With all that’s going on in the world, the 2020 edition of IndyCar’s silly season really should be a non-factor. But as we’ve seen in the last month, all manner of crazy developments have taken place, and there are more on the way.
Zach Veach is out at Andretti Autosport; James Hinchcliffe has taken over the No. 26 Honda for the last three races, but the full-time seat is up for grabs next year. Sebastien Bourdais is A.J. Foyt Racing’s new team leader charged with steering the program towards the midfield; the move clears Tony Kanaan and Dalton Kellett from the No. 14 Chevy seat they shared. Oliver Askew is out at Arrow McLaren SP after Sunday, but he’s back to finish the season at St. Petersburg in the No. 7 Chevy, and searching for a new home. Felix Rosenqvist is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to replace Askew after St. Pete, which opens a prime, race-winning seat at CGR in the No. 10 Honda. Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is inbound at Ganassi, but the finer details are sparse.
And that’s just a quick rundown of the silly season to date. Of the new or updated info after RACER’s first and second installments, overtures of positivity lead the list with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
At the end of his current contract with Andretti Autosport, and with sponsorship proving harder to secure than at any point this century, there was concern RHR could be facing free agency for the first time in more than a decade. But paddock chatter has turned in a happier direction of late, and it’s believed the 2012 IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner will be confirmed in the No. 28 Honda for his 12th season and beyond.
Attaching a new name to Veach’s former entry is a bit harder. Despite the aforementioned budgetary struggles, the Andretti team wants to remain at five full-time cars (Michael Andretti has actually said he’d like to expand to six), and if they can avoid downsizing to four, the team owner and his senior sales and leadership group will deserve an award for their efforts.
But who would take the No. 26 Honda, and would it be a single driver for the year, or a ridesharing deal with two or more divvying up the calendar? Hinchcliffe comes to mind first, but don’t discount Andretti’s ability to draw from international relationships to introduce new talent to the series.
With RHR expected remain in place, the leading talent on the market becomes Askew who, despite a rough patch after the Indy 500, is a good fit for a few teams.
If Andretti leans towards a rideshare in the No. 26, their 2019 Indy Lights champion, who the team valued during their lone season, would certainly be on their shortlist. Like Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta, who finished 1-2 for Andretti in the 2018 Indy Lights championship, there was a desire to keep Askew after the 2019 Lights title was secured, but unlike his predecessors who had cars lined up by Andretti to drive at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, Michael’s house was full entering 2020 and Askew was forced to look elsewhere. One year later, there’s at least one empty Andretti seat to fill. The only question here is money, and Askew isn’t known to be sitting on wads of cash.
Thanks to his new freedom, Askew’s name has been mentioned for the first time as an option to share Jimmie Johnson’s CGR entry for the three ovals on the schedule that Johnson has said he’ll skip. Prior to Askew, Johnson’s close friend Tony Kanaan was considered a slam dunk for a return to CGR to partner with his pal, which could still happen.
Askew is also known to be held in high regard at CGR for more than his oval skills. With the No. 10 Honda set to be minus Rosenqvist, would Askew be considered for the drive, provided more funding can be found to complete its budget? There’s a scarcity of young talent on the market for 2021, and provided the all-conquering Askew who stormed through the Road To Indy is back and at full strength in St. Pete, CGR might have some serious thinking to do on whether he’s worth developing alongside Scott Dixon.
Having gone through Ed Jones and Rosenqvist in the No. 10 car since 2018, the search for the right competitive fit next to CGR’s team leader continues. The last CGR note of interest is the team’s intent to expand to four cars. Dixon is returning; Marcus Ericsson has made a solid impression on the team and the team appears open to continuing with the Swede; Johnson is also in the team’s plans for 2021, and in a new entry, not as someone to backfill the car Rosenqvist’s leaving behind.
And then there’s Meyer Shank Racing’s efforts to grow its operation into a two-car presence, starting in 2021 with the rollout of a second Honda-powered car to complement Jack Harvey. Behind the scenes, MSR has suggested it wants to do a partial season with the new entry, and has also said it’s evaluating whether it would be better to place a veteran in the seat who can mentor Harvey as he embarks on his second full season, or go with youth, and build with a next-generation talent for years to come.
If it’s the former scenario, everyone from Hinchcliffe to Juan Pablo Montoya to Helio Castroneves comes to mind, provided they’d be interested in a part-time role. And if it’s the latter scenario, Askew once again stands out as a solid fit in a market where few – if any – young and experienced drivers are available for hire.
Dale Coyne Racing still expects to keep Santino Ferrucci, although his option for 2021 remains unsigned, and in a change from the last update, the team is said to have begun conversations with Kazumichi Goh on continuing with the impressive Spanish rookie Alex Palou. Palou’s name has been mentioned by more than one team owner or team principal as a driver they intend to follow for future consideration, provided he returns at DCR. If, by chance, Ferrucci and the team do not come to terms, he could join Askew on a few shortlists.
Returning to Foyt and the question of who will join Bourdais under the tent, Charlie Kimball wants to stay in the No. 4 Chevy, but rumors have recently circulated of an all-Brazilian combo, featuring Kanaan and a returning Pietro Fittipaldi, who drove for DCR at six rounds in 2018 and currently serves as a Haas Formula 1 test driver.
Elsewhere, Rinus VeeKay says he isn’t signed, so far, for a sophomore season at Ed Carpenter Racing, but wants to stay and is confident it will happen. Teammate Conor Daly, who was looking like a strong option for Veach’s former seat at Andretti, is said to be focused on ECR; Carpenter spoke of wanting to convert Daly’s part-time role into a full-time ride, and it’s believed the efforts to keep the Hoosier are trending upwards.
Finally, DJR Team Penske’s Scott Mclaughlin continues to be tipped for a full-time shift to IndyCar, but he told RACER last week that despite previous suggestions he would be staying in the U.S. after St. Pete, he will indeed be flying home afterwards. Whether that signals a change in plans for 2021, or just a change in the timing of a move to America, is unknown. The New Zealander has also said in recent days that he expects to drive for DJR Team Penske in the Australian Supercars series until Roger Penske tells him otherwise.
There’s more to come, and we know of at least one IndyCar star who is angling for a change of teams before we get too far into the offseason, so until the next installment, enjoy the championship showdown on Sunday.