After being sequestered for five weeks while filming the CBS reality-adventure show The Amazing Race, Conor Daly returned home to find he was out of a job at A.J. Foyt Racing. Brendon Hartley’s deal to drive for Chip Ganassi was done at least two months ago, but all that changed behind closed doors and as a result, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones was handed the opportunity of his lifetime.
The three directional changes for Daly, Hartley, and Jones have lit the fire beneath a dying silly season, and with Ed Carpenter Racing continuing its search for a road and street course solution in the No. 20 Chevy, we have a few veteran teams looking to plug the remaining holes in the field.
Starting with Daly, there are two no-brainer drives that come to mind with Jones’ former No. 19 DCR Honda and ECR’s No. 20. Or so it might appear.
Daly’s first go-round with DCR in 2016 (pictured above) was made possible by the sponsorship delivered in a partnership struck between the Byrd brothers and Coyne. Without the Byrds, who blanketed the car in sponsors big and small, Daly would not have landed with DCR. If he’s going to return and drive alongside Sebastien Bourdais, a new round of financial support will be required.
With Jones leaving DCR’s nest, along with the sponsorship and mild family support headed to CGR – not to mention the loss of the one-time $1 million prize he brought to DCR after winning the Indy Lights championship – Coyne is experiencing a funding void with Jones’ departure.
Coyne continues to bankroll most of the team with the profits generated by his various non-racing businesses which, at least in 2017, is amazingly generous and incredibly rare. But there’s no getting around the fact that some funding is sought with the second DCR car to help cover everything from buying spare parts to commissioning engineering projects aimed at making the team faster. Knowing this, it might help explain a portion of why the kindly Coyne bristled over losing Jones to Ganassi.
Daly will face the same obstacle while trying to slot himself into ECR’s No. 20. The car’s former road and street course driver, Spencer Pigot, was required to bring sponsorship to complete the deal, and like the Coyne vacancy, Daly would need to satisfy ECR’s bottom line. With both teams, corporate backing is the key to getting Daly off the unemployment line.
A few rumblings early this week suggest some money could be headed into a Conor Daly sponsorship account, and we’ve also heard Honda would be quite interested in having him back after losing the Hoosier to Foyt’s Chevy operation last year. If Daly can find between $1-2 million, Coyne can make use of a $1 million Leaders Circle stipend from IndyCar, and Honda help with an inexpensive engine lease, that path to a DCR reunion becomes more likely. It’s unclear whether Chevy holds Daly in the same regard, or if the Bowtie would work on his behalf to make the ECR ride possible.
Just as Daly is presently limited by his lack of wealth and personal sponsors, DCR and ECR could find themselves in an unfavorable position while seeking IndyCar’s magical unicorn – the funded star or star-in-the-making. If Daly is unable to find sponsors in a reasonable timeframe, where would DCR or ECR look for suitable candidates?
Could a pair of Russians in ex-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin, who carries a moderate amount of funding from SMP Racing, or former Red Bull/Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat – provided he can attract new backing – have a chance with either team?
There are a number of young drivers looking to move up, mostly from the Indy Lights series, and carrying partial budgets, but would their inexperience or limited funding interest Carpenter or Coyne? It makes a budgeted Daly the perfect candidate, but the clock is ticking, and who knows how long the doors will remain open at both teams. His former teammate Carlos Munoz would also appear to worth serious consideration, but his stock plummeted at Foyt as his chassis setup skills were called into question. The Colombian has gone so far as to state his belief that an Indy-only ride is the most reasonable expectation to have next season.
Elsewhere in the existing paddock, more sources have told RACER that A.J. Foyt Racing will confirm an all-Brazilian line-up with 2016 British F3 champion Matheus Leist, who won three Indy Lights races for Trevor Carlin’s team last season, as teammate to Tony Kanaan, who replaced Munoz in the No. 14 Chevy.
Leist’s funding, which is said to come from Brazilian TV outlets, would ensure the series has a fresh young talent to follow after Helio Castroneves’ full-time IndyCar career ended at Sonoma. Provided reigning Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni can follow Leist’s example and win in Indy Lights next year, Brazil could have a pair of future stars to carry the torch for Helio and TK.
Closing on CGR and Jones, RACER‘s Will Buxton and Chris Medland confirmed the team and the Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula 1 squad did business to free Brendon Hartley from his 2018 IndyCar contract. Beyond supporting what was reported in September, it also raised the question of how much money changed hands to tear up the contract.
In light of the need for corporate sponsorship on Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Honda, which lost backing from Target at the end of 2016, it will be interesting to see whether a straight wire transfer settled the deal, or if freeing Hartley took so “long,” as STR team principal Franz Tost said, because the payment was negotiated in the form of sponsorship from STR owner Red Bull. Either way, CGR wins and profits from signing a driver who never raced the No. 10 Honda that has been taken by Jones.
Among 2017’s full-time entries, DCR and ECR hold the only known openings available to pursue. At least one of the eight full-timers is known to be considering the addition of a new entry in 2018, and along with the growing list of incoming entrants, those teams will be saved for the next silly season installment.
And let’s close with full marks to CGR for keeping the Jones signing completely under wraps. An air-tight maneuver like that is rare in IndyCar; respect to both sides for keeping a lid on the process.