Ultimate IndyCar Silly Season Guide (October Update)
With the early start to silly season looking ahead to 2018, the full-time picture for the Verizon IndyCar Series appears to be pretty much set in stone.
The exceptions are the second seat at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and the new operations that Trevor Carlin and Ricardo Juncos are believed to be in the process of forming. Regarding SPM, James Hinchcliffe’s appearance at the Sebring test at the end of last month is a sign that the Canadian is set to return for 2018. The Mayor was mentioned to be in the running for multiple teams; however, those entities went in other directions.
The question now surrounds his teammate, which for a time appeared to be Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires regular Santiago Urrutia. However, Hinchcliffe has indicated a desire to have a veteran in the second car, rather than having the burden of assisting a newcomer. If the Mayor wins out, one name that could be in play is Carlos Munoz, who is believed to be a free agent following a lackluster 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing.
Here’s how the current scenarios are set as of October 1st.
TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (CONFIRMED), Simon Pagenaud (CONFIRMED), Will Power (CONFIRMED), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)
Despite reports claiming Helio Castroneves is trying to convince Roger Penske to let him attempt another full season in 2018, the Brazilian seems set to join Juan Pablo Montoya to co-drive the Captain’s new Daytona Prototype International entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. If that holds true, expect to see both drivers get cars for the Indianapolis 500. Otherwise, no other changes are expected as Penske downsizes to three runners full-time.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (CONFIRMED), Brendon Hartley (Probable)
Ganassi has downsized the operation to just two full-time runners. Four-time series champion Scott Dixon will pilot one of them, while inside information suggests former FIA WEC regular Brendon Hartley is the lead candidate to take the second entry. Porsche has discontinued its prototype program, leaving the ex-Formula One tester without a ride for 2018. Esteban Gutierrez still has an outside chance at the seat, considering the financial support from Carlos Slim that he enjoys.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (CONFIRMED), Marco Andretti (CONFIRMED), Alexander Rossi (CONFIRMED), Zach Veach (CONFIRMED), Stefan Wilson (Indy 500 only, Probable)
With Honda remaining on board, Andretti locked up its fourth driver with the addition of Zach Veach. The Ohioan has been on the radar for a seat for the past few seasons, but has finally amassed the needed funding to complete a deal. Reports also suggest an Indy 500-only deal is already in the works for Stefan Wilson. Wilson was believed to be in position for a seat in this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, when he moved aside in favor of Fernando Alonso.
As for Alonso, the addition of Veach all but closes the door on the McLaren driver’s possible shot at a full-time ride in 2018. With questions looming over his Formula One status and only a few, smaller team options left in play, the only chance at an effort in 2018 is once again at the Brickyard, with McLaren footing a majority of the expenses.
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 is believed to be in the running.
SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (CONFIRMED), Santiago Urrutia (Possible), Tristan Gommendy (CONFIRMED, Indy 500 only)
James Hinchcliffe was seen testing the new for 2018 Dallara chassis kit at Sebring on September 27th, so it is evident he will return for the new year.
Team sponsor Arrow Electronics could support both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also funded by Arrow, could become a target. However, Hinch has also stated he would like a seasoned teammate. If the Mayor gets his desires met, one name that could enter the conversation is Carlos Munoz, who is likely out of a ride with Foyt following a difficult 2017 campaign.
Ironically, with the team’s full-time squad yet to be set, SPM has revealed a partnership with Didier Calmels to field former ChampCar World Series veteran Tristan Gommendy in next year’s Indy 500. More races could be added if additional funding is captured.
DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (CONFIRMED), Ed Jones (Probable), Pippa Mann (Probable, Indy 500 only)
Although Bourdais struggled in his first two races back from serious injuries suffered in May at Indianapolis, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. It also appears that Ed Jones is likely to return as the Dubai-based driver says negotiations are going well.
Expect the team to once again have Pippa Mann at the Indianapolis 500. The English veteran and the Windy City runners have been attached at the hip for Indy since 2013.
ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, CONFIRMED), Spencer Pigot (CONFIRMED)
It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. In trying to be stronger across the board in 2018, the team has promoted road course specialist Spencer Pigot to full-time duty, at the expense of J.R. Hildebrand.
The 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year was never able to make a solid impact in his return to the full-time fleet and likely will re-assume with the Indy 500 specialist role, with ECR or another operation. With team boss Carpenter only running on ovals, a replacement for the other rounds is needed. One option is Jack Harvey, who impressed in two efforts late in 2017 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
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 (Probable), Conor Daly (Possible)
Tony Kanaan is all but a lock to join Super Tex’s operation, which will be fully online in Indianapolis by the start of the new year. With Foyt expected to remain at two cars in 2018, the question now is which 2017 returnee stays put.
The current campaign has been a frustrating one for both Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, who each was expected to provide a boost. With neither placing better than fifth in any event, the most likely to leave would be the Colombian, who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt.
JUNCOS RACING: Kyle Kaiser (Possible), ???
Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one entry next season. 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser provides the scholarship advancement money needed to take one of those seats.
Carlos Munoz could maybe end up here as a second driver; however, the expectation is the opportunity would likely go to a driver providing a decent amount of financial backing. Concerning money in hand, Esteban Gutierrez could be the prime option.
CARLIN-BROWN 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 now out of the mix at Chip Ganassi Racing, the stage is set for them to take the controls of the planned two-car effort. McLaren’s Zak Brown has reportedly joined the operation, could this be a lead-in for an Indy 500-only third car for Fernando Alonso or another current F-1 pilot? Stay tuned.
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.
LAZIER PARTNERS RACING: Buddy Lazier (Indy 500 Only, Possible)
With his son Flinn Lazier not quite ready to take over driving duties, expect the 1996 Indy 500 champion to give it another go in the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
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