A look at INDYCAR silly season now

Juncos Hollinger Racing announced they they’ll indeed use their 2nd car on a full-time basis next season. The driver is currently TBA. With that said, where does Silly Season now sit as we head to the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season finale?

It’s all predicated at the top by Alex Palou’s situation. Where does he land? That affects so many areas of silly season in the effect that if Palou is let out of his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing, it makes one of the top rides in the sport available.

Ganassi is in court against Palou. There’s even a situation to where Palou could be awarded to Ganassi’s services but Ganassi elect to park him and still have the seat in the No. 10 Dallara-Honda open for the taking.

However, they can’t even begin to talk to anyone about that seat yet since it’s in the court system. You don’t want to breach a contract or do anything to jeopardize your case against Palou to where he can walk without you getting anything because as it sits, Ganassi feels like they have a strong case against him and his wishes to go to McLaren Racing.

If McLaren wants him, their best option could be a buyout which would get Ganassi millions of revenue. If NTT Data stays aboard (there’s no word on why they’d leave) and money from McLaren, then Ganassi can take a driver for this seat without that said driver having to bring any form of compensation to the team. They can in laymen’s terms, hire the best available driver.

If Palou does end up with McLaren then he’d be placed on the Arrow McLaren SP side teaming with Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi. Basically replacing Felix Rosenqvist. Where this gets interesting is, there’s some behind the scenes talk that Rosenqvist has an option that is being held by McLaren but only through the end of this month. If they can’t reach a decision on the Palou case until October at the earliest, then Rosenqvist is free to look around the paddock for a seat elsewhere to remain here.

It’s not a secret that Rosenqvist has no desire to race in Formula E. Who can blame him? If Palou is moved to McLaren this month, this that’s the likely destination for him. Zak Brown is a smart businessman, does he really want a driver racing for him in a series he doesn’t want to be in?

“INDYCAR, I think it’s kind of addicting in a way,” he says. “Like it’s very tough. It’s probably — I wouldn’t say like — the driver level is high everywhere in professional championships, but it’s just such a team effort to get everything right on the day in terms of setup, pit stop strategy. The driver has to be fit, he has to be focused. There’s just so many variables, and if you lose one second in a pit sequence, you’re gone. That’s your day gone.

“I think that whole thing becomes — like when you succeed and when you win a race or get a podium or whatever, it’s just something you want to do again because it’s very rewarding when you do well, but it can also be brutal when you’re struggling, as I did last year. It was a super tough season for sure.

“But yeah, I’m doing well, and I want to continue that, so yeah, hopefully I’ll stay.”

The reason he’s holding onto Rosenqvist though is in the event that he can’t land Palou. That would then signify that Rosenqvist stays in his seat in the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. That’s the main reason as to why he’s holding onto him for this long. He sees Rosenqvist’s value. It’s just that he sees Palou’s upside more and would prefer to land the 2021 series champion. If he can’t, Rosenqvist is a great consolation prize.

Felix Rosenqvist scored the pole for Saturday’s race at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Which is why nothing will truly happen until this case is resolved because it affects a lot of pieces.

 “I think it’s all depending on the (Alex) Palou case what’s going to happen with me,” Rosenqvist said last month in Nashville.

Word is David Malukas is being sought out by some teams in the paddock. While he absolutely can return to his seat in the No. 18 Dallara-Honda, others are taking notice of his raw abilities. I wouldn’t sleep on the fact that Kyffin Simpson, a Ganassi developmental driver, moved over to HMD Racing in Indy Lights midseason.

Malukas’ dad owns HMD. There’s dialogue between HMD and Ganassi now. Does that allow Malukas to replace Palou in the 10 car? It could also help promote the likely Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist up to Malukas’ seat in the 18 in the NTT INDYCAR Series because if he doesn’t, there’s not many places Lundqvist could move up to.

