INDIANAPOLIS — Expansion is definitely on the horizon for the paddock in terms of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season. We’ve only lost one team from 2021 and that’s the No. 22 Chevrolet from Team Penske who will see the organization move from four back to three cars next year. That’s their sweet spot and ideal position that they’d prefer to be in anyhow.
So, in terms of full time entries from 2021 to 2022, we go from 24 down to 23 by this move. That’s the lone demotion. The rest are all additions. Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing grows from two full time cars to three. Meyer Shank Racing will go from one full time car to two. Juncos Hollinger Racing will be full time now.
That’s three new full time cars so take the one going away at Penske and you get 26 full time entrants so far. The question now is, how many more will we get?
I tend to think that at the moment, we’re basically capped at 36 cars/engine packages. In 2021, each manufacturer had 18 engines provided. With new regulations coming out in 2023, I don’t see either planning to spend the amount of money that it’s going to take to expand on that to 19-20 or even more engines available.
So, while the intention is out there for several teams, I just don’t see how it will work to grow this past 36 total cars next year on the engine front. Then you have the demand for people too. There’s just not enough good crew members, engineers, etc to hire. The good ones are already on teams and the ones who aren’t will soon be.
So, while there’s drivers and sponsorship money out there for the taking, how do you start a new team without the right people to make that car go fast and an engine to make it run?
That’s why this silly season is all predicated by the number 36 which equates out to 18 per manufacturer. For 2023, yes that number could grow so long as you get a third OEM and find more people. For now, we’re not talking ’23, we’re discussing ’22.
We know for Chevrolet, out of their 18 engines, 10 are definitely spoken for. Team Penske has three (Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin). Arrow McLaren SP has three but only using two at the moment with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist). Ed Carpenter Racing also has three with Rinus VeeKay in the 21 car and Ed Carpenter in the 20. The third is for Indy only for the driver who will split time with Carpenter in the 20 on all road/street courses. Juncos Hollinger Racing has one with Callum Ilott. That leaves eight engines between Carlin, AJ Foyt Racing, Paretta and Top Gun.
Carlin, Paretta and Top Gun each had one last year and I don’t see either of them expanding now. If they all come back, that leaves five engines left. Foyt had two full time and two part time last year. Rumor is that they want to expand to a third full time team next season.
Depending on what’s left, that’s 1-2 engines available from Chevy.
In terms of the Honda front, Andretti Autosport has four (Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco). Chip Ganassi Racing is at four at the moment (Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Tony Kanaan/Jimmie Johnson) but is after a fifth which will obviously happen should Johnson want to run the Indy 500 and all signs are pointing to that happening. RLL is now a three car effort (Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, Christian Lundgaard), Meyer Shank Racing is a two car outfit (Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud) and Dale Coyne Racing has the other three.
That’s 17 engines spoken for. With one left, that’s where things get interesting.
Andretti ran six cars last year but due to Honda needing an engine to go to Ganassi for Johnson, they have to scale back to five. They wanted to keep Kyle Kirkwood in house but his deadline came and passed so he’s free to look elsewhere. He has a three race scholarship (St. Pete, Indy GP, Indy 500) but obviously wants more. They also have Marco Andretti wanting to run the Indy 500 but don’t have a car or funding at the right moment to make it happen if they have Kirkwood or anybody else run it. How do you make this all work?
Kirkwood now appears to be destined outside of driving for someone other than Andretti. In terms of that fifth Andretti car, one way to make that work is for Vasser Sullivan to team up with Andretti on the 98 car for select races and then they branch out on their own for ’23.
It seems like VSR will be leaving DCR anyways on the 18 car which all signs are pointing to HMD taking their place and having David Malukas in it. Malukas tested that car with HMD branding on it last Monday in Barber.
Rick Ware Racing is staying on with DCR. Takuma Sato likely lands there.
So, as you can see, there’s not a lot of places left for Kirkwood at Honda.
Cusick is also after a partnership as there’s just nothing left for them to run on their own unless they go the Chevy route. Carlin, Juncos, Foyt, DCR or even that fifth Andretti car could be partner options.
Other than that, the rest is history.
As far as who goes where?
There’s really only five full time opportunities left now. A couple of them I just mentioned. Malukas to the 18, Sato to the 51 then Carlin and Foyt figuring out their involvement and how many cars they make work.
ECR is really down to Conor Daly, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Oliver Askew for the 20 seat.
AMSP is only using the third car when convenient and it’s a precursor for 2022. Nico Hulkenberg just tested that ride last Monday too but on Thursday took himself out of contention. Stoffel Vandoorne will test it next. Kirkwood is rumored to be in play here as well.
The Foyt and Carlin rides come down to funding and funding only. Charlie Kimball, Dalton Kellett, Tatiana Calderon, Dan Ticktum and Linus Lundqvist could come into play in these seats.
The rest is history. Cusick, Vasser and Carlin are appearing to be headed towards partnerships on existing teams and the rides are drying up as we head to what should be a phenomenal 2022 season.