Where INDYCAR silly season now sits

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Arrow McLaren SP announced on Sunday morning that they’re now an even larger stakeholder on the two car NTT INDYCAR Series team that they share with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. But, part of that announcement was that they’ll have both current drivers back in 2022.

Pato O’Ward was a guarantee but Felix Rosenqvist’s status was unknown. Now, we know. Both drivers will stay put.

They’ll join Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, Helio Castroneves, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Rinus VeeKay as drivers known for next season.

Who joins them?

There’s a realistic chance that we’re going to see 27-29 full time cars next season with that pushing closer to 30 in a few years. That doesn’t even count a potential new OEM coming onboard either which could push that higher again.

This season currently, we have 24 full time cars with four more part time entries showing up in races outside of Indy. That list is already growing for 2022 with Meyer Shank Racing running two full time cars now to push that number up to 25. Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing will likely move the No. 45 Honda entry to full time and expand to a third car next year too. That’s 26.

Now, we have Juncos back in the fray as they’ve partnered with Williams F1 stakeholder Brad Hollinger to rename them Juncos Hollinger Racing. They’ll run the final three races of 2021 and all of the races in 2022.

There’s 12 existing rides open. There’s potential for three teams expanding that don’t have drivers tied to them. There’s also 28 drivers mentioned vying for those seats. As you can tell, despite every big outlet reporting “insert driver here* is close to a ride, don’t necessarily put much stock in that. They’re being used.

You have veterans like Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball without rides for next year. You have young drivers like Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, Marcus Ericsson, Santino Ferrucci, Felix Rosenqvist, Ed Jones, Oliver Askew, Spencer Pigot, Sage Karam and Dalton Kellett trying to secure rides. Then you have drivers with overseas experience like Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen, Tatiana Calderón, Juan-Manuel Correa and Antonio Felix da Costa in the mix. Finally, Indy Lights drivers in Kyle Kirkwood, Devlin De Francesco, David Malukas and Linus Lundqvist are all throwing their names into the hat.

That’s a strong field just in the free agent market, but there’s not 28 seats for the taking for them. So, who ends up still standing when the music stops?

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? Sounds like both are on their ways out.

The talent level is there for both though and they should land on their feet somewhere else. Their talent isn’t being questioned. The bad luck has plagued them which has led to dismal seasons for both. It seems as if AA is wanting a partial reset for their organization as a result. 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.

Alex Albon has also emerged as a front runner to grab one of the season as well as Devlin De Francesco. Translation? The two open seats are likely going to come down to ex F1 drivers in Grosjean and Albon or Indy Lights drivers Kirkwood or De Francesco or a combo of half of them.

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 should 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.

AMSP would open expand to a third car team if there’s a championship winning driver out there. Pagenaud fits that mold but does this happen?

Arrow McLaren SP’s third 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? Rossi and VeeKay would be potential drivers for them and both would be free agents past next season. I sense if Pagenaud doesn’t return, the team may go back to three cars before making a run at either Rossi or VeeKay at this time next year. This ride is likely Pagenaud’s or no one’s for 2022.

For Ganassi, this is where it gets intriguing 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 a new driver 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. I don’t think they allow Marcus Ericsson to get away.

For RLL, I don’t see Takuma Sato leaving them at all but rumors are starting to surface saying otherwise. If he leaves, I doubt he’d be a full time driver since Andretti’s open rides don’t appear to have Sato’s name attached to them. 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 but it doesn’t sound anymore like he’s a potential to remain which is arguably one of the more shocking deals of this silly season.

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.

Right now, it sounds as if it’s Rahal and Harvey in two of the seats with Ferrucci, Askew or a few other option available for that third car.

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. Zach Veach is the lead candidate to land in the 18, what about the 51?

Hinchcliffe would be a good option for that car leaving Ed Jones out of a ride now.

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?

Nico Hulkenberg has emerged as a potential for ECR too.

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?

Juncos has a chassis again and could be making a return as soon as this season. What’s their status for 2022?

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.

My early predictions would be Andretti getting Grosjean and Albon. Kirkwood goes to MSR. Pagenaud stays put at Penske. ECR stats status quo. So does Carlin. DCR keeps Vasser’s support but goes with Zach Veach and Hinchcliffe replaces the departing Grosjean. RLL gets Harvey for the 2nd seat and Ferrucci in the third. Foyt retains Bourdais but grabs Malukas or Lundqvist as their second driver.

Sato and Hunter-Reay are Indy only seats.


Current Open Rides (12)

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

Chip Ganassi Racing (1) – No. 8 Honda

Juncos/Hollinger (1) – Number TBA

Ed Carpenter Racing (1) – No. 20 (part time ride)

Carlin (1) – No. 59 (part time ride)


Free Agents

Simon Pagenaud

Romain Grosjean

Marcus Ericsson

Takuma Sato

Ryan Hunter-Reay

James Hinchcliffe

Santino Ferrucci

Conor Daly

Felix Rosenqvist

Jack Harvey

Ed Jones

Sage Karam

Oliver Askew

Spencer Pigot

Charlie Kimball

Max Chilton

Dalton Kellett

Nico Hulkenberg

Alex Albon

Kyle Kirkwood

Devlin De Franceso

David Malukas

Linus Lundqvist


Expansion?

3rd car at Arrow McLaren SP

2nd car at Carlin

2nd full time car at Ed Carpenter Racing

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Paretta Autosport

Top Gun

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