INDIANAPOLIS — You’ve probably heard that old line, “if you build it, they will come.” Well, Roger Penske, Mark Miles, Jay Frye and company have definitely built it. They problem is, they’ve built it so well, more people are starting to come than they can take on and they’re feverishly working hard to find ways to not turn them away.
This regime took the NTT IndyCar Series from the second floor of a large structure and now have them on the verge of the penthouse. While the elevator ride certainly didn’t begin in the basement like it was for several years prior, INDYCAR was already starting to turn the corner by time they took over the reigns.
Still, while the sport was starting to ascend on a rise, it was also stuck on the bottom floors and not moving in a direction quick enough. Miles and Frye took it from those depths and raised it to heights that if we’re honest with ourselves, never would have thought that we’d see again. Then with Penske taking control prior to the 2020 season and keeping everyone in place still, the series is definitely on its way back and then some.
They have a long term TV deal that’s as stable as it’s been in decades. They have an entitlement sponsor with a new multi-year deal. In the past, once these contracts ran out, the companies ran away as quickly as they could. NBC Sports and NTT Data not only didn’t run, they kept their checkbooks open and wanting, craving more.
When’s the last time a TV provider and revolving door of entitlement sponsors signed contract extensions?
That’s just on the top level. The teams are even growing too. Year over year the car counts are up. That’s the same path already for 2022. They’ll be more cars on the grid next season than this. That’s a plus. But, as we keep doing so, eventually that car number is going to stop growing so much. In fact, we’re dangerously nearing the point to where it may just level off and remain stable.
That’s not due to the fact that the interest isn’t there. Trust me, it is. Sponsors are flocking to this series in droves. There’s also enough drivers on the sidelines that are chopping at the bit for a shot here that if you had a second series just for them, they’d rival the main one in terms of talent level and competition. Now, that’s not going to happen *cough cough* the split *ducks.*
These sponsors, drivers and respective teams trust this series so much, they’re all wanting in. The teams would love to have them too. The problem is, Honda and Chevrolet can only provide so many engines and the teams can only find so many people to make it all work.
That’s pretty much where we’re at now. Andretti Autosport shouldn’t have to think twice about not having Kyle Kirkwood in a seat for 2022. They shouldn’t have to think twice about James Hinchcliffe or Marco Andretti coming back on a part-time basis. They should be able to sign Devlin DeFrancesco, which they’re likely doing, to drive the No. 29 Honda, sign Kirkwood to a full time gig, all while working out deals for Andretti and Hinchcliffe.
Instead, there’s not enough people or engines available.
Chip Ganassi Racing is remaining status quo for 2022. Jimmie Johnson seems to want to run the Indy 500. If he does, they now grow to five cars for the ‘500 with Tony Kanaan also in the mix.
Dale Coyne Racing will remain a two car outfit. They’ll have the 18 car no matter if Vasser-Sullivan stays or not. Rick Ware Racing will partner with them on a full season car in the 51 again as well as a part-time car in the 52. That’s three engines there.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing will have three full time cars. Meyer Shank Racing expands two two. With Andretti already having four, that’s 17 Honda engines accounted for during the 2022 season.
What about Chevrolet?
They’d have have 3 cars at Penske, 2-4 at Foyt, 2-3 at AMSP, 2-3 at ECR, 1-2 at Carlin and 1 at Juncos/Hollinger. What about Paretta and Top Gun? That’s 16 engines right there. Foyt will likely run 3 cars at times in 2022 and 4 at Indy again if all possible. ECR will have a 3rd at Indy, Carlin is eyeing a 2nd car while Paretta and Top Gun aren’t likely going away.
Combine all of this and you get 32 engines already spoken for during the 2022 season and it’s only October. How many more engines do you think can be provided, especially with a new formula coming out for next season, in 2023?
The drawback for the Foyt’s, Carlins, AMSP’s, Andrett’s etc growing isn’t necessarily the budgets. There’s drivers out there, some very talented ones with money to bring. It’s the people.
Teams don’t want to just add a car for the sake of adding a car. In this industry and how talented/competitive this field is now-a-days, you need talented people around you to make these cars go fast and handle well. If you start bringing in new people without any experience in this series to your team from the outside, it’s not likely going to end well. You need a balance.
Then, once you find the people, you need an engine. They just don’t grow engines on the trees at the Honda and Chevrolet factories. They need people to produce them too.
That’s why on the surface, it appears that we could and should be heading towards 30+ full time cars and over 40 entries for the Indy 500 in the very near future, but if that’s going to happen, we need that 3rd OEM to make it possible. Until it does, it’s now going to be more about partnerships and alliances rather than additional cars to the growing car count.
AMSP wants a third full time car in 2023. Top Gun wants to up their involvement in 2022. Paretta wants to be back. Carlin, ECR and Andretti all want to add more cars. HMD wants to make the jump up to INDYCAR. Vasser-Sullivan wants to branch out on their own. All of these can’t happen without more people and engines.
That’s a good problem to have and if we base the outcome based on who’s in charge, they’ll figure it out sooner rather than later.