INSIGHT: Why 2019 could deliver the most Indy 500 entries in years

Image by LePage/LAT

INSIGHT: Why 2019 could deliver the most Indy 500 entries in years

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Why 2019 could deliver the most Indy 500 entries in years

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The pathway to the Indianapolis 500’s healthiest entry list in more than a decade is starting to take shape. Indy’s traditional field of 33 cars was subject to bumping during time trials in 2018 when 35 entries vied for a position in IndyCar’s crown jewel, and with an array of new teams and expanded programs among the anticipated offerings, as many as 38 drivers could turn up to fight for a place on the 2019 grid.

Three months out from the big race, a large portion of the field is already known. It’s among the question marks for the extra entries where the most interesting conversations are taking place. Here’s a look at what RACER knows so far as the 103rd Indy 500 approaches.

A.J. Foyt Racing (Chevrolet)

  • Tony Kanaan
  • Matheus Leist

Andretti Autosport (Honda)

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay
  • Alexander Rossi
  • Marco Andretti
  • Zach Veach
  • Conor Daly

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (Honda)

  • James Hinchcliffe
  • Marcus Ericsson
  • TBD

Carlin Racing (Chevrolet)

  • Max Chilton
  • Charlie Kimball
  • TBD (unconfirmed)

Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda)

  • Scott Dixon
  • Felix Rosenqvist

Clauson-Marshall Racing (Chevrolet)

  • TBD

Dale Coyne Racing (Honda)

  • Sebastien Bourdais
  • Santino Ferrucci
  • TBD

DragonSpeed (Chevrolet)

  • Ben Hanley

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Chevrolet)

  • TBD
  • TBD

Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevrolet)

  • Ed Carpenter
  • Spencer Pigot
  • Ed Jones

Harding Steinbrenner Racing (Honda)

  • Colton Herta
  • TBD (unconfirmed)

Juncos Racing (Chevrolet)

  • TBD (unconfirmed)
  • TBD (unconfirmed)

McLaren Racing (Chevrolet)

  • Fernando Alonso

Meyer Shank Racing (Honda)

  • Jack Harvey

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Honda)

  • Graham Rahal
  • Takuma Sato
  • Jordan King

Team Penske (Chevrolet)

  • Will Power
  • Josef Newgarden
  • Simon Pagenaud
  • Helio Castroneves

Looking at the unconfirmed drivers, it’s believed Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ third Honda will have Oriol Servia’s name on the entry list. Recent Arrow SPM driver Jay Howard, Katherine Legge, and Stefan Wilson have also been mentioned as candidates.

Has Oriol just spotted an empty seat at Arrow SPM? Image by LePage/LAT

Carlin Racing’s third Chevy is another seat that has generated significant interest. Provided it hits the track, reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward would be among the leading possibilities to drive the car at Indy, and some or all of the races leading up to the month of May. RC Enerson, who tested for Carlin at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Circuit of The Americas, is the other key contender.

Although the deal Pippa Mann’s arranged with Clauson-Marshall Racing Chevy has yet to be confirmed, it’s believed a formal announcement is imminent. Dale Coyne Racing’s third Honda is thought to be allocated to James Davison, who drove for the team in 2015 and 2017, and moved to Foyt last year. Between the two drivers, it would be a case of Mann, who attempted to qualify last year in a Coyne car, moving to the new C-MR venture using a Foyt chassis, and Davison moving from Foyt back to Coyne.

Don’t expect to see the return of a third Foyt car this year, although James Davison has other irons in the fire. Image by Levitt/LAT

Dennis Reinbold’s two-car Chevy program is expected to have Sage Karam back once more, and his 2018 teammate JR Hildebrand is also expected to return.

Of the unconfirmed entries listed so far, all are considered solid.

The first significant question mark among the three remaining unconfirmed cars comes with Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s second Honda. Andretti veteran Carlos Munoz has been mentioned as a possibility for the seat, but there’s an even greater question as to whether the infrastructure exists to run a second car after HSR downsized its plans to field a single entry for Colton Herta. If the second Honda lease is to be used, it would likely require a driver to bring an exceptionally large financial commitment to the team. Barring that somewhat remote scenario, it’s unclear whether a second HSR entry for Indy would materialize, or if Honda Performance Development would look to make the engine available to another team.

Juncos will be back – if it can secure a budget. Image by Abbott/LAT

The last significant piece of the entry list falls to Juncos Racing’s pair of Chevy-powered cars. At present, the team has only confirmed one car for Kyle Kaiser at Circuit of The Americas; the rest of its calendar awaits completion. Kaiser impressed on his 500 debut with Juncos last year, and would be a natural fit for a return if the budget can be secured. The second Juncos Chevy, if it’s utilized, could prove to be the last known access point to Indy for the drivers who lost out at Arrow SPM, Dale Coyne, etc.

A hope that Andretti Autosport would make a sixth car available, bringing the potential tally up to 39 cars, was deemed “wishful thinking” by a team representative on Monday. Larry Foyt has also been adamant that despite running three cars on a regular basis at Indy, the team will stick with two in an effort to maximize its potential. Following the no-expansion trend, Dale Coyne has been vocal regarding his team sticking to three cars rather than stretch its capabilities by running a fourth.

Add in McLaren Racing, which is putting its full effort behind one car for Fernando Alonso, and most other teams that have outlined very specific Indy 500 entry plans that do not include last-minute expansions, and a maximum of 38 cars appears to be the upper threshold for entries.

Factor in the usual self-imposed engine lease limits made by Chevy and Honda, and both brands will be working untold hours to meet demand.

The dazzling number of 38 represent a perfect outcome where every available lease is met with the budget and infrastructure to roll the eventual field of 33, plus the extra five, through the qualifying line. Based on where we stand today, with the second HSR Honda and the second Juncos Chevy as more conceptual ideas than practical additions to the entry list, it feels safe to say 36 cars will hit the track once practice begins.

The good thing is, there’s still time for the final entries to find buyers, and whatever the number ends up being, high drama awaits teams, drivers, and fans once we get to the weekend of May 18-19. As James Hinchcliffe reminded us last year, there’s no telling who will miss the show.

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