The last NTT IndyCar Series race of the year will also serve as the start of a busy offseason of changes. Once the final lap is turned, a number of drivers in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will start the moving process — some to new home and series — for 2022.
The highest profile driver in this category is Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will step away from the No. 28 Honda after more than a decade spent with Andretti Autosport. His Andretti teammate James Hinchcliffe is also competing in his farewell to the program in the No. 29 Honda.
Hunter-Reay hopes to stay in IndyCar and has at least three teams that have expressed interest in his services. At the moment, Hinchcliffe’s chances to remain in IndyCar are slim, but he’s drawing attention for opportunities both in and out of the car in other championships.
Continuing the theme, Simon Pagenaud, another Indy 500 winner and series champion, will strap into the No. 22 Team Penske Chevy for the last time. With his personal brand and achievements so heavily tied to the dayglo yellow Menards livery, his anticipated return next year as teammate to Helio Castroneves at Meyer Shank Racing could be the start of a title-worthy rebound.
Fellow Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato is preparing to say goodbye to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the No. 30 Honda. He’s heavily tipped to replace Romain Grosjean at Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing, but it’s said to be a deal that’s still in development.
Movement with Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Pagenaud, or Sato would be big news in any season, let alone all four at once. Add in Jack Harvey, who is taking Sato’s place at RLL after spending five years with MSR, and the likely end to Ed Jones’ time at DCR with Vasser Sullivan, and some of IndyCar’s younger drivers are also readying themselves for change. It’s unclear whether Jones has options to explore outside of DCRwVS.
Will Conor Daly return to Ed Carpenter Racing? Could Sebastien Bourdais’ first season with A.J. Foyt Racing be his last, or will the four-time Champ Car champion get an invite to stay? Is Max Chilton primed for another calendar of road and street courses along with the Indy 500? Who will RLL select to drive its third car? And who else might be relocating within the paddock?
And the adjustments aren’t limited to drivers. Questions abound as to whether the DCR team will welcome new co-entrants to the program, continue with the current partners, or return to the days of old where Coyne’s name was the only one found in the record books.
Carlin Racing has high ambitions to return with two cars, but is that feasible, and could an alliance with another team help the scrappy outfit to secure its long-term future in the series?
Most of the teams and drivers know where they will or won’t be when we reconvene next year for the start of another championship run. And we also have some goodbyes, hellos, farewells and thanks to say before we get there.