Here's a Road Map To Help Navigate a Busy IndyCar Silly Season

·6 min read
Photo credit: Joe Skibinski
Photo credit: Joe Skibinski

It may be called Silly Season, but where many NTT IndyCar Series drivers will ultimately wind up next year is nothing to laugh about.

Frankly, IndyCar could see more drivers change teams from this season to next than we’ve seen in a decade or more. We’re not just talking one or two or three drivers. Rather, we could see as many as a dozen drivers change teams, retire (some not necessarily by choice), or some may be left without a new home after leaving their current teams.

When next season begins, to borrow an old baseball adage, you won’t be able to tell the players without a scorecard or program.

Let’s break down who will be doing what or going where—or not:

Drivers That Aren’t Going Anywhere

Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves (the defending Indianapolis 500 winner moves to a full-time ride from a part-time role with Meyer Shank Racing), Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou, Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Graham Rahal, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter (will once again run only oval races, potentially for the last season of his career), Tony Kanaan (is expected to remain in a part-time role; he’s also the oldest driver in the series at 46 years old) and Jimmie Johnson (although he won’t make a decision whether he’ll run a full-time campaign until after next month’s big test at Indianapolis).

Photo credit: Chris Jones
Photo credit: Chris Jones

The Question Marks

• Takuma Sato: The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner is one of the biggest question marks. He may still re-sign with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, or move to another team (Dale Coyne Racing is rumored to be very interested), or at the age of 44—the second-oldest full-time driver in the series—Sato may just retire back to his native Japan. That being said, however, Sato is an exceptional ambassador for Honda and even though he’s had tough luck this season, he likely has at least one more good year in him. It’s just a question of where that year will be spent, but undoubtedly it will be with a Honda team.

• Simon Pagenaud: There have been numerous rumors that Pagenaud will be released by Team Penske after the current season, potentially moving on to be reunited with former teammate Helio Castroneves at Meyer Shank Racing. To that, I say, “Nay, nay.” I think Pagenaud has one more year at least with the Penske camp. After all, if the 2016 IndyCar champ does lose his ride, who is really out there that potentially would be an improvement over the friendly Frenchman? Not many.

• Jack Harvey: When it was reported a few weeks ago that Harvey turned down a long-term offer to remain with Meyer Shank Racing, he either made the biggest mistake of his career, or has a much better opportunity ahead of him. Rumors have him moving to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, either to replace Sato or pilot the organization’s planned expansion to a three-car operation next season. Another rumored potential home for Harvey—although I think it’s a longshot—would be to pilot a new third car for Arrow McLaren SP. However, if RLL or Arrow McLaren SP doesn’t happen, Harvey could suffer a huge drop to one of the lesser-successful organizations out there.

Photo credit: CHRIS OWENS
Photo credit: CHRIS OWENS

• Ryan Hunter-Reay: This is a 50-50 deal right now. While team owner Michael Andretti has promised changes within his organization for 2022, he left many observers guessing whether he would replace one or two drivers in the four-car team. Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi are locked in, leaving RHR and James Hinchcliffe in limbo. My guess is RHR stays one more season with Andretti (with primary and long-time sponsor DHL likely to have a major part in that decision)

• James Hinchcliffe: One of the most popular fan favorites could be at a significant career crossroads. It’s unlikely he’ll keep a full-time ride with Andretti Autosport – although he still may do a part-time ride or perhaps just a one-off start in the Indianapolis 500. If Andretti does give the Mayor of Hinchtown his walking papers at season’s end, he’d be a sentimental favorite and a great ambassador to move to another team. He’s good for the series and the series is good for him. Or, there’s also a very strong possibility that Hinchcliffe could hang up his firesuit for the last time—unless he does a one-off for the Indy 500—and become a full-time broadcaster for NBC. He has shown himself to be an exceptional talent already in limited roles for both NBC and CBS (during this season’s Superstar Racing Experience).

• Marcus Ericsson: Even though he’s technically a free agent right now, his performance has definitely picked up in the second half of the season, including his celebrated win at Nashville. While rumors continue to point toward his moving on after this season, I’m betting he stays with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski
Photo credit: Joe Skibinski

• Romain Grosjean: Rumors have Grosjean to be a lock to move to Andretti Autosport for next season, most likely replacing Hinchcliffe first, or Hunter-Reay second. Of all the potential free agents, you can take Grosjean moving to the Andretti camp to the bank.

• Others TBA: Like a spinning wheel of fortune, around and around they go, where they’ll wind up, nobody knows: Ed Jones, Conor Daly, Dalton Kellett (it’s questionable whether another team will pick him up, given his horrible season to date), Sebastien Bourdais (if he doesn’t retire, although I expect him to remain with A.J. Foyt Racing for one more season), Charlie Kimball, Oliver Askew and Max Chilton.

Possible Newcomers

• Last, but not least: We could also see a significant influx of newcomers to the series next season. Unfortunately, there won’t be enough seats to go around, so look for only maybe two or three, tops—if that—to get rides, most likely with some of the smaller, less-funded teams who have little to lose and everything to gain if they take a chance on a potential longshot. Among names to watch: Indy Lights drivers Kyle Kirkwood, Devlin DeFrancesco, Linus Lundqvist and David Malukas; as well as other names that have been mentioned to date including Pietro Fittipaldi, the return of Santino Ferrucci, Callum Ilott, Ryan Norman (no, not NASCAR’s Ryan Newman) and longshot Tatiana Calderon.

Follow Autoweek correspondent Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting