NTT INDYCAR Series
Ultimate IndyCar Series Silly Season Guide (November Edition)
The annual game of musical chairs in the Verizon IndyCar Series is quickly approaching its climax following the Halloween holiday.
Chip Ganassi Racing indeed revealed one interesting trick to close out October. Even though reports tied them to taking either Brendon Hartley or Esteban Gutierrez to fill the seat vacated by Tony Kanaan, the Pittsburgh-based owner has instead tapped Dubai’s Ed Jones for the 2018 season.
Jones, who captured 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, appeared set for a second year of action with Dale Coyne Racing before the call-up. With the announcement now in the books, the teammate role to Sebastien Bourdais is now the biggest prize on the table. Although the Windy City runners have steered away from their previous strategy of offering rides to the highest bidder, it may have to revert to that tact in 2018.
Esteban Gutierrez, who drove a handful of races for DCR in 2017 could be the lead candidate concerning financials, while 2016 Coyne pilot RC Enerson also enjoys a full war chest of money.
So with that teaser out of the way, here are the current scenarios as of Wednesday, November 1, 2017.
TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (CONFIRMED), Simon Pagenaud (CONFIRMED), Will Power (CONFIRMED), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, CONFIRMED)
Everything is a go for 2018. Three drivers will be present at all 17 races, with an extra car given to Castroneves for both the 500 and the IndyCar Grand Prix. The same opportunity, however, will NOT be given to Juan Pablo Montoya, however; the Captain has allowed the Colombian to seek other possible opportunities.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (CONFIRMED), Ed Jones (CONFIRMED), ??
With Brendon Hartley likely headed to Formula One in 2018 with Scuderia Toro Rosso, Ganassi has snatched 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Ed Jones to partner Scott Dixon next season. The 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion enjoyed a strong first half of his debut IndyCar season, including a third at the Indianapolis 500, but fizzed a bit too close out the year.
The team could be called upon to provide an extra car to fill the field at Indy next May – no confirmations yet on this, however.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (CONFIRMED), Marco Andretti (CONFIRMED), Alexander Rossi (CONFIRMED), Zach Veach (CONFIRMED), Stefan Wilson (Indy 500 only, CONFIRMED)
With its quartet of full-time entrants locked up last month, Andretti has secured the services of Stefan Wilson for a one-off effort at the Indianapolis 500 next May. The brother of the late Justin Wilson was reportedly set to compete at the Brickyard this past year but was asked to step aside to make way for Formula One veteran Fernando Alonso. The team ran six cars at IMS in 2017, but will likely hold at just five in 2018.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (CONFIRMED), Takuma Sato (CONFIRMED), ??
Bobby Rahal will expand to two entries full-time next season. Defending Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato will join Graham Rahal in the driving department.
However, the addition of the Japanese star may not be all that is new for 2018. A third entry for the Indy 500, if not additional races could also be in the mix. Brickyard-specialist Oriol Servia and Indy Lights prospect Zachary Claman de Melo, who drove for Rahal in the 2017 finale at Sonoma, are believed to be in the running.
SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (CONFIRMED), Robert Wickens (CONFIRMED), Tristan Gommendy (CONFIRMED, Indy 500 only)
Despite looking at other opportunities, James Hinchcliffe will return for his fourth year at SPM in 2018. His teammate will be fellow Canadian Robert Wickens, who is back in open-wheel racing full-time for the first time since 2011, after an extended run in the German DTM Championship. Wickens practiced for the squad this past year at Road America in preparation for the Kohler Grand Prix, and it appeared the success of the effort influenced his inclusion for the new season.
The team will run a third car at the Indianapolis 500 for Frenchman Tristan Gommendy, who has not participated in North American open-wheel action since the final ChampCar season of 2007.
DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (CONFIRMED), Esteban Gutierrez (Possible), Pippa Mann (Probable, Indy 500 only)
Chicago’s IndyCar squad has rejoined the silly season picture after Ganassi signed Ed Jones for next season. While Coyne has opted for prime talent with recent driver hirings, he may revert to a financially-secure pilot to go alongside Bourdais for 2018.
If that is indeed the plan of attack, Esteban Gutierrez who replaced the injured Frenchman in seven events this past year could be the primary target. RC Enerson, who drove for DCR two seasons ago, may also get some consideration.
ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, CONFIRMED), Spencer Pigot (CONFIRMED), ??
Two questions still on the table with ECR at this point of the silly season. One is finding a road course ringer for the rounds in which the team boss will not contest. Jack Harvey, who competed in a limited slate of races in 2017, could be one option.
The second is whether the team will return to its role of aiding the filling of the 33-car grid at the Indy 500. If that is a go, the recently departed J.R. Hildebrand could be back in the game plan for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s semi-home team.
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 (CONFIRMED), Matheus Leist (Possible), ??
Tony Kanaan has been tapped to take over the famous No. 14 Chevrolet in 2018. With Carlos Munoz believed to be shopping his services to other operations, the same scenario has been placed on Conor Daly, who will NOT be re-signed for 2018. With both Munoz and Daly out of play, there has been one name that has gained momentum.
Matheus Leist, who won three times on the Indy Lights circuit this year has an outside chance to be the second pilot based on insider information.
Good chance Foyt offers another car for someone for next year’s Indy 500, as they did in 2017 for Zach Veach.
JUNCOS RACING: Kyle Kaiser (CONFIRMED, Four Races), Carlos Munoz (Possible)
2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser will compete in at least four races, more if further funding is obtained. Juncos had hoped to enter at least one full-time car in 2018, so that may not be the scenario for the youngster.
As for running at every race, the team could opt for a veteran like two-time Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz, or call upon another pay driver such as RC Enerson or Esteban Gutierrez. If the latter is the course, expect Juncos to grab the driver Dale Coyne passes on.
CARLIN RACING: Max Chilton (Probable), Charlie Kimball (Probable)
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. With Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball the most likely to take the helsmen roles here, the focus shifts to what influence McLaren’s Zak Brown might have. If the F1 squad does enter a car at the Indy 500 next year, Fernando Alonso
will NOT be the driver.
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. Reinbold has hinted at a desire to someday return to the full-time fleet, but that likely will not happen next year.
LAZIER PARTNERS RACING: Buddy Lazier (Indy 500 Only, Possible)
With his son Flinn Lazier not quite ready to take over the driving duties, expect the 1996 Indy 500 champion to give it another go in the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
MICHAEL SHANK RACING: ??
The former IndyCar driver and current team owner in IMSA entered a car supported by Andretti Autosport at Indy in May and has shown a desire to at least return to the Brickyard in 2018, if not contest a few additional events. No word at this point, as for who could be a target in the driving department.
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