish driver will leave Chip Ganassi Racing and join their program in replacing the departing Oliver Askew. Rosenqvist will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet. That comes after the team announced that Pato O’Ward will be returning to the No. 5 Chevrolet a few weeks ago.
Chip Ganassi Racing was the next team to jump in. Last Saturday, it was unveiled that Jimmie Johnson will drive the No. 48 Honda for the team on all road/street courses. Carvana will sponsor. They’re looking for a driver for the ovals.
Then, they announced on Wednesday of this past week that Marcus Ericsson will be back in the No. 8 Honda and on Thursday that Alex Palou will replace Rosenqvist in the No. 10 Honda for the expanded four car outfit.
So, what’s left?
You have drivers like Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Spencer Pigot and James Hinchcliffe who are eyeing full time seats. You also have current drivers like Conor Daly, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Santino Ferrucci, Oliver Askew and Charlie Kimball who are trying to remain full time too.
What about someone coming from overseas like Kevin Magnussen or Antonio Felix da Costa?
Right now, I still count seven rides available for the taking. That’s 12 drivers like there.
Andretti Autosport: No. 26, No. 28 and No. 98 Honda’s
Dale Coyne Racing: No. 18 and No. 55 Honda’s
Ed Carpenter Racing: No. 20 (part-time)
AJ Foyt Racing: No. 4 Chevrolet
You also have the potential for more expansion too. When asked if he’s thinking about an expansion to his IndyCar operation, Michael Shank said bluntly, “yes.”
MSR has purchased DragonSpeed’s equipment, so they will have a second team for 2021, but to what capacity?
“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.”
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.”
So, who ends up where?
All signs point to Ferrucci back with DCR. He told me as much recently.
“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.”
His teammate will be up for grabs but DCR will bring in a paying driver. Who is it though?
Daly is waiting until next month to hear about US Air Force’s status. He said that’s his ticket into the series or not for 2021.
“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.”
He wants to be back with ECR, but does he have time? Does ECR look at Helio 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.”
Either could end up in Coyne’s second seat too. Castroneves has a lot of money from what I’ve told for a full time seat. He’s really down to Coyne or Andretti to make it happen.
Andretti will likely see Marco back in the 98 because he’s not going to fire himself and now it appears that Ryan Hunter-Reay is the leading candidate for the 28.
Daly has been mentioned about taking Air Force there for a full time seat for the 26 or 28, but he’d rather stay at ECR if he can.
I’ve been told James Hinchcliffe doesn’t have much of a chance, if any, at the 26 entry with Andretti but the team remains their top target for his camp. He deserves to stay there after what he did to move the 26 entry off the entrant points bubble and solidly in. The 28 car is his only hope unless they bring the 29 out full time. If not, can he find enough funding to go to DCR.
Nevertheless, the Mayor needs to be a full time driver somewhere in 2021.
Askew could be in the mix for the 26 or 28 seat too.
I’ve also heard it’s down to him or Tony Kanaan for the 48 seat with Johnson. Does Andretti do an all-star car like that and run full time with multiple drivers?
Foyt can sit this out until they see who’s left to pair with Bourdais. Castroneves has been mentioned here as well.
The next domino is in Andretti’s court.
Team Penske (4) – Josef Newgarden (No. 2), Scott McLaughlin (No. 3), Will Power No. 12), Simon Pagenaud (No. 22)
Arrow McLaren SP (2) – Pato O’Ward (No. 5), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7)
Ed Carpenter Racing (2) – Ed Carpenter ovals only (No. 20), Rinus VeeKay (No. 21)
AJ Foyt Racing (2) – Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14), No. 4 is open
Carlin (1) – Max Chilton road/street courses only (No. 59) the oval seat is open
Andretti Autosport (5) – No. 26 (open), Alexander Rossi (No. 27), No. 28 (open), Colton Herta (No. 88), No. 98 (open)
Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – Marcus Ericsson (No. 8), Scott Dixon (No. 9), Alex Palou (No. 10), Jimmie Johnson road/street courses only (No. 48)
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2) – Graham Rahal (No. 15), Takuma Sato (No. 30)
Dale Coyne Racing (2) – No. 18 (open), No. 19 (open)
Meyer Shank Racing (1) – Jack Harvey (No. 60)
Part Time (7)
No. 29 Honda – Andretti Autosport
No. 24 Chevrolet – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
RLL (3rd car)
ECR (3rd car)
MSR (2nd car)
AJ Foyt Racing (3rd car)
Arrow McLaren SP (3rd car)