The McLaren marriage to Arrow Schmidt Peterson has thrown open the doors to a silly season that many of us thought it was pretty much over when Alexander Rossi re-upped with Michael Andretti.
But from Colton Herta, to James Hinchcliffe, to Marcus Ericsson, to Conor Daly, to Santino Ferrucci, to Pato O’Ward, to Spencer Pigot, to Ed Jones, to Tony Kanaan, to Matheus Leist, to Oliver Askew, to Rinus Veekay, to Felipe Nasr, to Nicholas Latifi, to Fernando Alonso, it’s a smorgasbord of scenarios, rumors and theories for IndyCar fans, bloggers, journos and some of us ink-stained wretches who now inhabit the internet.
So let’s look at what we know, what we think we know, and what might happen in the next few weeks as the NTT IndyCar Series winds down.
COLTON HERTA: It’s good to be 19 and on everyone’s wanted list, and that’s exactly the position this second-generation phenom finds himself in as his rookie year hits the home stretch.
Here’s what I know: He has a contract with Mike Harding and a contract with Michael Andretti, which supersedes everything. My understanding is that Andretti has a three-year option on Herta, and he can take him at the end of any of these next three years. When asked about his son’s future a few weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, the original Hertamania said: “Mike Harding has given Colton a massive opportunity, and that put him on the radar for a lot of other teams. He’s still under contract to Harding and we’ve talked to Mike [and] told him, as long as he can demonstrate there is a way to continue next year with Colton we’re bound to do that. But if he can’t, I’m sure he wouldn’t hold him back from something else. But Colton is very happy with this team.”
Of course, we all know the financial uncertainly of the Harding Steinbrenner team, but who’s not to say that Hank and George Michael Steinbrenner can’t score a sponsor in the off-season to help keep this team afloat? The GESS sponsorship isn’t the answer and Capstone has been a godsend lately, and I’m told Hank Steinbrenner has put in more than his fair share in 2019. Little Herta grew up in the Andretti compound, starred in Indy Lights for his dad’s best friend and has benefited greatly from their technical partnership and engineer Nathan O’Rourke.
If Harding Steinbrenner can’t continue, the obvious move would be to put Colton in an Andretti car for 2020 – except that all four drivers are already set. Of course it’s all but the fifth Andretti car right now, so maybe the Harding Steinbrenner partnership takes the funding it can raise and morphs into the official fifth car in 2020. In the event Andretti can’t run or place Colton, then he becomes a free agent. But that’s not going to happen. Colton will be an Andretti driver until he’s no longer carded at bars, which could be 10 years. And maybe Honda (which is getting a check for allowing Arrow McLaren SP to bail on its contract with one year remaining) can throw in some engines to help the cause, because it’s big on little Hertamania as well.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The Mayor has one year left on his contract with Arrow SPM and everyone on both sides of the new merger is saying all the right things about how great it is, and the contract will be honored, and all that rah-rah stuff. Yet I didn’t see anything about how happy everyone was to have this veteran winner leading this new effort in 2020, and we’ve heard all season that this relationship is no longer warm and fuzzy. Now, it remains to be seen whether Gil de Ferran, Zak Brown, Sam Schmidt or Ric Peterson make the call on the lineup for 2020, but I’m betting Hinch won’t be around for what would likely be a lame duck season. He’s the PR face of Honda (Canada and the USA) on national commercials and personal services, so that’s a nice supplement to his income. Where would the popular 32-year-old Canadian go? How about RLL’s third car? Be a perfect fit.
MARCUS ERICSSON: The Swedish rookie wants to stay in IndyCar, preferably with Arrow McLaren SP, but his management group has been talking with other teams as well. He’s turned in some good drives that aren’t always rewarded with good finishes, but he’s got sponsorship and ability, so he’ll find a home for 2020.
CONOR DALY: If it were up to the fans, Daly would have a full-time ride and Andretti would be running six cars. Although he’s got some backing from the Air Force, it’s not enough for a full-time deal yet so is there a place for him at McLaren Arrow SP or RLL? How about Carlin, where he’s done a good job this year? Would he go back to A.J. if asked?
SANTINO FERRUCCI: Nobody has made more fans and a bigger positive impression on the IndyCar paddock than this 21-year-old in his rookie season. He’s got balls, talent, personality and sponsorship, so will he stay at Coyne with engineer Michael Cannon? Go to McLaren Arrow SP or RLL? He may have quite a few choices.
PATO O’WARD: Zak Brown took Pato to breakfast back at Long Beach to talk about next year, and, depending on his Red Bull options, he’s exactly what McLaren and de Ferran covet. They want young and fast.
SPENCER PIGOT: Ed Carpenter has shown great belief and patience with Pigot but it’s still only his second full season, so another year would be splendid for his growth if ECR can swing it.
ED JONES: Has shown flashes of that excellent rookie year with Coyne, but may not have enough scratch to continue at ECR.
TONY KANAAN: Here’s the conundrum: does A.J. ask T.K. to return, and would the 2013 Indy 500 winner accept? It’s been a miserable year, and the popular 42-year-old veteran deserves a going away tour with at least a fighting chance.
MATHEUS LEIST: Opened his IndyCar career in the Fast Six with Foyt in 2018, but it’s been a disaster since (except the Indy GP this year thanks to the rain) and it’s not fair to judge this kid for what he’s had to drive. But future is probably not in Houston.
OLIVER ASKEW: If he hangs on to his Lights lead, he’s got at least three races for 2020 and he had a good test for Ganassi recently, so all these rumors about Chip running a third car next year… why not with this talented kid?
RINUS VEEKAY: Shown plenty of savvy and ability to win in Lights, and impressed ECR in his Portland test. The Indianapolis-based team could likely use an infusion of money and Rinus’ sponsor is Jumbo – the largest supermarket chain in The Netherlands. How about full-time rides for Pigot and Veekay with the boss still running all the ovals or just Indianapolis?
FELIPE NASR: The ex-Formula 1 regular and IMSA champion tested for Arrow SPM at Mid-Ohio and evidently has the eye of the McLaren principals.
NICHOLAS LATIFI: The 24-year-old Canadian is currently a test driver for Williams in F1 and stands second in the Formula 2 standings and, drum roll please, his father is an investor in McLaren.
FERNANDO ALONSO: We all want to see Fred back at Indy in a competitive car, but watching him at Road America or Long Beach or Iowa would be an added pleasure. Who knows? He might want to run a half-dozen IndyCar races. And I’ll buy his Sloppy Joes at Iowa.