BELLE ISLE, Mich — A week after one silly season domino fell, another has dropped behind. The two biggest free agents on the market have found solid foundations and both now happen to be teammates at that.
Last Friday, Arrow McLaren SP announced that they had secured a new deal with Pato O’Ward to keep him in the No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet through the 2025 season. While that sounds like a new contract, and it is, it essentially only added 1 year to the deal. However, this new one pairs these two together for the next three seasons because as part of the old deal that expired after the 2024 season, both sides had outs. As Zak Brown put it, this deal took them from dating to marriage. Neither can uncommit from one another now.
As a result of that move, the team now can announce the signing of Alexander Rossi. The long rumored deal couldn’t get confirmed until Rossi’s language in his contract allowed him to explore other options outside of Andretti Autosport.
On Thursday, Arrow McLaren SP announced that they have signed Rossi to a multiyear deal for him to drive for the team, starting in 2023. The arrival of Rossi underpins Arrow McLaren SP’s long-term strategy to become a consistent race winner and championship contender.
Rossi, from Nevada City, California, has secured seven wins, six poles and 25 podium finishes since arriving in IndyCar in 2016. His most notable win came as a rookie when he won the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in dramatic fashion, coasting across the finish line on fumes.
The American is a versatile driver who has also made five starts in Formula 1, raced the famed Bathurst 1000 in Australia in 2019, won the Baja 1000 in 2021, and took an overall win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2021.
Rossi will join the team following the completion of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
“First, I want to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport for an incredible seven years,” Rossi said. “It has been a great ride with an awesome team, and it has been an honor to race for the Andretti name and for Michael for so long. The time has come for a new challenge, with a team that is growing in the sport. I look forward to contributing to the development of Arrow McLaren SP and helping them reach the top. I see the commitment this team has to each other and to me, and I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s time for me to race for another one of motorsport’s biggest names: McLaren.”
It’s no secret, that relationship has been rocky at best with Andretti failing to give Rossi a car capable of race wins and championships. He grew frustrated but was willing to give Andretti one more shot and took a chance on betting on himself to hope Andretti’s result would improve which helps his stock rise but also helps maybe keep him in his current ride past 2022.
That obviously never happened. So off Rossi goes to AMSP to pair with O’Ward in an interesting pairing. You get 2 drivers that can win Indy at any given notice. O’Ward has finished 6th, 4th and 2nd in each of his 3 years with the team. Rossi has 5 top 7’s in 7 tries including a win in the 100th Running. Now he gets Chevy power and a team capable of results immediately which is something at 31 years old, he wants now.
“Alex is a proven race winner and an Indianapolis 500 champion, who shares our desire to win,” Zak Brown said. “It is essential that we put the right talent in place, both inside and outside the car, so we can consistently compete for championships and race wins as a team. He is someone we have had our eye on for some time and we’re excited to see what he’ll do as a part of Arrow McLaren SP.”
Kirkwood leaves an opening at AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet. 2023 will be the 4th straight year a new driver was in the 14. 2020 was Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais. 2021 was Bourdais only. 2022 was Kirkwood. 2023….?
Does this become a landing spot for Tony Kanaan who’s days are numbered now? Maybe another shot or two at Indy?
Foyt kept Dalton Kellett in the No. 4 Dallara-Chevrolet but there’s no word yet on the future. Tatiana Calderon and JR Hildebrand are splitting the seat in the No. 11 Dallara-Chevrolet. I don’t see Hildebrand being full-time for next season so at least 1 new drivers has to be in the mix at Foyt.
Ed Carpenter Racing signed Conor Daly for a multi-year deal so he figures to be back in the No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet. As far as how much Carpenter is back in the No. 33 Dallara-Chevrolet is in question. Is it Indy only? Is it all ovals again? Does he step away for another full time driver instead? We know he’ll have the No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet back but is Rinus VeeKay in it? He’s a budding star that’s still only 21 years of age. He’s off to another hot start to the season and as a free agent, could play into free agency too.
The question is, where?
I don’t think Team Penske expands back to 4 cars as they’re off to a much better start to 2022 than they were as a 4 car unit in 2021. They’ve always said their wheelhouse is 3 cars not 4. Only way they expand is if it’s a right situation for someone like Rossi (he ran IMSA for them) or if major funding from someone like VeeKay who I’ve been told doesn’t have a budget like that in his arsenal. He has some money but I don’t think enough to sway Penske to bring out a 4th car.
Will Power signed a multi-year extension just last year and no way would Penske let Josef Newgarden walk so barring Scott McLaughlin being let go (he’s not) then I think Penske is set.
That lands VeeKay on the AMSP radar and could very well see the team roll out a lineup in 2023 of O’Ward, Rossi and VeeKay. I’m told the 3rd AMSP car is available and that Felix Rosenqvist won’t be back and may have a deal in another series.
Juncos Hollinger Racing has 2 cars but using 1. Callum Ilott is technically a Ferrari Academy driver but drawing interest from bigger teams too. Can JHR retain him if he’s not used in F1? With Ferrari set on Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz Jr., I don’t see a fit for him within Ferrari right now which means a return to INDYCAR should he want to. Is that a fit for AMSP’s 3rd car? Would Ferrari allow that since AMSP is a rival F1 team? Would he leave Ferrari all together for a shot at AMSP which could lead to a future F1 seat if he performs here? It’s an interesting one to watch.
That’s really it for Chevy.
What about Honda?
Andretti will have Colton Herta back in 2023 as the new lead driver. Romain Grosjean will return to the No. 28 Dallara-Honda. I don’t see Devlin DeFrancesco being a one-and-done so he should be retained for the No. 29 Dallara-Honda. Leaving Kirkwood to the 4th spot. The tricky spot with them is, what happens for 2024. Does their F1 bid get approved? If so, you know Herta and Grosjean would likely pair there. If it doesn’t, is Herta on McLaren F1’s radar still at that point?
Needless to say, I don’t know if Herta is part of their 2024 INDYCAR program meaning they’d have lost Herta, O’Ward and Rossi to other teams/endeavors. Is Grosjean back in ’24? They essentially could be left with DeFrancesco and Kirkwood.
That’s something to watch.
Ganassi isn’t going to let Alex Palou or Marcus Ericsson go anywhere and we know Scott Dixon’s on the back 9 of his career. Is he back in ’23? I think he is but is 2024 or 2025 it? They have Kyffin Simpson grooming to replace him. I also can’t see Jimmie Johnson going anywhere. I have heard Ganassi is high on VeeKay too but do they have room for him?
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing already will have Graham Rahal (why leave a family team). Christian Lundgaard may not have an F1 seat ready for 2022 so he’s best to stay and Jack Harvey is also in his 1st year. Why give up now?
Dale Coyne Racing has HMD and I don’t see that partnership ending after just 1 year. Does Rick Ware Racing keep Takuma Sato for a 2nd year or a new driver for a 3rd straight season?
Meyer Shank Racing is the one that could keep the same lineup, or pair Simon Pagenaud with a new driver. Helio Castroneves is a free agent. Does MSR bring him back full-time? There’s talks of MSR wanting to eventually expanding to a 3rd car. If so, do they use it part-time for Helio and put a 2nd driver full time in the No. 06 Dallara-Honda?