One month into the 2018 silly season for the Verizon IndyCar Series and a couple of pieces of the puzzle have been connected.
First, Andretti Autosport will retain the services of 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi. At first, it was believed that a change to Chevrolet engines would signal a separation between parties as Honda was tagged as a key to the deal. However, unlike the complications involving Takuma Sato, the California ex-Formula One pilot has been confirmed. Rossi has shown his thanks to the renewal of faith from management by running up front in recent rounds, including his second career victory last weekend at Watkins Glen International.
The second domino to fall was the revelation that Tony Kanaan is on the move. After four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, the Brazilian appears ready to join A.J. Foyt Racing for 2018, as the former Texas-based operation gets fully acclimated to its new headquarters in Indianapolis. While it seems that Conor Daly’s future with Super Tex is safe, his current teammate Carlos Munoz might be looking for an out. After nearly winning at the Brickyard last year with Andretti Autosport, the Colombian has placed no higher than seventh in any of the 16 races run to date and sits 16th on the points table.
Here is the breakdown, team-by-team, so far.
TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (CONFIRMED), Simon Pagenaud (CONFIRMED), Will Power (CONFIRMED), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)
Despite reports claiming Helio Castroneves is trying to convince Roger Penske to let him attempt another full season in 2018, the Brazilian seems set to join Juan Pablo Montoya to co-drive the Captain’s new Daytona Prototype International entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. If that holds true, expect to see both drivers get cars for the Indianapolis 500. Otherwise, no other changes are expected as Penske downsizes to three runners full-time.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (CONFIRMED), Max Chilton (Possible), Charlie Kimball (Unlikely)
Tony Kanaan is expected to leave Chip Ganassi Racing and team up with A.J. Foyt Racing. The move comes with NTT Data unwilling to support two entries for all 17 races in 2018. A downscaling of the CGR operation could become a reality as a replacement for Target department stores, who left the squad after 2016 has yet to occur.
Unless extra funding comes into play, it does not appear likely that Ganassi will enter four cars in 2018. The most likely scenario has the squad down to three; however, some have even hinted at only a two-car plan for the new year.
With Dixon set for next season, the question looms on the future for CGR’s current third and fourth pilots. Chilton and his backing from Gallagher Investments have been linked to a potential new team under the direction of Trevor Carlin, with whom the Englishman drove for in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires circuit. With Novo Nordisk reportedly also peeling back a little on its support of Kimball, the American could join up with both Carlin and Chilton likewise. With talks between Ganassi and Kimball believed to be in iffy mode, the Carlin possibility may start to gain more steam.
While options are few and far between at this point, keep in mind that Esteban Gutierrez is out there. The Mexican ex-Formula One chauffeur is bankrolled by Carlos Slim, whose Telcel brand sponsored Ganassi for several seasons in the former Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Could a possible rejoin be in play? Stay tuned.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (CONFIRMED), Marco Andretti (CONFIRMED), Alexander Rossi (CONFIRMED), Fernando Alonso (Possible)
Announcements have already begun to come in regards to 2018 as Michael Andretti confirmed they will stick with Honda. Then before his successful weekend at Watkins Glen International, the 2016 Indy 500 champion was re-signed, placing him alongside both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti who are on multi-year deals.
With Takuma Sato likely out, Andretti could be forced to rely on a financially-backed pilot to fill the fourth seat. Looking ahead to next year, only Hunter-Reay is fully sponsored via DHL. Andretti has had a myriad of different names on his car in 2017, mainly forced by the collapse of original backer H-H Gregg.
The rumors linking Fernando Alonso to the ride, however, have also gained momentum over the last month. With the Spaniard languishing in Formula One with an uncompetitive McLaren ride, a move to the U.S. and IndyCar could make sense following a solid performance this past May in the Indy 500.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (CONFIRMED), Takuma Sato (Possible)
Bobby Rahal and his son Graham have desired to expand to two cars full-time. If Sato is out of luck, Honda will be quick to offer any of its other teams a shot at the Japanese veteran and RLLR might just step up. While Rahal personally has shown a preference for having Oriol Servia as a teammate, the addition of Taku to the fold offers more money in the till looking ahead for this operation.
