Dominoes Are Falling in the IndyCar Silly Season
Where do the teams stand now?
When Josef Newgarden signed for team Penske in early October, it set into affect a chain reaction of driver signings across the series. Now, a month later, several more drivers have been confirmed as the dominoes keep falling.
In a move that surprised no one, Roger Penske made the first domino of the 2017 silly season fall, and signed American ace Josef Newgarden to his stable. After his impressive year at Ed Carpenter racing that saw him recover from a scary crash Texas and take victory at Iowa, people were wondering not if, but when, the Captain would sign the 25 year old to replace Juan Pablo Montoya in the no. 2 car. Newgarden joins reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2014 champion Will Power to fill out the Penske powerhouse. The lineup means Roger Penske and Tim Cindric are now fielding the top four championship finishing drivers from the 2015 season.
As for Montoya, the Colombian two-time 500 winner and 1999 champion has decided to remain with the Penske outfit instead of pursuing options elsewhere. His deal for 2017 is for a shot at his third Indianapolis victory, as well as any sports car outings the team chooses to pursue. That sports car program has long been rumored, but as of yet, there are no set plans, but Montoya doesn’t mind. The move allows him to spend more time with his son, Sebastian, an up and coming karter.
Chip Ganassi Racing
Chip Ganassi has built a stable largely in support of his star Scott Dixon. Dixon, who has been with the team since partway through 2002, has won four championships for Ganassi as well as the 2008 Indy 500. Tony Kanaan has been re-signed to partner Dixon for the 2017 campaign. The fan favorite 2013 Indy 500 winner and 2004 series champ hasn’t won a race since the season finale of 2014, but fought for top 5 finishes all season long.
On the B-team side of things, Charlie Kimball is under contract to return for 2017 thanks, in part, to the financial backing of Novo Nordisk. Ganassi has said he would like Chilton to return to the no. 8 car, partnering Kimball, but that deal has not yet come together.
The biggest switch in the off-season for Ganassi is the return to Honda engines. Chip Ganassi Racing switched from Honda to Chevrolet, and now, just two years later, they are switching back. Another notable change that the Ganassi stable will have to content with is the loss of Target’s backing. The longtime sponsor of Chip Ganassi, and Scott Dixon, raced their last race on the sidepods of the number 9 car at the end of the 2016 season.
The de-facto Honda factory team from 2016 had a tough year. They were often outpaced by the much smaller teams of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and even Dale Coyne Racing. Andretti Autosport announced earlier in the year that 2012 series champion and 2013 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay would remain with the team, and with sponsor DHL, through 2020. Alongside RHR will be Marco Andretti and, despite being linked to the Penske seat that eventually went to Newgarden, reigning Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi. The fourth car on the team will likely switch hands from Carlos Muñoz to perennial Honda favorite, Takuma Sato. This is despite the fact that Muñoz was the highest finisher of the four Andretti Autosport in the 2016 championship.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Carpenter had the unenviable task of filling Josef Newgarden’s shoes in the 21 car for the 2017 season. Luckily, Carpenter already had American ace J.R. Hildebrand waiting in the wings. Hildebrand has competed in five race over the last three years for Carpenter, taking three top 10s at the 500 along the way. He also served as a test driver for the team, helping prep the car when Newgarden was injured. Ed Carpenter will continue to race ovals in the 20 car. It has not yet been announced who will take the complementing road and street course outings, but Spencer Pigot, who raced several road courses for the team in 2016 is an option.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
In his 2016 return after a horrifying incident at the end of 2014, Mikhail Aleshin provided plenty of excitement during the season. The team confirmed that the “Mad Russian” would again be driving for the team in 2017, likely partnering Dancing with the Stars front-runner James Hinchcliffe. The only possible shakeup for the team is a rumored third car, but that has yet to materialize.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Unsurprisingly, Graham Rahal will continue with his father’s outfit in 2017. While the team has long sought to bring a second car to the grid, whether than happens remains to be seen.
A.J. Foyt Racing
The legendary four-time Indy 500 winner will potentially be parting with both of his 2016 drivers for the 2017 season. Sato is rumored to be departing for Andretti Autosport and likely execute a one-for-one seat switch with Carlos Muñoz. Alongside Muñoz, Foyt has a couple of options.
Conor Daly is a serious front-runner to the seat. The American had an impressive rookie campaign, leading many laps and even taking a podium for the underdog Dale Coyne team. The 24 year old, however, struggled on ovals and at many times seemed green, but given a couple of years in a seat, Daly should build maturity and mistakes will decrease. He also has history with the Foyt team, driving for them in the 2013 Indy 500. Other candidates for the second seat are current driver Jack Hawksworth, who struggled much of the season, Sage Karam, the fast but erratic former Ganassi driver (though he does have a seat in the Lexus sports car team), and even Oriol Servia, the seasoned veteran who would bring some stability to the Texas team.
Adding to the shakeup at Foyt, the team is switching from Honda to Chevrolet engines for 2017, filling the gap left by Ganassi in the Chevy stable. Between the engines and the drivers, it will be a huge change at the Foyt team in 2017.
Dale Coyne Racing
Dale Coyne has already made a coup for 2017, picking up Sebastian Bourdais as the team’s number 1 driver. Bourdais comes with a wealth of experience, including four Champ Car championships. Who will partner Bourdais is still unknown. While the team would like to hold on to Conor Daly after a 2016 that defied expectations, Daly brings no money to the squad and Coyne often relies on at least one driver bringing sponsorship. RC Enerson, the rookie that contested the end of the season for Coyne, could potentially return to the team for 2017. He was mighty impressive in the few outings he had for the team and brings the funding Coyne desperately needs.
With Bourdais’ abrupt departure, the KVSH team has no driver for it’s single car 2017 entry. Montoya was linked to the seat, but has instead chosen to stay with the Penske crew. It is not yet know what will happen with the lone KVSH seat, or the sponsorship that has backed it in recent years. Autosport has reported that Kevin Kalkhoven could even break his off his relationship with KVSH and Jimmy Vasser and instead partner with Trevor Carlin on a new team entry to the series.