INDIANAPOLIS — I do this on the NASCAR side on 5 things you may have missed during the week or 5 newsworthy items that came out between races. Even though the NTT INDYCAR Series season is over, this week was a newsworthy one.
Taylor Kiel Leaves Arrow McLaren SP
Arrow McLaren SP announced earlier this week that Team President Taylor Kiel has left his position with the team effective immediately. While it came to be a puzzling move when first unveiled, some details should soon clear it up.
Multiple people have said that chatter has taken place Kiel may end up at Chip Ganassi Racing with an undefined role. Kiel’s stepdad is Mike Hull so moving over to eventually land a leadership role with Ganassi makes a ton of sense.
Plus, I wouldn’t put it past Ganassi to make this move as a counter for the Alex Palou/McLaren saga that occurred this past summer.
Also, it sounds as if Brian Barnhart will move over to AMSP as well and likely would have some kind of role with Alexander Rossi. The two sides worked together this past season with Andretti Autosport and while Rossi had a disappointing season, he looked like he had a much faster car than he’s had in the few seasons prior.
Barnhart had a big hand in that and a familiar voice at AMSP for Rossi makes a ton of sense too.
Kyle Busch To The Indy 500 With AMSP?
A week ago, Kyle Busch had an underrated comment on the day that he was announced as moving over to Richard Childress Racing for 2023. Busch said that he can run the Indy 500 in the future.
“I can do it,” Busch said. “Any Chevrolet team INDYCAR teams call me up.”
Busch drove a Toyota for decades. With Honda in INDYCAR, there’s no real opportunity to race for a team outside of Chevy. Toyota isn’t going to let Busch run for rival Japanese manufacturer. So it had to be a Chevy operation.
He was even close at one point too. He stated in recent years that he had an Indy 500 interest, but even went as far as to say that while he had a car and sponsor lined up, he was shut down by his boss.
In 2019, Busch said that team was Penske actually.
“Him and I have spoken about it though,” Busch said then. “He was one of the team owners that I was going to drive for if the opportunity presented itself.”
Now that he’s a Chevy driver and Busch made sure that his next contract made mention that the Indy 500 was on the table, he’s open.
Penske isn’t a logical fit since they thrived as a 3-car team this past season and have a lot of work to still do to get back to their Indy glory. AJ Foyt Racing could have a car but how competitive is it going to be? Busch isn’t do this to just race. He wants to come to win.
Ed Carpenter Racing could be an option, but do they have resources to run 4 cars? Juncos has 2 cars already and I don’t see how they can attract a 2nd driver for that car with said driver knowing that they don’t have an Indy 500 opportunity?
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing could have a car available but so could AMSP. They said already that they were going to do 3 full time cars but never shut the door of running a 4th Indy only entry.
Zak Brown is known to want to stock pile drivers with contracts. Wouldn’t Busch be a mega opportunity for Brown and the McLaren brand?
According to Jenna Fryer at the AP, both sides have talked.
Indy Lights Dilemma
This is a massive story in the sense that Linus Lundqvist walked away with 700k less than he expected to have last weekend. See, under Andersen Promotions, the Indy Lights champion earned $1.2-million which was enough for a 3-race scholarship to the NTT INDYCAR Series a season later. 1 of those 3 races included the Indy 500. INDYCAR invested $500k to that $1.2 million while the rest came from other Road to Indy partners.
Penske Corp however then took over the series between the 2021 and 2022 season and thought that they were helping the teams by still giving $500k to the champions fund but instead of $700k going to the driver, they felt like why not add prize money to the race purses. That didn’t happen before.
The thing is, while it helped to boost the teams, it screws the champion in the end. The $1.2-million at the end of the year used to go directly to the champion. Now, even if they win every race, they won’t reach that $1.2-million moving forward.
The prize money now goes to the teams. Granted, some teams could have wording in contracts with drivers to get a % of that money for the finish, but it still isn’t all of it.
The teams got richer, but the drivers took a hit.
The $700k is still being spent but it’s going to a different area than it used to as well.
This is something that needs addressed immediately because as it’s structured now, the champion no longer has enough money to graduate up to an INDYCAR seat based off the scholarship….
But they got a painting!
The Lundqvist news affects Silly Season in a sense that he doesn’t have the budget now to move up to one of the few open seats remaining. As it’s currently constructed, Ganassi, AJ Foyt Racing and Juncos are the only ones to have any seats left.
Ganassi is just waiting on what Jimmie Johnson is doing. More on this in a second. AJ Foyt Racing has the No. 4 seat open, but all indications are that Dalton Kellett is returning which would end speculation there. The only thing left for Foyt is if they bring that 3rd car back out again or is it shelved outside of the Indy 500?
Juncos is free game for a 2nd driver.
The other rides outside of Dale Coyne Racing are solidified.
Penske is set with 3. Andretti is set with their 4 with the only change being Kyle Kirkwood replacing the departing Alexander Rossi. Rossi joins the 3rd car at AMSP joining O’Ward and Rosenqvist there.
