INDIANAPOLIS — Silly Season has been running wild on the NASCAR side with more craziness set to come soon. On the NTT IndyCar Series side, things have remained rather calm thus far. Will Power signed on to remain with Team Penske but that deal was done in the late spring.
Nothing else has really been done since. Until Thursday.
Meyer Shank Racing announced that Helio Castroneves will drive one of their two cars as the team will officially expand to a two-car outfit for the 2022 season. The caveat is that Jack Harvey won’t be back with the team. While some may think it was Castroneves pushing Harvey out of his ride, reality is it was Harvey who elected to leave instead.
Castroneves will pilot the current part time ride (No. 06 Honda) which will become full time next year. The No. 60 Honda that Harvey’s held the keys to since 2018 will be turned over to someone else. That ride was going to be Harvey’s again, but the Brit has since found something else for next year which will be announced soon.
So, now that a major domino has fallen, what’s left? Well, buckle up because the INDYCAR silly season will rival NASCAR’s in the drama department.
Several big named rides will become available with some big notable free agents after them. Lets go with what we know is secured for in 2022.
Andretti Autosport has eyes on four full time cars again and would only expand back to a fifth if the money is right. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta are under contract for next year and aren’t going anywhere. MSR has Castroneves. Chip Ganassi Racing will have Scott Dixon back and there’s no way Alex Palou is going anywhere. Jimmie Johnson is back in whatever capacity he wants while Tony Kanaan is also under contract. I also don’t see Ganassi allowing Marcus Ericsson to get away since he keeps improving and also brings money. More on this team in a bit.
Graham Rahal is obviously back with RLL. Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Power are returning to Team Penske. Pato O’Ward will be coming back to Arrow McLaren SP. Rinus VeeKay is back full time with Ed Carpenter Racing while Ed Carpenter himself should return for all ovals.
That’s the confirmed list.
The open rides is to where this gets interesting.
Andretti Autosport has two rides to fill. Do either Ryan Hunter-Reay or James Hinchcliffe come back? Hunter-Reay has been tied to DHL with Hinchcliffe in Genesys. Even if both have those sponsors for 2022, are they welcomed?
The talent level is there for both. That’s not being questioned. The bad luck is also there though which has led to dismal seasons for both too. It seems as if AA is wanting a partial reset for their organization. Where do they go from here? Is it Oliver Askew? What about Sage Karam (Andretti ties), Kevin Magnussen or Romain Grosjean? All are viable options and have been linked to AA at some point. So could Kyle Kirkwood should he win the Indy Lights championship this year. If not here, he could very well end up in the second Shank car too.
This is likely the top domino standing right now.
Same for Penske because Simon Pagenaud is a hell of a racer, a champion for both the series and the Indy 500 at that. Can he and Penske work out a deal? If not, Pagenaud would certainly be on everyone’s list to fill a ride at any team and open a largely wanted ride which makes this domino No. 2.
Arrow McLaren SP’s second car makes the most sense for Pagenaud if he doesn’t return to Penske but how do you turn Penske down? The future past 2022 and whether he’s in sports cars for them or INDYCAR’s is likely what’s being negotiated as you know he’d much rather stay here on a long term deal but just how long is Penske willing to offer and what’s Penske’s view on Pagenaud past next season? If he doesn’t return, does Penske just go back to three cars, which they’d honestly prefer to run, or fill Pagenaud’s ride?
That would then lead to AMSP and what they do. They’d like to have Felix Rosenqvist back but you could also get a Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Harvey, Grosjean, Sato, Ferrucci or Kevin Magnussen on the open market too. They don’t want to have a turnstile of drivers come though this ride as if the 7 car is anyone but Rosenqvist next year, it would be the third full time driver in as many years. Also, there’s a great possibility of them expanding to a third full time car too. That’s why this is a team everyone is interested in since its a paid ride and they’ve shown to have the speed to contend for a championship on the 5 car. Why not the 7?
Speaking of Magnussen, Ganassi would obviously love to keep him inside his walls. But, how? This is where it gets intriguing there with likely all the full time seats staying status quo. The question is, what does Jimmie Johnson do? If he runs ovals, the 48 car is his full time. Does that push Kanaan to a fifth Indy 500 only ride? Or, does Ganassi just expand to a fifth full time team and have then Kanaan and Magnussen split the ride as Kanaan and Johnson have done this year? Do they run six cars, five full time and a sixth for ovals only for Kanaan? The sell of the NASCAR team gives them monetary options to grow in INDYCAR as a result of that if they want to.
For RLL, I don’t see Takuma Sato leaving them at all but rumors are starting to surface saying otherwise. I think he returns barring going back to Andretti or Shank. He won’t be racing for Chevy or their teams so his opportunities are limited and why take a step back? RLL seems like the best fit.
For the third seat, Santino Ferrucci makes the most sense. He’s raced in that car every race its run thus far and in all those races, while he’s tore up some equipment in practices or qualifying, he’s still finished in the top 10 too. Harvey’s name is being mentioned as an RLL candidate too.
MSR has their second ride to fill while the final Honda team is Dale Coyne Racing. They’re interesting in that I think Grosjean gets scooped up elsewhere leaving both cars open. Does Vasser-Sullivan return for the 18 car? That’s a rumor being floated around the paddock that they may leave and join another partnership with someone else or even go off on their own. Right now, the 18 and 51 are open for next season and I think you’ll see two new drivers in each should these current partnerships remains.
For the Chevy teams that we’ve not talked about yet, Foyt likely brings back Sebastien Bourdais but that second ride is open for the taking.
ECR likes Conor Daly and I do think if Air Force is willing to come back and I don’t see why they wouldn’t, they remain status quo again. Carpenter told me that their improvement this season from last is the continuity. Imagine if they run it back for a third straight year? The only thing here is, can Ed find enough funding to run two full time cars (VeeKay/Daly) and just a third car for him on ovals only?
The other team is Carlin. I think Max Chilton ends up back with them but do they finally bring that second car back out?
This is just existing teams. Does Paretta and Top Gun come back on a larger scale? They’re eyeing that. Does Dreyer & Reinbold finally race outside Indy 500? Does Carlin and ECR expand additional cars? Does Ganassi? Does Vasser Sullivan go out on their own?
There’s a potential that the full time entry list can be north of 28 cars with seeing some races push 30+ including part time rides.
Current Open Rides (11)
AJ Foyt Racing (2) – No. 4, No. 14
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2) – No. 30, No. 45
Andretti Autosport (2) – No. 28, No. 29
Meyer Shank Racing (1) – No. 60
Team Penske (1) – No. 22
Arrow McLaren SP (1) – No. 7
Ed Carpenter Racing (1) – No. 20 (part time ride)
Carlin (1) – No. 59 (part time ride)
3rd car at Arrow McLaren SP
2nd car at Carlin
2nd full time car at Ed Carpenter Racing
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing