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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: 2018 Driver Change Analysis

Since the posting of my latest Ultimate Silly Season update last week, several suggested moves have turned heads.

If beliefs about other deals being inked are indeed on target, there could be as many as four new pilots joining the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet in 2018. Interestingly, however, is the chance of two of the circuit’s most dominant teams being destinations.

The addition of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport was a move that was a long time coming, for perhaps the most patient prospect in recent memory. Since the 2016 silly season, the Ohioan has been a realistic target for multiple rides, but was minus the funding and the experience desired to be able to sign on the dotted line.

While the inclusion at an organization that has won the last two Indianapolis 500s will provide a fair deal of expectations in the long term, the pressure to succeed will be a reduced rate next season. With Michael Andretti’s quartet featuring a pair of championship contenders in Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the goal for year one may be to at worst match the outputs from Marco Andretti, who has endured a difficult 2017 campaign.

Veach had two chances to gain IndyCar familiarity in 2017, and he fared well on short notice at Barber Motorsports Park, one of the series’ most demanding layouts. He also made his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt, and while he suffered a crash before qualifying, he mostly kept his nose clean on race day, when mechanical failure sidelined him at the three-quarter mark.

Spencer Pigot’s promotion to full-time service at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 was based on the potential shown, if not by the results sheet. While the 23-year old showed solid pace in several road races in 2017, he was often plagued by car trouble or being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment. Still, if the former Indy Lights champion did not get the bump up at ECR, other suitors may have snapped up the Pasadena, California resident.

The move gives the Speedway, Indiana squad its most strong driving cast for non-oval track competition since when Mike Conway was at the controls in 2014. With several potent road racing prospects on the free agent market, pairing another talented shoe with Pigot will show a desire from Ed Carpenter to improve his product in all events, rather than banking on solely the high speed runs.

With the 2017 Indy Lights championship now in the bank, expect Kyle Kaiser to use the advancement scholarship money earned to compete in at least three events, if not a full-run for Juncos Racing. The title promotes not only the number one driver, but also the best Mazda Road to Indy entrant into the IndyCar Series. Ricardo Juncos made his top tier debut at this year’s Indy 500, fielding two Chevrolet-powered entries for Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.

Kaiser was initially pointed toward taking one of the Indy rides this past May; however, Juncos elected to hold off on moving the 21-year old forward in favor of gaining further experience. The decision has returned positively as the Californian has won three times and placed in the top-three in six of 16 Indy Lights races this year.

The final newcomer is still in the yet to be confirmed at the time POPULAR SPEED went to press, however if reports are accurate, the addition of Brendon Hartley as a teammate to fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi is the ultimate boom or bust scenario. The former Formula One test driver and Porsche LMP-1 Hybrid competitor has a boat load of experience and a ton of speed, but the 27-year old does come with a “buyer beware” message. Hartley also has shown a case of over-aggressiveness during his time in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and while he may show incredible pace in IndyCar, he also could run up a substantial accident bill for Ganassi if confirmed for next season.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Zach Veach Completes Andretti Autosport Line-Up

After spending the last couple of years looking for a ride, Zach Veach has found his home at Andretti Autosport as he will complete their driver line-up for 2018. Veach will drive the No. 26 Honda entry next season.

“I’ve been thinking about this day since St. Petersburg in 2010 when I sat beside Michael Andretti announcing that I’d be competing in USF2000 for his team,’’ Zach said. “To be driving in the Verizon IndyCar series with them is a dream come true.”  

The 22-year-old made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in April for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park, finishing 19th, followed by a 26th in the Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Veach made himself known in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, scoring a career-best third in the standings in 2014 with Andretti Autosport. Last year, he scored three victories driving for Belardi Auto Racing en route to placing fourth in the points.

“We are excited to give Zach the opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him home, so to speak, as he completes our all-American lineup,” said Michael Andretti, CEO, Andretti Autosport. “Zach started his INDYCAR career with us in USF2000 and has driven in every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport. He’s a driver that has always impressed me. Zach works hard, and he takes something away from every time he’s in the car – he’s constantly improving. He’s put the effort in, found success at every level and now his dream has come full circle.”

The announcement completes the “all-american” line-up at Andretti Autosport as Veach joins Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Alexander Rossi. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Andretti Autosport Returns to Championship Form

Even though Andretti Autosport had things going their way in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Ryan Hunter-Reay contending for victories the past couple season, their Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program was faltering. Now with six rounds in the books, it appears the program is back on track.

“We have four talented drivers,” Michael Andretti said on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We have two that are getting us wins. They’re going to be duking it out the rest of the year, so far.”

The organization came close to winning the championship in 2014, placing Zach Veach and Mathew Brabham third and fourth in the standings. Veach led the points through the first seven rounds boasting a pair of victories, though with only one win in season’s second half saw him drop two positions. Meanwhile, Brabham climbed his way back up after sitting ninth following the season-opener at St. Petersburg, with his season highlighted by a victory in the Indianapolis Road Course Race 1.

It was expected they would contend once again in 2015, but that didn’t happen, with the 2016 season also going down the pipes.

They fielded only one entry full-time in 2015 with Shelby Blackstock behind the wheel, placing 10th in the standings with a best finish of third at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A year later, Blackstock failed to post a podium en route to finishing eighth in points. Dalton Kellett and Dean Stoneman also ran full-time, and although Stoneman won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, success was few and far between with Stoneman placing sixth in points and Kellett in 10th.

Now so far this season, they have two drivers currently in the top-three in points, with Nico Jamin second and Colton Herta third.

Jamin may have started off his season with a pair of finishes outside of the top-five at St. Petersburg, but he’s been doing an amazing job ever since. He scored his first career Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition in race one at Barber Motorsports Park, before finishing third in the second event. Indianapolis went well for him, as well, with a victory in round one followed by a fourth in race two.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Jamin said. “We want to do this season, win the championship. A win at Barber and a win here – we have momentum going on now.”

He enters the top series on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires after placing third in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last season.

Herta came out of the gate fast right off the bat, with two wins and a runner-up in the first four races to enter Indianapolis with a 16-point lead. However, problems in both races for a pair of finishes outside the top-nine slipped him back to third. Even though success has come quickly, it’s mindful to remember Herta is a series rookie, and original intentions were to go with a two-year program by setting the ground work this year to win a title next season.

“To be honest, it was unexpected,” Herta said following Barber. “We were just going in there hoping just to get some top-five finishes, start the season off right, and get some points.”

Last year, Andretti Autosport won the Freedom 100 – but that was the only highlight of the campaign.

With success coming already, another victory on the first oval of 2017 would solidify their stance of being contenders all year-long.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logo

Throughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Is Simon Pagenaud returning to his role as the rabbit of the Verizon IndyCar Series? Following his first win of 2017 at Phoenix, the Frenchman is headed toward recasting a sequel. However, coming into the fourth round sixth in the driver rankings, it is impossible to move all the way to the top.

Looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500, POPULAR SPEED has extended our IndyCar team rankings to reflect those who will make their lone appearance at the Brickyard.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Phoenix showed the remainder of the IndyCar grid what a five-car Team Penske could do when the transporters reach Gasoline Alley. Pagenaud won at Phoenix and any of his four teammates, including two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, are capable of adding their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy on May 28th.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Honda’s failure to figure out Phoenix derailed Ganassi’s performance in Arizona; however, if the pace the Japanese manufacturer showed last year at Indy can be replicated, good finishes from Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball are possible. It is probably too early to add Max Chilton as a serious challenger though.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

12th was the best SPM could manage from James Hinchcliffe; but, Mikhail Aleshin’s elimination on the lap puts a question mark on the table. It is tough to move them ahead of DCR based on last weekend, but on potential looking ahead to Indy, Schmidt in the words of former Price is Right host Bob Barker, “is the bigger bargain.”

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Craig Hampson was right – DCR is not a serious contender on the ovals. Sebastien Bourdais was another victim of the lap one pileup but struggled for pace in practice. Ed Jones also failed to feature, managing an 11th-place finish based on attrition. Not the news Indy 500-only pilot Pippa Mann was hoping to hear.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Another quadruple retirement for Andretti at Phoenix. The good news is with six cars track side at IMS at least one car should make the finish in the 500. How the rest of the six-pack handles the attention that Fernando Alonso is guaranteed to get this month will guide them to their climax.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Ed Carpenter never made the impact that was hoped for at Phoenix, although J.R. Hildebrand certainly did. A solid qualifying run, coupled with a clean showing in the race netted a third-place finish for the Californian. While it is premature to tag the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet as an Indy 500 favorite, the car and its occupant should not be overlooked.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

Confidence is dropping fast at RLLR, and Graham Rahal is not hiding that things look bleak. A good Indy 500 finish may depend on Oriol Servia at this point.

8. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

The offseason signings Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly continue to be mired among the rear guard. The addition of Zach Veach at the Indy 500 should help, but just when Foyt could not fall any further down the list, here comes the Indy-only invaders.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

Team boss Larry Curry is the perfect choice to lead a new operation, and you cannot do much better than hiring Gabby Chaves as the wheelman. Alliance with DRR means perhaps an equal level of performance.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Four top-fives in four starts to open 2017. No doubt about it, the Iceman appears ready to challenge for a second Indianapolis 500 win.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

The Tennessee-native was not the best of the Penske bunch at Phoenix, but he should be effective when he sets foot at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in one week from now.

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

Perhaps Dale Coyne Racing can salvage their month of May with a big push in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Once the scenery moves back to the 2.5-mile oval, the odds are not in the Frenchman’s favor.

4. Will Power (+1)

Power finally reached the finish of an 2017 IndyCar race without issue. A second-place finish behind Pagenaud was well earned and should make the Aussie a challenger in both May events.

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Even without the yellow flag, Pagenaud was looming as a potential winner. Although a third IndyCar GP win in four tries is signficant; the 2016 IndyCar champion has made it clear that the Indy 500 is the one he wants the most.

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner should bounce back to play a role in the drama on May 28; however, based on his Long Beach victory, his best shot at Brickyard glory could be in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Castroneves has been more effective in qualifying than on race day. The pressure to make history as a four-time Indy 500 champion exists, but expect the Brazilian to dig deep in his quest to get there.

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

A quiet sixth-place last week sets the stage for TK’s best chances for victory this season. If Honda regains its muscle from 2016, watch out.

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

Rossi and his Andretti teammates floundered at Phoenix, leaving their month of May prospects in doubt. Probably faces a higher mountain than any defending Indy 500 champion in history.

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

Indy’s hard luck hero added his name to the contenders’ list with a podium finish at Phoenix. He was in the mix late in last year’s Indy 500 until he made contact with Helio Castroneves.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th last week), Spencer Pigot (10th last week)

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Veach Replaces Injured Hildebrand At Alabama

Still recovering from surgery for an injured left hand suffered during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, J.R. Hildebrand will be absent from the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this weekend.

In his place, however, will be a driver whose expected Verizon IndyCar Series debut has been moved up. Already tipped to drive a third car at the 101st Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing, Ohio-native Zach Veach will take over the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing this weekend. Veach is no stranger to success at Barber Motorsports Park, having finished third or better in three of his four Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires starts at the venue.

“My heart goes out to (Hildebrand) as I suffered a broken hand a couple years ago and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone,” Veach said. “This isn’t how any driver wants to get his first race, but with that said, I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to sub for J.R.”

The opportunity for Veach also reunites the young prospect with ECR. The three-year Indy Lights veteran tested for ECR this past September at Sonoma Raceway. Following the departure of Josef Newgarden to Team Penske, Veach was under consideration for a full-time ride, before the team chose to move forward with Hildebrand.

“Ed (Carpenter) gave me my first chance to test an Indy car a few months ago. It’s going to be very special for me to be back in that same car representing Fuzzy’s Vodka at Barber,” continued Veach. “It’s going to be a lot to take in in a short amount of time, but I’m really excited to do the best I can for the team, as well as J.R.”

While unable to compete this weekend, Hildebrand will be trackside to assist Veach and the ECR team in Alabama. The Californian remains hopeful to return for the Phoenix Grand Prix later this month.

“This obviously is not how I had hoped this would play out, but I’ve done everything there was to do since surgery last Tuesday with good results,” Hildebrand said. “It seems the risk is still too high given the initial extent of the injury. “The doctors I’ve worked with have been awesome to get my fractures sorted out and I trust their view of the situation.”

With Veach joined by Spencer Pigot in the sister No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing will feature a driver lineup that has earned three wins in Indy Lights competition at Barber Motorsports Park, but with neither having made an IndyCar Series start here.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Silly Season Update

The path toward a 33-car field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 has continued to provide interesting storylines.

However, the biggest one to date came on Wednesday morning, when Andretti Autosport confirmed their sixth entry. In partnership with McLaren F1. Fernando Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix to participate. The former world champion becomes the first active Formula 1 driver to try his luck at Indy since Mario Andretti in 1981.

This move is also notable since it represents an 18th Honda-powered entry in the field. The manufacturer reportedly will not provide any more lease deals, a bad sign for a possible partnership that could have involved Sam Schmidt and Will Marotti. It does not remove Marotti completely from rumors, but if God Bless America Racing wants a place on the grid, their hopes now rest with Chevrolet.

Here is the current projection of how things could shape up for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya

The Captain will enter five cars at the Speedway for the first time, and all drivers have been confirmed.

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball

Four full-time runners on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit and nothing is expected to change for one race.

Andretti Autosport: Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Fernando Alonso

Harvey’s deal involving Michael Shank Racing appeared to be the final piece for Andretti’s Indy 500 efforts. That is until McLaren decided to join the fun, giving Fernando Alonso a shot at Indy. The six-car team is the largest at the Brickyard since Andy Evans’ Team Scandia provided seven in 1996.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, Jay Howard

The Alonso to Andretti deal probably ends any chance of Will Marotti partnering with Sam Schmidt for a second consecutive year. Still, Schmidt features a strong three-car lineup.

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Pippa Mann

Three-car entry pretty much set in stone, unless additional Honda engine leases pop up.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia

The Ohio-based runners are set for May with a two-car entry, as has often been the case since its return to the full IndyCar circuit in 2012.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand

As mentioned above, ECR will only enter two cars at Indy next month. Spencer Pigot has been given the okay to seek another ride for the 500, but could be on standby if J.R. Hildebrand is not cleared to compete. The 2011 runner-up suffered a broken hand last weekend at Long Beach.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach, TBA?

Zach Veach was confirmed as Foyt’s third driver last weekend at Long Beach. They could also add a fourth car to complete the field if needed

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves

Harding Racing confirmed its formation and technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing earlier this week. 2015 Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves will drive with Larry Curry managing the operation.

Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser?, TBA?

If Kyle Kaiser is indeed one of the team’s two drivers, a confirmation should come soon. The Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes place later this month, and participation is mandatory. The team has also been considering a veteran driver with Sebastian Saavedra’s name being mentioned from a few inside sources.

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier

Bob Lazier says plans are to return in some form at Indy this May. His son, 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier is likely to handle the driving duties once again.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Zach Veach to Drive for Foyt in Indianapolis 500

AJ Foyt Racing will have three entries for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, with Zach Veach driving a third entry alongside regulars Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz.

“Obviously, we want to win,” Larry Foyt, President of AJ Foyt Racing said. “We feel like we’ve got a guy in Carlos Munoz that has shown he definitely can be there at the end of that race. Conor has some more experience now. We think he’ll be tough. Zach’s got a lot of experience, even in the Lights car around that track.

“So for us, we know Zach’s a rookie. We want to win Rookie of the Year, for sure. But we’ve been running three cars, and we felt like this year at first we weren’t going to do it unless the right opportunity came together. When Zach became available, a great sponsor came up, we’ve been able to line up some good people for the crew and engineering. When that all came together, it was a no-brainer.”

The 22-year-old’s Verizon IndyCar Series debut comes after scoring six victories and six poles in three years of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition, including a top-five points finish last year for Belardi Auto Racing.

“I think for me, this is getting closer to hopefully completing an 18-year-old dream that I’ve had,” Veach said. “I think as any young American driver, you always think about Indianapolis. Of course, you always relate the name A.J. Foyt with Indy. That’s something you strive to be like. To be able to say I’m going to run my first Indianapolis 500 with a team like his, it’s very exciting for me. This has been a goal we’ve been actively working on for 10 years. This will be my 10th anniversary since I started racing.

“We’ve had a lot of luck there in an Indy Lights car. It’s going to be a big transition to get into the Verizon IndyCar Series, one I look forward to and one I think I’m ready for.”

Veach’s No. 40 Chevrolet will be sponsored by the Indy Woman in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim. The No. 40 was chosen as this year marks the 40th anniversary of A.J. Foyt’s record-setting fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.

“I think Zach has the talent and determination it takes to make it in this sport,” the 82-year-old said. “I like his attitude and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

With four holes in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the official LPGA tournament will feature 144 of the LPGA’s top talent in a three-day stroke-play event (Sept. 7 – 9, 2017) vying for a $2 million purse. The  event brings together some of the best golfers while raising funds for the Indy Women in Tech foundation. The foundation, established by Guggenheim, was created to provide awareness and funding for impactful women and tech initiatives, particularly those focused on robotics, STEM days and career transitioning for those re-entering the workforce.

“The Indy Women in Tech foundation, along with AJ Foyt Racing and Zach Veach, is committed to making positive changes to the communities where we work and live. This sponsorship allows us to shine a global spotlight on meaningful robotics and career transition programs that will develop our workforce through education and job training to support Indy’s growing resume for tech innovation,” Daniel Towriss, President and CEO of Guggenheim Life.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

IndyCar Silly Season Almost Wrapped Up

Often in the most recent years of the Verizon IndyCar Series, silly season and the final fulltime seats on the circuit were often not decided until days, sometimes hours before the opening of the first race weekend. Looking ahead to 2017 however, things certainly have not followed this pattern.

Perhaps in an accelerated and exhilarated mode due to the momentum generated from one of its best campaigns since the split of openwheel racing in North America twenty years ago, the landscape for the 2017 season could be fully in place before the first day of the new year. As of November 20, 2016, only three (potentially four) fulltime seats are without team confirmation. As a result, this could also push up the calls on driver picks for next May’s 101st running of the  Indianapolis 500, something that may also cool off the concern of the race not featuring a full, 33-car grid, a common concern among IndyCar’s fan base for the last several years.

Currently, all of the rides below are set in stone before the Thanksgiving Day holiday…

Penske: Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power

Ganassi: Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, (one vacancy)

Andretti: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, (one vacancy)

Carpenter: Ed Carpenter (ovals only), (road courses only driver, unknown), J.R. Hildebrand

Schmidt-Peterson: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin

Foyt: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz

Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan: Graham Rahal, (one potential vacancy)

Coyne: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones

KV: (one vacancy)

Now regarding the vacancies, the fourth seat at Andretti Autosport appears to be the least in question. Multiple insider reports suggest that former AJ Foyt Racing pilot Takuma Sato will take the seat. Following a difficult 2016 season, plus a possible switch by the Texas-based squad from Honda to Chevrolet engines for 2017, Honda began shopping around Sato’s services to keep him on the fulltime grid for 2017. In terms of making that a reality, Andretti seems to be the best option.

As for the final opening at Chip Ganassi Racing and the single seat at KV Racing, another former Formula One pilot Max Chilton appears to be in the position to fill one of the seats. Chilton, with personal backing from Gallagher Investments, contested the full IndyCar tour in 2016 with CGR and reports recently suggested a renewal for 2017 was “imminent.” However, things have yet to be set in stone, which has created some buzz from the underground.

Of course, if Chilton does not end up with Ganassi the options for finding another driver are limited. Reports suggest that a personal budget of at least six million dollars is needed to cover the financial requirements for the fourth CGR ride and not many of the current free agent drivers in play can offer that amount of money. About the only other driver who could have the dollars to cover the ride is Indy Lights veteran Felix Serralles. The 24-year old Puerto Rico-born driver won two races last year in Lights and placed sixth on the final points table.

If Chilton does not retain the seat at Ganassi, he would immediately become the lead candidate for the opening at KV Racing, the team currently in the most uncertainty for its IndyCar racing future. With investor James Sullivan pulling his support and reportedly a relocation of the team’s headquarters from Indianapolis to Florida in the works, money is needed for the new year, and the savior could come in the form of Indy Lights entrant Trevor Carlin. Carlin, who entered the car Ed Jones used to win this year’s Indy Lights championship, has been pointing to an eventual move up to the major series and the situation could see him step in to aid KV’s current financial trouble. With Carlin in play, the team would certainly follow the Ganassi situation closely and would be more than eager to snap up Chilton, who drove for Carlin both in Indy Lights and in the lower European ranks before his one season in Formula One. Beyond Chilton, a pay driver appears necessary to help KV, and there are several of those drivers out there seeking seats.

As silly season for full time seats enters its climax, two other concerns have yet to reach a conclusion. Ed Carpenter is looking for a driver to fill his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet for the road course events in 2017. 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot handled those duties for ECR this season, but insider tips suggest he may not be the driver in the lead to continue that role. In addition to Pigot, fellow Indy Lights veteran Zach Veach, who does offer some financial backing could take over the role, which would likely include a separate car for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

There is also an outside chance that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing may also expand to two fulltime runners in 2017, in its efforts to reach Graham Rahal’s goal to win an IndyCar Series championship. Reportedly, the son of the 1986 Indy 500 winner would prefer having Oriol Servia as his teammate if the deal materializes. Servia has history with Rahal, having performed three one-off efforts for the team at Indy over the last decade.

Now as for the Indy 500 in 2017 itself, filling the field may get an early jump start, yet it still is a puzzle that for now is missing a few pieces from full completion. If the second Rahal entry materializes, the circuit would have 22 fulltime runners for next season or two-thirds of a 33-car lineup. The likely third Ed Carpenter Racing car for its road course replacement would make 23, with Juan Pablo Montoya’s possible one-off entry with Roger Penske making 24. Expect Andretti Autosport to once again offer a fifth car at the Brickyard (possibly for Indy specialist Townsend Bell) and based on social media posts, it also appears likely that Pippa Mann will once again participate at Indy, with Dale Coyne Racing being the lead candidate to assist her.

Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson had hoped to run three cars fulltime in 2017,  but worst case scenario will run a third car at Indy and in a handful of other 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series events. Its lead Indy Lights driver this year Santiago Urrutia has been rumored as a potential driver for this entry. A.J. Foyt Racing has also shown a willingness to enter an extra car to make up the numbers and may very well do so again next May.  There is also a chance Dreyer-Reinbold Kingdom Racing and Buddy Lazier’s family run operation could each return in 2017. If all of those come to reality, that would put the field at 30 cars, with only three more needed to ensure a full field. Not the perfect storyline, yet one that should reach a good conclusion.

Regardless of the outcome, it is safe to say the 2017 silly season has indeed live up to the term and maybe a few more surprises are in store.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.              

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

2016 Indy Lights Series Year in Review: Zach Veach

This past season, Zach Veach found himself struggling a little in the first half, but certainly turned up the heat for the second half.

 

Points Finish: 4th

Car No.: 5

Driver Name: Zach Veach

Team Name: Belardi Auto Racing

Total Races: 18

Victories: 3 – Road America Race No. 1., Watkin’s Glen, Laguna Seca Race No. 2

Podiums: 8

Top-Fives: 11

Top-10s: 16

Average Start: 5.8

Average Finish: 5.6

DNFs: 0

 

 

It’s worth noting the season didn’t start off smoothly with Belardi Auto Racing as Veach finished 16th in the season opener at St. Petersburg. From there on, there were some highlights, but yet things weren’t as high as others expected with only three top-fives in the first eight races. However, the second half of the year was like a switch flipped, kicking off with a win at Road America.

From there on, Veach won two more times, posting only one finish outside of the top-five in the final nine races with five podium finishes. Ideally, Veach can say he entered the off-season in the perfect way as he won the season finale at Laguna Seca, to go with a win at Watkin’s Glen and a third in the two races before that.

Highlight of 2016 – The second half of the season with only one finish outside of the top-five in the final nine races, highlighted by five podium finishes.

Downfall of 2016 – The start of the season. If he could’ve been stronger in the first couple of events, he could’ve found himself right up there with Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia.

Road/Street Course Analysis – In 15 races, Veach posted 10 top-five finishes – including all three of his wins. It’s safe to say he knows how to turn both left and right.

Oval Analysis – While he was unable to reach victory lane, he finished in the top-five at Iowa Speedway after leading 19 laps.

Notes for 2017 – While Veach tested with Belardi Auto Racing at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test, he has yet to commit to anything but is known to be pursuing a possible ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Veach told POPULAR SPEED last month he’s been speaking with three or four different teams about a possibility of racing for them, but now it’s about finding the funding he’s required to bring to the table to complete the deal.

