EMBURY: Early 2019 Silly Season Synoposis
With Mid-Ohio serving as last year’s opening of silly season talks for the Verizon IndyCar Series, it is not too soon to focus in on what might play out as the 2019 campaign draws closer.
The biggest news centers around whether or not McLaren will enter a full-time squad in IndyCar to coincide with their current program in Formula One. Of course, the main trump card for the move is Fernando Alonso, who made his debut in the Indianapolis 500 last year. Suffering through a pair of lackluster calendar runs on the world circuit, the Spaniard has been seeking a change of scenery with a jump to the North American Open Wheel racing scene being the most hyped option.
Other questions loom with the reported move to IndyCar. Will this be a two-car operation and/or will it be supported from an outside group? If a multi-car platform is the target, the biggest rumor for a teammate to Alonso has been New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, who is in the final year of his current contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2008 Indy 500 champion has confirmed he has chatted with McLaren, but is still undecided on his plans for the following season.
As for technical support, Andretti Autosport. who backed the Alonso-McLaren entry in 2017 has been earmarked as the most likely destination. The outfit already fields four Honda-powered Dallars full-time and a deal could expand the group to six for 2019. However, a decision on this could come soon as Michael Andretti reportedly has set an ultimatum for later this month in terms of whether this dream scenario will in fact happen or not.
Beyond the McLaren rumors, most of the big players are expected to remain constant for 2019, with possible expansion in play for at least two, if or not more squads this offseason.
So with those teasers revealed, here’s how things could end up in advance of next March’s opener in St. Petersburg, Florida.
TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (CONFIRMED), Will Power (LIkely), Simon Pagenaud (Likely), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 Only, LIkely)
With Newgarden on a long-term contract and Power fresh off a clean sweep of both events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May, expect both to return to the Captain’s fold in 2019. Pagenaud has struggled some with the new Dallara body kit, but should be retained for next season, along with an Indy-only deal for Helio Castroneves.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (Possible), Ed Jones (Possible)
The decision to be made by the multi-time IndyCar Series champion could greatly alter the remainder of the silly season drama. If the 38 year-old does bolt for the potential McLaren deal, his vacated seat becomes the hottest property on the table. Things also are a bit salty likewise for Ed Jones. The former Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires titlist has suffered through a lackluster freshman year with Ganassi and a return is yet to be verified at this point.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (CONFIRMED), Alexander Rossi (CONFIRMED), Zach Veach (CONFIRMED), Marco Andretti (CONFIRMED)
With all four drivers on extended long-term deals, no changes are on the horizon for the main group in 2019. Now as mentioned above, things involving satellite options could be a different story.
TEAM McLAREN : Fernando Alonso (Likely), Scott Dixon (Possible)
Supposedly August 19th is the make or break date for whether a McLaren squad is present for 2019 or not. If the go-ahead comes to fruition, Alonso is a lock for one ride, with the long-time series veteran Dixon the most talked about candidate for the second seat.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (CONFIRMED), Takuma Sato (Likely), ?
Bobby Rahal has been quoted by RACER Magazine as being interested in expanding to three full tour runners for the first time since the 2006 campaign. With Graham Rahal and probably Takuma Sato back in the fold, the questions linger about the potential third seat. Indy Lights regulars Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward have been mentioned as possible targets, while Oriol Servia could also be in play, despite his advanced age (44).
DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (Likely), Pietro Fittipaldi (Possible), Zachary Claman De Melo (Possible), ?
The Chicago-based organization should return to the paddock with a two-car attack. Assuming Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan continue their support, the Champ Car star Bourdais is the obvious choice to drive. The second ride is in flux. Pietro Fittipaldi is reportedly seeking to become a full-time pilot, which then calls Zachary De Melo’s future with DCR into question. The Canadian has a decent war chest of funding, but may not have enough to run the whole slate. Coyne provided extra cars for Conor Daly and Pippa Mann this year at Indy, unknown if those offers will be on the table again in 2019.
SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (CONFIRMED), Robert Wickens (CONFIRMED), ?
Schmidt had explored an expansion to three cars last offseason, but so far has been silent on the topic looking ahead to the new silly season. Hinch and Wickens are both returning for 2019, that seems to be set in stone at this point.
A.J. FOYT RACING: Tony Kanaan (CONFIRMED), Matheus Leist (CONFIRMED), ?
Don’t expect any changeovers in the driving department for the first time in several campaigns for the Texas-backed organization. Kanaan was a threat in the Indianapolis 500, until a flat tire ended his challenge, while Leist has suffered his share of rookie gaffes in 2018, yet should be set for a second try next season. The squad ran James Davison with support from three other groups this past May and could be called upon to do so again for the 103rd edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
ED CARPENTER RACING: Spencer Pigot (Possible), Ed Carpenter (Likely, Ovals Only), jordan King (Possible, Road Courses Only)
Mid-pack runs have been the story of Pigot’s first full run with ECR, but a solid finishing record should allot him another shot in 2019. Carpenter has enjoyed one of his best performances on ovals in several years, while a frustrating debut showing casts doubt on Jordan King’s potential comeback for a sophomore showing.
CARLIN: Charlie Kimball (Likely), Max Chilton (Likely)
The Indy Lights mainstays have enjoyed the most success of the new entrants in 2018. With solid financial backing present from both competitors, no changes are expected for 2019.
HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (On Contract), Conor Daly (Possible)
Team President Brian Barnhart has confirmed that the Indianapolis-based group is keen on expanding to a two-car squad for 2019. Gabby Chaves was removed from the team’s entry prior to the Honda Indy Toronto event, in favor of Conor Daly, yet is expected to return in some form next season as mentioned to be on contract, still. Barnhart is evaluating pilots for the hoped for second effort, with the second-generation American believed to be in the running.
JUNCOS RACING: Kyle Kaiser (Part-Time, Possible), Rene Binder (Part-Time, Possible)
The squad qualfied solidly for the 102nd Indianapolis 500, but had little beyond that in terms of big moments in 2018. Ricardo Juncos is trying to piece together the funds to enter all 16 rounds in 2019, with the entry once again probably being split between multiple pilots.
MEYER-SHANK RACING: Jack Harvey (Part-Time, Likely)
The Ohio-based operation hopes to run as many as ten events in 2019, an advancement on their battle plan this year. No signs point to anyone besides Harvey being the driving choice.
DREYER-REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Part-Time, Possible), JR Hildebrand (Indy 500, Possible)
The Indianapolis car magnate expanded his arsenal to field two entrants at this year’s 500-mile race and is exploring the possibilities of entering more races, if not their first full IndyCar season since 2012. Despite an inability to finish the Memorial Day classic recently, expect Karam to be in the mix for a seat next year, with an Indy-only deal for Hildebrand also maybe in the works.
SCUDERIA CORSA: ?
The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship regulars made their IndyCar debut at this year’s Indianapolis 500 and hope to least return to the big show in 2019, if not enter additional events beyond that. Could call upon support from Rahal’s organizaton as part of a deal.
Former American Formula One prospect turned European sports car team owner Elton Julian is also contemplating a possible jump to the IndyCar Series on a part-time basis in 2019.
LAZIER PARTNERS RACING: Buddy Lazier (Indy 500, Possible)
A lack of usable equipment and funds kept Lazier’s family operation out of the picture this past May at Indianapolis. If high numbers return to the Brickyard in 2019, will that be enough to scare them away from a return? Stay tuned.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.