As the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season is about to come to a close this Sunday on the streets of Long Beach, the prospects of Silly Season really start to ramp up with the sights set now on future plans for the 2022 season. Right now, there’s several rides open but the thing is, most of them are already far down the line with drivers seeking them.
As an example, Andretti Autosport has two openings but two drivers already tabbed as replacements. They’re just not formally announced yet. Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Honda is technically open as while some reports are out there that the team has agreed to an extension with Marcus Ericsson, and I do believe them, the thing is, the team hasn’t officially announced that yet. The team wants him back and he wants to remain. I don’t see them splitting.
You also have the Meyer Shank Racing No. 60 Honda. It’s pretty clear now that Simon Pagenaud will take that seat over. In turn, that leaves the fourth car at Team Penske open but Penske has openly stated that they’ll go back to a three-car outfit for 2022 if/when Pagenaud leaves.
The reason these announcements aren’t made yet is due to language in their already existing contracts. Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco will soon be announced as the Andretti drivers. Grosjean to the 28. DeFrancesco to the 29. Pagenaud and MSR can’t announce their deal until the Frenchman’s contract is officially up with Penske. Ericsson and CGR is just a formality.
So, with that said, what else is out there.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is expanding to three full time cars. Graham Rahal will be in one and like Pagenaud’s situation, Jack Harvey will be in a second. The deal just can’t get announced until his contract with MSR is up. Who’s in the third?
Oliver Askew, Santino Ferrucci and Christian Lundgaard have done a great job in the 45. All three are in the mix. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s name is an intriguing one in the sense that Hy-Vee would like an American driver and he fits that bill. The other factor to this is, will Honda give Takuma Sato the budget to stay with the team. If so, Sato stays in the 30 and Harvey goes to the 45. If not, then Harvey goes to the 30 and the 45 is open.
The only other real full time rides open then are both cars at AJ Foyt Racing, Carlin and Juncos Hollinger. That’s it. Dalton Kellett has some money to stay with Foyt. Sebastien Bourdais would like to come back but there’s also rumors he could be going to Ganassi to replace Kevin Magnussen on the sports car side of things too. Hunter-Reay has been linked to the 14 car as a result.
Carlin could end up being part-time if Max Chilton returns. His only reason for wanting to leave is him needing a teammate to help speed along this process from the organization. Carlin, owns another car. If someone can bring the right budget, then Chilton coming back for all but Texas, Gateway and the Iowa doubleheader makes the most sense. But, that still leaves a full time ride open for them and no better driver than Conor Daly to fill it. The problem is, Daly only has Air Force as his funding partner and they won’t go on a Carlin car.
Plus, Daly wants to remain with Ed Carpenter Racing. He, like Sato, has to wait until later in the year to finalize their budgets. If Air Force remains, then I don’t see ECR cutting ties with him. Why cut ties with a guy with funding? Hunter-Reay, Nico Hulkenberg and even David Malukas have been in play here.
The only other full time seats reside with Dale Coyne Racing. The No. 18 Honda is likely going to Kyle Kirkwood no matter if he wins the Indy Lights championship or not. Kirkwood has sports car ties to Vasser Sullivan and he’s been tabbed as the top replacement for the departing Ed Jones. In turn, that leaves the Rick Ware seat open and Sato is now being listed as the top name for that seat. Hunter-Reay or Hinchcliffe would be wise plays of this seat with to me, Hinchcliffe going back to where he started with ties to a team that is in NASCAR. Hinchcliffe has wanted to give NASCAR a try and with RWR having multiple cars over there, it’s a good landing spot for him.
Malukas would be a nice fit for DCR or ECR with his family team wanting to move up to INDYCAR and partner with someone. If he should win the Indy Lights title, he brings $1.3-million of scholarship money with him too. He’s 18 points behind Kirkwood for that championship with two races remaining, both coming up not this weekend but next at Mid-Ohio.
Juncos is open to finding drivers for next year but is arguably the only full time ride left with options available. Other than that, this is it for full time rides available. That’s why despite all the articles that you may read that “x driver has funding and interested in INDYCAR” are so utterly false and misleading. Everyone has some sort of funding. Everyone is interested in INDYCAR. Every owner is interested in said drivers. Why would anyone close the door on any relationship. The fact of the matter is, most rides already have drivers tied to them. These drivers use bigger outlets to push their story and keep their names relevant for future owners.
Here are the current open rides below.
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) – No. 77 Chevrolet
Ed Carpenter Racing (1) – No. 20 (part time ride)
Carlin (1) – No. 59
As you can see, there’s not much for the taking. There’s also 26 drivers mentioned vying for those seats. Not everyone can land a seat.
Simon Pagenaud (linked to MSR)
Romain Grosjean (linked to Andretti)
Devlin De Franceso (linked to Andretti)
Kyle Kirkwood (linked to DCR/Vasser Sullivan)
Marcus Ericsson (linked to Ganassi)
Jack Harvey (linked to RLL)
Takuma Sato (lined to staying at RLL or moving to DCR)
Santino Ferrucci (RLL possibility)
Oliver Askew (RLL possibility)
Christian Lundgaard (RLL possibility)
There’s essentially 17 drivers going for rides at Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (No. 45 Honda), Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing (No. 51 Honda), ECR (No. 20 Chevrolet), Carlin (No. 59 Chevrolet), Juncos/Hollinger (No. 77 Chevrolet) and both at AJ Foyt Racing (No. 4, No. 14 Chevrolet’s). That’s 11 rides for 16 drivers. Math says at least six people are going to be left out of a major ride next year and that’s not counting anyone else coming into the framework.
Granted, there’s some other part-time seats that may be for the taking. DCR/Rick Ware has the No. 52 Honda they plan on bringing out some next season. Arrow McLaren SP will bring out a third car part time and then run it full time in 2023. Can Carlin get that second car off the ground again? What about Paretta Autosport who with Penske likely scaling back and Paretta losing their car which went back to Juncos, does the No. 22 Chevrolet end up being the No. 16 Chevrolet for races in 2022? Top Gun says that their No. 75 Chevrolet will be in use some.
All this adds up to a higher car count. We saw 24 full time cars this past season with that trajectory looking like we’ll have at least 26 on the grid for every race in 2022.
There’s a realistic chance that we’re going to see upwards of some races of 29-32 cars at them. I mean think about it. Chevrolet would have 3 cars at Penske, two at Foyt, two at AMSP, two at ECR, one at Carlin and Juncos/Hollinger. That’s 11 full time. They’d also have a third at AMSP, maybe a second at Carlin, maybe Paretta and Top Gun too. That’s some races with 15 cars.
Honda has four with Ganassi, four with Andretti, three at RLL, two at DCR and MSR. That’s 15 cars there. Does Ganassi land a fifth car is Jimmie Johnson goes full time? Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais would be great partners to share a fifth car. Does DCR/RWR add that third car in some races still? That could be 17 cars for Honda which is why I say there’s a very real possibility we can have 32 cars away from the Indy 500.
The only problem with this and the only reason we may fall short of this would be that there’s not enough people to go around for these teams. This is a people business and you can’t just hire anyone off the street. You need good, quality people around you and at this moment, there’s not a lot available.