“To be able to say I competed in a Verizon IndyCar Series race would take a lot of weight off my shoulders in being able to say I made it and been able to show that we can do it,” he said. “I think that’s a lot of the motivation behind this winter and we’re so close, and you can only be this close for a short time. You need to take advantage of the opportunity when you have it and shine when it’s your moment, and I think 2017 has the opportunity to be our moment. I think we can’t take anything for granted this winter and try anything we can to pull something together.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Veach Proves Past Success was No Fluke

In 2014, Zach Veach was able to run up the front in the Indy Lights Series Presented by Cooper Tires, finishing third in points with three wins and nine podiums. However, the next season came, and he found himself sitting on the outside without a ride. Combined with a wrist injury, he spent the year finding ways to remain relevant off the track.

Though back behind the wheel this season once again in Indy Lights, there’s no denying his talent now as he finished the 2016 season against one of the toughest fields of competitors with a third place points finish with three wins and eight podiums in 18 races.

“For me, a lot of it was proving to myself 2014 wasn’t a fluke,” he told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL. “I felt like as a driver, I developed later in my career than most people do. In 2014, we came on strong to win three races and four poles, and that was my welcoming. It changed a lot of people’s opinions about myself then. As I took 2015 off, I kind of worried that you had those good years – but maybe it was just a good year.

“Then to come back this year in Indy Lights, which I think was more difficult than 2014, to be able to say we led five different races, could’ve won five races, won three – it shows our strength for sure.

It’s worth noting the season didn’t start off smoothly with Belardi Auto Racing as Veach finished 16th in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

“Honestly, I really wish we could go back to the season opener at St. Petersburg,” he said. “We started third and got the lead on the start and led the next 17 laps, and then we had a mechanical failure. I’m confident to say it took away a win from us, so if we could have that weekend back, we would’ve ended up second in the championship.”

From there on, there were some highlights, but yet things weren’t as high as others expected with only three top-fives in the first eight races. However, the second half of the year was like a switch flipped, kicking off with a win at Road America.

“The win at Road America because that’s when our season turned around, and things clicked for us at Belardi Auto Racing,” he said. “Everything started to go in our favor momentum wise. We won Road America, finished third the next day, went to Iowa and led the last 20 laps and finished second there. We really hit our stride there, and Road America gave us that opportunity.”

From there on, Veach won two more times, posting only one finish outside of the top-five in the final nine races with five podium finishes.

Overall, I just wish we had more time,” he said. “We ended up being the driver that scored the most points during the second half of the season at the end. So I feel if we would’ve had more time, we could’ve won the championship. It was tough coming back to Indy Lights after taking a year off and coming in with a brand new car; it took a good half of the season to get comfortable and figure out the characteristics.

“I felt we were at a disadvantage till halfway through and once we got things figured out, I felt like the old Zach Veach was back from 2014. We were able to show our speed and what we’re capable of.”

Ideally, Veach can say he entered the off-season in the perfect way as he won the season finale at Laguna Seca, to go with a win at Watkin’s Glen and a third in the two races before that. It gives him a pretty high stake going into the off-season, where he’s hoping to put the right pieces together to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.

“We were lucky to test with Ed Carpenter Racing in their IndyCar at Sonoma,” Veach said. “That was my first taste of an IndyCar and what it was like. Honestly, the best part is once you get to feel what its like when you move up, you definitely want to. So this winter is going to be full of work in trying to get the sponsorship in place to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. That’s the biggest thing we’re struggling with.”

Veach says he’s been speaking with three or four different teams about a possibility of racing for them, but now it’s about finding the funding he’s required to bring to the table to complete the deal. If everything can come together for Veach, he notes it’d mean a lot as he’d complete a dream he’s had for 17 years now.

“To be able to say I competed in a Verizon IndyCar Series race would take a lot of weight off my shoulders in being able to say I made it and been able to show that we can do it,” he said. “I think that’s a lot of the motivation behind this winter and we’re so close, and you can only be this close for a short time. You need to take advantage of the opportunity when you have it and shine when it’s your moment, and I think 2017 has the opportunity to be our moment. I think we can’t take anything for granted this winter and try anything we can to pull something together.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.