It feels like our last NTT IndyCar Series silly season post just went up yesterday on RACER.com, but there’s been enough chatter and developments in the last week or two to warrant a medium-size update.
Romain Grosjean has been the top name in the first and second silly season pieces, and we’ll get to “The Phoenix” (as he’s fond of calling himself) in a moment. It’s another son of France who’s risen to first place on the list of expected changes as multiple sources tell us Simon Pagenaud is headed to Meyer Shank Racing to fill the seat made available by Jack Harvey.
Last weekend I asked Shank if the 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner was inbound for 2022, and he said no, and that no choices have been made on who will replace Harvey in the No. 60 Honda. So, it’s by no means official, but as we wrote in the last update, Pagenaud fulfills every need MSR has in IndyCar, and in its factory Acura IMSA DPi program.
Consider how important Pagenaud was to Honda prior to joining Team Penske, and having the sprightly 37-year-old in the team next to Helio Castroneves, would represent one heck of an evolution for MSR. Assuming everything I’ve heard is accurate about Pagenaud moving to the Ohio-based outfit, it’s unlikely anything would be confirmed until the end of the season. When it comes to driver changes, the norm is for the bigger teams to wait until the final race, or to get a few weeks into the offseason, before announcing who’s coming or going.
Sticking with the scenario for one more moment, we’ve also previously explored if and what Team Penske might do if they part ways with Pagenaud, and whether there’s a driver on the market that would fit the rigid criteria they’ve demonstrated over the years. Kyle Kirkwood is known to be on their radar, but I don’t know in what capacity, and it’s hard to see Penske abandoning their formula by signing a rookie straight out of Indy Lights.
Without rehashing the last silly season updates too heavily, the same lack of high-caliber free agents continues to exist for 2022, so with that in mind, the other option we mentioned a few weeks ago of downsizing to three cars seems like something to monitor as a possibility.
Returning to Grosjean, I continue to hear the move to Andretti Autosport is highly likely, but also learned he’s told the Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing team that he’s open to staying. The team is said to have addressed its staff with that piece of news at Nashville, which is encouraging. But as most of the coveted free agents have done in sports for decades, it’s not uncommon to try and keep the various suitors happy and encouraged while buying more time to see how those deals develop before making a final decision among the two or three offers on the table.
Grosjean’s a pro’s pro and has done the contract negotiation dance many times; slotting into Andretti’s No. 28 Honda still makes a lot of sense, and knowing what he’s rumored to be seeking for a salary, it would be something a bigger team with close manufacturer ties could more easily absorb than one of the smaller outfits in the series. Is it going to be Andretti, DCRwRWR, or another team to win the Romain Grosjean Sweepstakes? Hard to say at the moment.
There are some other items such as New Zealand’s Marcus Armstrong, who races in the Formula 2 series, paying a visit to Nashville and, as I wrote in the Nashville Cooldown column, Alex Albon’s planning to attend this weekend’s Indy GP event and meet with some teams. And we also have Juncos Hollinger Racing actively seeking a star driver to hire and prepare itself for a full-time return next year.
But the rumor I heard about Ryan Hunter-Reay being in the frame for the road and street courses with Ed Carpenter Racing in the No. 20 Chevy is where I’d like to close. It’s no secret that Conor Daly has had a rough season as Carpenter’s partner in the 20 car, and I’d love to see him return and have another go at showing some of the magic that was on display when he was at Coyne’s team, and with Andretti, and even with Foyt’s team when things went well. If continuing is an option, and however it might look in terms of car count and such at ECR, or maybe in return to one of his former teams, Daly needs to get past 2021 and have a hard reset in the series.
And with where ECR appears to be headed with a front-runner like Rinus VeeKay, plus the longstanding friendship between Hunter-Reay and Carpenter in mind, the thought of introducing an IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner to the program at this stage has its merits, if the necessary budget could be secured. From all the ways it would benefit VeeKay by having a true veteran with unquestioned oval and road course skills to draw from, to giving ECR an impressive Indy 500 line-up with Hunter-Reay in a third car, the timing feels right to infuse the outfit with Andretti’s longest-tenured driver.
Stay tuned for more updates as the story evolves over the last month and a half of the season.