RLL is bringing back Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey while being a possible addition to the free agent market, has a multi-year deal and I don’t see RLL buying him out. Meyer Shank Racing is set with both drivers returning.
Ed Carpenter Racing has Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay back. Their only situation is what Ed Carpenter does and if they keep the 3rd car open to Paretta. Other than that, they’re set.
That’s 6 teams solidified.
Ganassi now has 3 of their 4 drivers back with Johnson left to make a decision on to return full-time or not. Carvana is supporting him in whatever he wants to do. It seems like Johnson doesn’t necessarily want to commit for the 17 races, plus testing, etc. He is mulling racing some sports cars and maybe even a NASCAR return for a few races.
I get the sense that Johnson is having a hard time with this. He loves INDYCAR and would love to race all the races, but he also wants to be a husband, a dad, travel the world, race in the 24 Hours of Daytona and LeMans as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring. I don’t think he’d turn down a solid Daytona 500 offer but he also wants to race the Indy 500, Long Beach, etc too.
How much is too much and do any of these dates conflict with the others?
Where this affects others is, Honda is waiting to see if they have an extra engine or not to offer. DCR/HMD want it if there is. That’s so long as Takuma Sato comes back. We know David Malukas is returning and Sato is under contract. There’s also an option for him to step away and retire. There’s been no indications if he will or not.
If Johnson doesn’t do full-time and Sato returns, then DCR/HMD would love to get that 3rd engine and make it financially work with Lundqvist. If Johnson and Sato both return on a full-time basis, then I get the notion that Honda is full in terms of full-time engine allocations.
If Johnson returns and Sato retires, then Lundqvist would replace Sato. That’s why Johnson is the first domino and Sato the 2nd.
Lundqvist doesn’t have the money to go to Foyt even if Kellett doesn’t return or even if a 3rd car is an option. Same for the 2nd JHR seat.
I’ve heard Benjamin Pedersen will be in the seat of the 14 at Foyt so silly season is now pretty much over.
Both Chevy and Honda can produce 18 engines each for the Indy 500 but on a full-time level, they’re really not willing to add much more to the mix. It’s more or less just repurposing the engines that are already out there.
Chevy had 12 full time engines for 2022 and Honda 15. In those numbers, I counted the 3rd ECR engine as well as the 3rd at Foyt engine into Chevy’s allocation because the plan all along was for that Foyt entry to be full-time car anyhow and the 3rd ECR engine was used with Paretta. I hear that plan will likely happen again in 2023 between ECR and Paretta.
On the part-time basis, Chevy engines were a 3rd at AMSP, one at DragonSpeed/Cusick and two at DRR. For Honda, they had 1 extra at Andretti and 1 at Ganassi.
AMSP is moving that 3rd to full-time. JHR is getting that one back from DragonSpeed/Cusick which means DRR holds the keys to the only 2 part-time engines from last year. Chevy ups their full-time engine program to 24.
Honda is set at their 15 full-time which is why it’s down to Ganassi or DCR/HMD and why Honda won’t just create another full-time engine program to accommodate both.
If Johnson is back, Ganassi likely let’s go of their 5th Indy only entry from last year to which DCR/HMD can pick up. Heck, there could even be a scenario to where Sato is Indy only in that ride…
Andretti will use theirs again for Marco Andretti.
That’s 33 cars/engines there.
DragonSpeed/Cusick could make a run at the other Foyt engine or even AMSP for Kyle Busch? We know where Chevy would obviously like that to go under that scenario. What’s the Top Gun/RC Enerson saga?
Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning
Arrow McLaren SP (3) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year with O’Ward, Rosenqvist and Rossi in them. Do they get a 4th for Kyle Busch?
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?
Andretti Autosport (5) – They have 4 drivers signed for 2023 and all will be back. I’d expect Marco Andretti to return in the Indy only role again.
Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – I don’t see them running a 5th car for Indy only next year. The question now is, Jimmie Johnson. Is he full-time or not?
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 but is Sato? They could have 1 seat open. If they don’t, then they want a 3rd engine for Linus Lundqvist.
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?
INDYCAR Sends Note About Another Year Of Growth
Five drivers taking the race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship to the final laps of the season finale. A return to a full racing calendar, with successful reboots of two events. Growing numbers of viewers on television and streaming platforms. An exciting new era for Indy Lights.
Add it all up, and INDYCAR’s trajectory during and after the 2022 season continues to move upward.
“INDYCAR continues to build on its strengths as the fastest, most daring and exciting circuit racing in the world,” said Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO. “Working closely with our teams, manufacturers and sponsor partners, our long-term strategy for growth is succeeding at every level.
“The 2022 season was memorable on and off the track for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and we can’t wait to see this collaboration generate even more progress next year.”
Thrilling, Close Competition
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship was decided at the final event of the year for the 17th consecutive season, with Will Power clinching his second title for Team Penske by just 16 points over teammate Josef Newgarden.
Five drivers – Power, Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske and Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing – entered the season finale eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup as season champion. That’s the most drivers with a chance for the championship in a regular-points season finale since 2003.
The championship lead also was exchanged seven times between McLaughlin, Newgarden, Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, Power and Ericsson during the season.
Nine different drivers won at least one of the 17 races this season, led by Newgarden with five. That’s just two shy of the all-time INDYCAR SERIES record for different winners in one season.
Power and Dixon also made history with significant career milestones. Power broke a tie with fellow legend Mario Andretti with his 68th career pole at the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, an all-time INDYCAR SERIES record. Dixon’s victory at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville was the 53rd of his illustrious career, breaking a tie with Andretti for No. 2 all time on the INDYCAR SERIES win list, behind only the 67 victories by the legendary A.J. Foyt.
Other highlights were Ericsson’s thrilling victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and three wins by McLaughlin in just his second season of open-wheel racing.
Vibrant, Consistent Schedule
After two seasons of pandemic-related reshuffling, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned to a more traditional, 17-race schedule in 2022, with anchored dates familiar to fans.
Highlights included once again starting the season with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and finishing with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach restored to its traditional April date, and the welcome return of the Honda Indy Toronto to Canada’s largest city for the first time since 2019.
Another welcome sight was the return of full capacity for fans at the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 29 after two years of pandemic-related restrictions, including no fans admitted in 2020. Fans responded with vigor, as a near-sellout crowd of more than 300,000 attended the world’s largest sporting gathering since the onset of COVID-19.
Perhaps the biggest success story of the 2022 schedule was the revitalization of INDYCAR racing at Iowa Speedway after a one-year hiatus. The Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend featured a doubleheader for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and a single event for Indy Lights on the fast oval. A successful promotion with enthusiastic title partner Hy-Vee, which included four concerts with country and pop music superstars at the track, resulted in big crowds despite stifling summer heat.
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, which debuted in 2021 to rave reviews on the streets of Nashville, also continued to flourish in its second year.
Continued Audience Growth
The growing popularity of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was reflected in the most-watched season in six years on television, with viewership up 5 percent over 2021. The season averaged a Total Audience Delivery of 1.30 million viewers across NBC, USA Network, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms, the best in NBC Sports history.
Half of the season’s 16 races on television delivered more than 1 million viewers, the highest mark since 2008. A record 14 of 17 races were on NBC network television in 2022, and selected series races also were televised by Telemundo Deportes on Universo.
This also was the most streamed INDYCAR season on record, with exponential growth compared to 2021. A series race, the Honda Indy Toronto, was streamed exclusively for the first time, and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge was the most streamed INDYCAR SERIES race ever.
International coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and domestic and international coverage of Indy Lights was available around the world through the new INDYCAR Live! streaming platform.
Growing Team Investment
At least 25 cars competed in every NTT INDYCAR SERIES event outside of the 33-car Indianapolis 500, as teams and their commercial partners found mutual benefits from the enticing, attractive mix of street courses, natural road courses and ovals found in no other series on Earth.
Juncos Hollinger Racing switched from part time to full time with one car in 2022 and announced plans to add a second car for the 2023 season. Arrow McLaren SP also unveiled plans to add a third car to its lineup in 2023.
Off the track, Arrow McLaren SP, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport also announced plans for gleaming, expanded new headquarters and race shop facilities in the Indianapolis area.
New Commercial Partners
Many commercial partners joined INDYCAR or NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams or extended pacts with both in 2022.
PeopleReady, Shell, PIRTEK, PPG, Gallagher Insurance, The American Legion and Autograph were added to the impressive roster of INDYCAR partners, while Dallara, Gainbridge, Ruoff Mortgage and TAG Heuer extended pacts with the sanctioning body.
Sustainability Efforts Blossom
Penske Entertainment continued its sustainability journey by announcing a lineup of additional energy solutions for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indianapolis Motor Speedway during May and beyond. The variety of initiatives will help reduce the carbon footprint within INDYCAR and power progress toward more sustainable motorsports in North America.
Among the initiatives announced was Shell’s 100% Renewable Race Fuel to be introduced into the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The fuel developed by Shell is set to make the NTT INDYCAR SERIES the first United States-based motorsports series to power racing with 100 percent renewable race fuel and enables at least 60 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to fossil-based gasoline.
Firestone also debuted a new eco-friendlier tire made from the North American-sourced guayule shrub. It was introduced during the Indy 500 pit stop competition and as the alternate tire at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
Indy Lights Grows
INDYCAR assumed in 2022 promotion and execution of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, the final step of preparation before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The season featured 14 races, all at the same tracks and on the same weekends as NTT INDYCAR SERIES events as the two series blended their paddocks when possible to provide further exposure for Lights drivers.
Swedish driver Linus Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. Lundqvist will receive an enhancement package to climb to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES next season.
Indy Lights also saw growth in participating drivers, with 12 to 14 cars competing at every race. Like in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Lights teams also announced expansion plans for 2023, with championship team HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing planning to field eight cars.
The series also will enter a new era in 2023 with longtime NTT INDYCAR SERIES tire supplier Firestone also providing rubber for Indy Lights teams, increasing the synergy between the two series.