IndyCar’s silly season has slowed to an occasional chuckle. The powerhouse teams have set their rosters, and most of the teams chasing Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Penske have also locked their drivers in for 2016.
Of the teams with seats to fill, all but one has their primary drivers in place. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is expected to announce Mikhail Aleshin’s return to the Honda-powered team with support from the Russian’s backers at SMP Racing. The renamed KVSH Racing team has yet to confirm the resigning of Sebastien Bourdais for the No. 11 Chevy, but the Frenchman’s signature on a contract is said to be forthcoming.
Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing has two confirmed drivers in place with Ed Carpenter set for another oval campaign in the No. 20 Chevy, and Josef Newgarden in the No. 67 Chevy, although Carpenter continues to work on procuring the budget to keep the No. 20 on track for the road and street courses with a third driver. Italy’s Luca Filippi filled that role for CFH in 2015, and could return, according to Carpenter, but it isn’t necessarily an automatic thing. If the No. 20 is locked in for a full season, Filippi, or a different driver could partner with the two-time Indy 500 polesitter.
Bryan Herta Autosport is usually among the last teams to confirm its driver, and we’re told Gabby Chaves should be announced this month for his return to drive the No. 98 Honda. Barring a sudden cash windfall, BHA will remain a single-car program next year.
It leaves the CFH No. 20 road/street course seat (provided it materializes), the second KVSH seat (provided the team finds the right driver to fill it), and both Dale Coyne Racing entries as the obvious full- and part-time rides left in the paddock.
Carpenter has been inundated with inquires, and as he said this week, it’s too early to say – good or bad – whether the No. 20 will be pressed into service for more than the five ovals on the schedule. This topic will likely remain open for a while, and with more than three months to go before the season opens in St. Petersburg, CFH has plenty of time to continue its budget hunt.
KVSH could, as team co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven recently told RACER, run as a single-car program, and it’s worth noting that former Chip Ganassi Racing driver Sage Karam has been described as being in the team’s “general hemisphere.” Whether the team has any plans to run the 2013 Indy Lights champion at some point next season is unknown, but the team did confirm they’ve spoken with his manager.
The biggest source of current intrigue involves Dale Coyne’s Honda-powered team, and the reported efforts by the Japanese manufacturer to increase the overall quality of the drivers representing the brand. DCR cycled seven drivers through both cars last season, with the best performance coming from Tristan Vautier at Detroit (fourth). Conor Daly, driving for SPM, also recorded his best result at Detroit (sixth), and impressed earlier in the year for Coyne on short notice at Long Beach. It’s believed Daly (pictured, TOP) could now be in a position to lead the Illinois-based team next year.
Vautier confirmed he has not heard from the team, and DCR is said to be preparing to test Daly before the end of the month at Sebring. Based on Honda’s fondness for the Hoosier, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the second-generation driver nominated as Coyne’s lead driver. Honda has pressed its teams to retain or acquire talent to help earn its first IndyCar Manufacturers’ title since Chevy joined the series in 2012, and with that initiative in mind, DCR might struggle to receive an engine supply for a second entry if another backmarker arrives with more cash than capabilities to offer.
Looking across the remaining vacancies, Coyne could have the likes of Indy Lights race winner Jack Harvey to consider for the second seat; Harvey hoped to stay with SPM, but that opportunity was taken by Aleshin. Max Chilton has also spoken with most teams about working together in 2016, although he’s said to have half a budget to offer, which would limit his current options to smaller operations.
IndyCar’s silly season isn’t over, but it is surprisingly close to being completed by early December. Car counts are expected to be down next year thanks to two or three teams paring one car from their lineup, yet it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see an Andretti or Ganassi expand to four cars if the funding is solid. For the remaining deals waiting to be done, 95 days are left until practice starts for the opening round of the 2016 season.