Indy Lights veteran Zachary Claman de Melo will handle a second car for Rahal at the season finale next weekend at Sonoma; however, he does not appear to have the money required to take this seat in 2018.
SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (Probable), Santiago Urrutia (Possible)
With Hinch possibly in the mix for a ride with Ganassi or even a return to his former home at Andretti, Schmidt may be forced to play a waiting game looking ahead to 2018. Though if the Canadian stays put, then the focus shifts to the team’s second seat. Financial issues have prevented Mikhail Aleshin from retaining the ride for next season.
With the Russian out of play, Arrow Electronics could sponsor both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also supported by Arrow, could become a target. As could Takuma Sato as Honda has reportedly increased its support for the squad in 2018, with a multi-year deal announced on Friday that extends to 2020.
DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (CONFIRMED), Ed Jones (Possible), Pippa Mann (Probable, Indy 500 only)
Although Bourdais has struggled in his first two races back from serious injuries suffered in May at Indianapolis, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. The concern shifts to Jones, who’s had a decent rookie season with the team, but will be without the scholarship money he had in hand after the Indy Lights title in 2016. With his Dubai connections, however, funds to cover the expenses might not be too hard to come by. Of course, it could be tough to match the financials that Carlos Slim-supported pilot Esteban Gutierrez could provide.
If Coyne reverts to the ride goes to the highest bidder philosophy, he carried before this year, then Jones might be looking elsewhere for employment in 2018. Expect the team to once again have Pippa Mann at the Indianapolis 500. The English veteran and the Windy City runners have been attached at the hip for Indy since 2013.
ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, CONFIRMED), Spencer Pigot (Road Courses Only, Possible), J.R. Hildebrand (Probable)
It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. Driving duties are not expected to change for 2018 unless Pigot heads elsewhere looking for full-time service.
HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (Probable)
The Indianapolis-based newcomers are expected to join the full-time roster next season with Gabby Chaves at the controls. No other changes are expected, but the team could require more funding to make their dream a reality.
A.J. FOYT RACING: Tony Kanaan (Probable), Conor Daly (Possible)
Tony Kanaan is all but a lock to join Super Tex’s operation, which will be fully online in Indianapolis by the start of the new year. With Foyt expected to remain at two cars in 2018, the question now is which 2017 returnee stays put.
The current campaign has been a frustrating one for both Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, who each were expected to provide a boost. With neither placing better than fifth in any event to date, the question of which either driver stays is unknown. If anyone bolts, the most likely would be the Colombian, who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt.
JUNCOS RACING: Kyle Kaiser (Possible), ???
Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one car next season. Kyle Kaiser having wrapped up the 2017 Indy Lights championship last weekend, provides the scholarship advancement money needed to take one of those seats.
If Spencer Pigot is looking for a full-time ride in 2018, Juncos could be his lone opportunity. The American prospect drove for the squad in 2015, the same year he won the Indy Lights title. Juncos’ other Indy 500 pilot Sebastian Saavedra could also be sought here.
CARLIN RACING: Max Chilton (Possible), Charlie Kimball (Possible)
After backing out from possibly taking over the now defunct KV Racing team last year, Trevor Carlin is believed to be exploring entering the circuit on his own in 2018. The key cog here is Max Chilton and possibly a second driver with some money in hand. The number two pilot could be Charlie Kimball, who is reportedly not faring well in negotiations with Chip Ganassi Racing about a contract extension for next season. Although his support from sponsor Novo Nordisk is likely to be reduced, when coupled with the cash from Gallagher Investments that Chilton carries, it might be enough to tip the apple cart in his favor.
DREYER & REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Indy 500 Only, Possible)
Unless things are dramatically altered, expect Dennis Reinbold to field an Indy 500 entry, possibly for Sage Karam or another driver in 2018.
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