He will have scholarship money but not many places to land. He also is an HMD driver in Lights. There’s dialogue that HMD and Dale Coyne Racing are after a 3rd car for 2023 and he’d be the obvious choice. Can they get an engine package though? More on this in a second.

“I mean, the big challenge right now is just getting a seat in INDYCAR, to be honest,” Lundqvist said last week. “There’s not a lot of ’em out there. We’ll see what we can do.

“I mean, I’ve had talks with literally every team on the grid since May I think. But obviously it’s so competitive out there, just to get a seat opening. We’re doing my best. We’re doing our best to put myself in one of the big cars.”

Lundqvist could take his money to that 2nd Juncos car but I get the feeling they’re after a veteran. Rosenqvist would make a ton of sense there if he isn’t retained by McLaren. Rosenqvist would make a ton of sense to go back to Ganassi in the ride he left to go to AMSP from. A driver like Tony Kanaan or Ryan Hunter-Reay make sense for both rides too.

It’s why this is a muddied mess for now.

Andretti Autosport could have an opening if Colton Herta leaves for F1. They have Devlin DeFrancesco, Romain Grosjean and Kyle Kirkwood under contract. Herta returns if his super license is denied. If it’s granted, then this is an intriguing ride available too. Does Oliver Askew return? What about Kanaan having a swan song here until Hunter McElrea or Christian Rasmussen would be ready for 2024?

It seems all but certain Benjamin Pedersen is going to AJ Foyt Racing and that Dalton Kellett is returning to his seat again. Other than that, the rest is filled.

RLL, Team Penske and MSR are remaining status quo.

You also have the engine factor in this too. With a new package coming out in 2024, each are likely maxed out at 18 for both. I know they’d prefer not to use 18 full time engines but rather a sweet spot of 14-15 and another 3-4 part-time for Indy only.

So here’s where the engine front sits for 2023:

Chevrolet (16)

Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning

Arrow McLaren SP (3) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year. O’Ward and Rossi will be in 2 of them but the 3rd will be down to Rosenqvist or Palou.

Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Both drivers are back. Ed is likely back on ovals. Do they pair on a grander scale with Paretta for 2023?

AJ Foyt Racing (3) – They had 3 engines this year but will they use all 3 next season?

Juncos Hollinger Racing (2) – They’ll have 2 cars next year with Callum Ilott in 1 of them and a TBA driver in the 2nd car.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (2) – I don’t get any indication that they’ll scale back to 1 or 0 cars in 2023 after a strong show this past May. I also don’t get any sense they’ll add more races outside of Indy either.

The Top Gun/RC Enerson saga has 1 engine. AJ Foyt has another but do they use all 3? That leaves 1 engine left. Cusick and Paretta are interested. Can they each secure 1?

Honda (17)

Andretti Autosport (5) – They have 4 drivers signed for 2023 but 1 could go to F1. If he does, they have a seat open. Do they move Marco Andretti back into it? He doesn’t sound like he wants to go back full-time but still has the passion for the Indy 500 which is why I think they’ll use all 5 again next year.

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – I don’t see them running a 5th car for Indy only next year. The question now is, do they stay 4 cars or park 1 of them while this Palou saga continues? Jimmie Johnson still wants to run full-time but Carvana’s status is uncertain. They can piece this together by having PNC return to Dixon’s car, Huski Chocolate on Marcus Ericsson’s and shifting NTT to Johnson and calling it a day at 3 cars. Which in turn would free up 2 engines. For now, I’ll keep them at 3.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023.

Meyer Shank Racing (2) – They’ll have both drivers back. They’re eyeing expansion but I don’t see how that gets done yet.

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – They’re after a 3rd engine but can they secure it? Malukas is back unless Ganassi or Andretti comes calling. Sato is back unless he wants to retire. They could have 1 seat, both seats or no seats opening.

There’s 1 engine left out there (Vasser Sullivan’s) that could be used. Then the rest gets interesting. Does Ganassi drop 1 of their engines and can DCR gain it? Does MSR secure a 3rd one to use part-time?

Moves Made

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