With all of the major full-time spots filled up before the first of the year, the layout for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series fleet is pretty much a lock, pending the surprise last-minute entry.
Things almost skipped a beat last month, however, when questions about the personal money being provided by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports regular Mikhail Aleshin arose. However, it appears that those concerns have been put to rest and the Russian veteran should be trackside for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next month.
The situation is also unchanged at KV Racing, where all signs to point to a return not happening. There was an outside look at possibly bringing in former Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado to cover a good chunk of the budget; however, an unwillingness to contest the oval races may have been a deal breaker. While a full season effort appears out of play, maybe the team could appear at the Indy 500 to make up the necessary numbers for a 33-car lineup.
Likewise for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, one notable seat has been secured in the form of Sage Karam joining forces with Dennis Reinbold’s squad for the third time in four years. A team that finished ninth in 2004 and ran in the top six last year before dropping out near the halfway point.
So with an early teaser given, here are the current scenarios with just over a month before the first green flag of 2017.
Team Penske: Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power (all full-time, all confirmed). Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 confirmed)
The signing of Newgarden was the biggest free agent grab during silly season, and the team has assigned Tim Cindric to be his race strategist. With series champion Pagenaud, along with Power and Castroneves being retained, the focus shifts to the Indy-only effort for Montoya.
The two-time Indy 500 champion has scaled back his participation for 2017, but has confirmed he will enter the Greatest Spectacle of Racing behind the wheel of a fifth entry for Penske. There are also rumors floating of Montoya possibly running a second date this year for Penske following a comment by Cindric last week. The most likely? The Indianapolis Grand Prix, which takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a couple of weeks before the big event.
Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton (all full-time, all confirmed)
There were some concerns whether Chilton would be retained for a second season; however, the former F-1 driver’s place is secure for 2017. Also, there were questions about Kanaan’s future while Newgarden was a free agent. All remains unaltered for CGR, except for the acquisition of Honda engines and the loss of long-time sponsor Target. As for Indy, Ganassi is unlikely to seek a fifth entry even if numbers are in question.
Andretti Autosport: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato (all full-time, all confirmed) Townsend Bell (possible, Indy-only effort)
Carlos Munoz was the highest placed Andretti driver on the final points table in 2016, yet the team elected to let him go to A.J. Foyt Racing for 2017. In his place is a big surprise in the form of former Foyt driver Takuma Sato. Although Sato did manage to find the winner’s circle in 2015 at Long Beach, he failed to ride the momentum for the rest of the year and struggled alongside Jack Hawksworth in 2016. However, Sato does hold a significant place for engine provider Honda, which may have contributed to his addition.
As for Indy, Townsend Bell was a major challenger for victory until he came into contact on pit road with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, knocking both out of contention. Despite that shortcoming, Bell’s Indy-specialist tag might be enough to see Andretti give him a second chance at the Brickyard.
Ed Carpenter Racing: J.R. Hildebrand (Full-time, confirmed), Ed Carpenter (ovals only, confirmed), Spencer Pigot (road races only, confirmed, Indy 500 likely)
The team tried to retain the services of Josef Newgarden, but could not match the deal made by Team Penske. Still, ECR has a solid replacement in J.R. Hildebrand, who has enjoyed three impressive Indy-only rides at ECR. While he has not been a part of the full-time circuit since mid-2013, Hildebrand did provide the team with positive feedback during a Road America test when Newgarden was sidelined due to injuries suffered at Texas Motor Speedway.
Carpenter will once again share the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet with Pigot, who had a decent half year with ECR after opening with Rahal. A separate car for the Indy 500 will likely be added for the former Indy Lights champion, while even a fourth car could be possible to reach 33. Could Zach Veach re-enter the picture at ECR in an unexpected way? Keep that in mind as Indy draws closer, and car count becomes a concern.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin (both full-time, both confirmed) Jay Howard (possible, Indy-only ride)
As mentioned above, Aleshin’s place looked to be in jeopardy only until the puzzle pieces came together to retain his role for a second year. The Russian made significant strides forward in 2016 and could crack the final top ten in 2017, with a better knowledge of the series slate. James Hinchcliffe made a strong comeback following a year of recuperating from his near fatal Indy crash in 2015. The only thing missing for SPM is a victory, which could be tougher to grab with a bolstered lower half of the full-time fleet.
As mentioned on Popular Speed, Tony Stewart has provided funding for Schmidt’s planned third car for the Indy 500, potentially clearing the way for the team’s former Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia to get the nod. However, recent reports have surfaced via Racer.com that Jay Howard is now the leading candidate for the ride.
Again, this squad could be a four-car entrant for Indy, with possibly Carlos Slim-backed pilot Luis Michael Dorrbecker a potential target. Also, it is unknown as to whether Will Marotti will be involved with the team as he was a year ago at Indy.
A.J. Foyt Racing: Carlos Munoz, Conor Daly (both full-time, both confirmed) Alex Tagliani (possible, Indy-only ride)
After two difficult seasons, SuperTex and his son Larry have gone back to the drawing board for 2017. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth
have been released for two drivers who each enjoyed flashes of brilliance in 2016. Carlos Munoz nearly won the Indy 500 and placed tenth on the points table, while Conor Daly had several solid road course results driving for Dale Coyne. The team has also acquired Chevrolet engines, perhaps the trick needed to boost performance to the contend for wins level.
Foyt usually steps forward to make up the numbers at Indy, which could allow a third straight effort for former pole winner Alex Tagliani, if not more if needed to reach 33.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (full-time, confirmed), Oriol Servia (part-time including Indy, confirmed)
After two solid seasons, RLLR has partially expanded to include a second team with Graham Rahal’s preferred choice Oriol Servia getting
the call. Rahal is not a likely source for Indy-only entries, even if desperately needed to make a full eleven rows of three.
Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones (both full-time, both confirmed), Pippa Mann (Likely Indy-only ride)
After some strong outings from Conor Daly in 2016, Coyne seems to have loosened the purse strings to become a bonafide contender, rather than merely surviving. Bourdais joined the Chicago-based effort from KV, and the squad also reeled in reigning Lights Champ Ed Jones. Several key additions in the engineering staff also could improve DCR’s fortunes.
Expect Pippa Mann to return to the team for the Indy 500, with backing from Susan G. Komen. No word if team will align with Jonathan Byrd’s Racing in 2017 following the death of Bryan Clauson, or who the team may target as a replacement. Either way, with or without Byrd’s backing there is a decent chance at a fourth car for the Indy 500.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam (Indy-only, confirmed)
As reported by Popular Speed, Sage Karam will return with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, marking the team and driver combination’s third appearance in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Although only appearing once a year, the team has been more than just a field filler since leaving the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series ranks following the 2013 race.
Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier (Indy-only, possible)
The family-run team from Vail, Colorado teamed up with Thomas Burns to field a car for the 1996 Indy 500 champion last year and could join forces with Burns or another entity for 2017. With Lazier’s son not ready to take the wheel just yet, expect the veteran to handle the driving duties once again.
KV Racing: (Indy-only deal?)
With Bourdais leaving and a potential partnership with Trevor Carlin never coming to fruition, it appears Kevin Kalkhoven’s team will be absent from the grid in St. Petersburg and for most of the 2017 season. Still, they could revert to the role DRR has held the past three years and field a car for the Indy 500 to ensure a full field. Beyond that, however, unless something drastic occurs soon, KV is done.
Stay tuned to Popular Speed for continued team and driver confirmations on the road to the start of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
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