The St. Pete story a few years ago involved mega teams comprising most of the grid. Andretti, Ganassi, and Penske were responsible for half the field, and thankfully, the ownership base had widened by a considerable margin.
Carlin Racing and Meyer Shank Racing are here, DragonSpeed is new to the paddock, and with a few of the existing entries, new co-owners have been added. Harding Racing has morphed into Harding Steinbrenner. Ed Carpenter Racing has welcomed Scuderia Corsa to one of its entries. Marco Andretti has bought into the entry he drives, giving the series its first five-way effort in Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian! Jimmy Vasser and James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan signed a new multi-year deal to continue their co-entry on Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing car. And coming in May, Clauson-Marshall Racing, and the legendary McLaren Racing will run their own programs.
The perfect scenario would have fewer co-entry situations and more standalone team owners, and that isn’t out of the question in the near future. At least for where we are today, there’s less concern over losing a multi-car team and having the series crumble from instability.
And this is a subject for a different day, so I’ll only touch on this for a moment: If IndyCar wants to add more owners to the series, it needs to craft a plan for its next-generation engines (coming in 2021) and chassis solution (due in 2022) to meet its need while knocking at least $1 million off the current costs of fielding an entry for the season. If it can make it closer to $2 million in savings, its entry list will explode.
Work Left to Do
Most of the examples cited above are positive, but some of IndyCar’s smaller teams are still struggling to fill vacancies. Juncos Racing, which debuted in 2017, will be competing in the Indy Lights portion of the St. Pete weekend, but has no sponsors and no drivers lined up to pay for its Chevy Indy car to turn a wheel. Of the 17 races to sell, it has one taker so far — Kyle Kaiser — for Round 2 at COTA. And Juncos spent the money to convert its second chassis to the new UAK18 bodywork, giving it two potential entries every weekend.
The team has not been a significant threat so far, which could be part of its problem, but the same was true last year when Kaiser, Rene Binder, and Alfonso Celis paid for a Juncos car to be in the field at 12 races. Carlin Racing, a two-car, full-time rookie team last year, is back with one full-timer in Max Chilton and five of 17 races filled by Charlie Kimball in the second entry. The team has known about Kimball’s budget reduction for quite some time, and yet, like Juncos, has been unable to find funded drivers to sign on.
It speaks less to what Carlin and Juncos have to offer, and more to the smaller pool of sponsor-wielding drivers ready to pay to drive an Indy car. The O’Ward fallout at HSR could benefit one of these two teams since the Mexican has at least $1 million to offer, but that’s luck meeting availability. Drawing back to the future-minded note on cost reduction, it’s great to see more wealthy businessmen and women invest in starting or co-owning IndyCar teams, but those are rare birds.
For the rest, the small businessmen and small businesswomen who rely on selling their services to stay afloat — and that’s been a solid portion of IndyCar’s entrants for longer than I’ve been alive — 2019 isn’t filled with the same optimism being espoused by healthier teams.
Santino Ferrucci: Quick and Quiet
Having made an ass out of himself last year during the Silverstone Formula 2 event, Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci has been behaving like a model citizen since being confirmed at Sebastien Bourdais’ full-time teammate.
It’s as if someone told him to shut up and let his driving do the talking, because that’s exactly what he’s done during pre-season testing. Fast on a regular basis, the 20-year-old from Connecticut could be a quiet revelation among the other IndyCar rookies.
Provided he keeps his head down and follows Bourdais’ example of using focused intensity in all aspects of the job, Ferrucci’s driving might be the only subject that comes to mind a few years down the road.
Deals Run Late
A friend sent over a note that sums up the feeling for IndyCar’s inexplicably late international TV contract announcements: “Did they just realized the season starts now?” The volley of questions from fans in Canada, England, Australia, and (insert country here) have been non-stop for more than a month. Most questions were answered in a press release from the series on Tuesday, but some significant voids remain. Latin America? Not on the list. Canada? An expensive cable add-on, presented three days before opening practice at St. Pete.
An interesting number: Of the 24 drivers on St. Pete’s entry list, 58 percent were born outside the United States.
Here’s a general thought: Live streaming was initially viewed as the perfect mechanism to connect fans with their favorite domestic and international sports. Somehow, streaming video been allowed to devolve into a cash grab for some networks, and in IndyCar’s case, live streaming will, in many cases, achieve the exact opposite of connecting its global fans to the sport they love.
New for Newgarden
Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2015 Indy 500 with Brian Campe on his timing stand as race engineer, and Campe also steered Josef Newgarden to his 2017 IndyCar championship with Team Penske. He’s taken a new, shop-based role for Penske, and in his absence ex-Red Bull Formula 1 race engineer Gavin Ward will embark on his first IndyCar title pursuit with the Tennessean. Watch this space.