PRUETT: Few openings remain on 106th Indy 500 entry

Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

PRUETT: Few openings remain on 106th Indy 500 entry

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PRUETT: Few openings remain on 106th Indy 500 entry

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The grid for the Indianapolis 500 is almost set.

Although we’re more than three months out from the start of practice, only a handful of deals are left to be worked out before the entry list for the 106th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is finalized.

From speaking with team owners and engine manufacturers in recent weeks, the main trend that’s emerged is one of conservatism. Rather than go all-out to add extra cars for the Indy 500, the word from inside the paddock involves most of IndyCar’s entrants pulling back to focus their efforts on campaigning the same number of cars — or fewer — than they ran in 2021.

“We’re only going to run five, not six,” Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti told RACER. A similar take was offered by A.J. Foyt Racing president Larry Foyt, who said “I do not think we’ll attempt a fourth,” which is indicative of the why the list could be relatively compact once all the entries are counted.

Andretti has reduced from six cars to five; Team Penske has trimmed from four to three, Dale Coyne Racing is down from three to two, and if Foyt sticks to his strategy, the team will drop from four to three. The only team experiencing an expansion is Chip Ganassi Racing, which steps up from four to five to accommodate both Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan. But with the general downsizing in mind, Bump Day might not be packed with drama.

RACER has confirmed Chevy and Honda are willing to supply a maximum of 18 entries apiece, and while that combines for a potential of 36 drivers fighting to earn 33 starting spots, there are legitimate doubts at the moment as to whether both engine manufacturers will fill their order books.

A number of teams with spare cars have also been more reluctant than in the recent past to lease those cars to Indy-only entrants. It adds another layer of complication for those who have a budget but no chassis of their own to deploy for the 500.

There’s no lack of effort or action behind the scenes among those who want to be part of the show. It’s also clear, due to the miserly approach taken by most of the full-time teams, that a few of the hopeful participants might need to shift their focus to being involved in next year’s Indy 500.

As of today, 33 entries stand out, and if we’re lucky, one or two more could emerge. Let’s start off by looking at the Bowtie’s roster.

CHEVY (16 entries at present)

3: A.J. Foyt Racing: Kyle Kirkwood, Dalton Kellett, TBD (likely JR Hildebrand)

3: Arrow McLaren SP: Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Juan Pablo Montoya

3: Ed Carpenter: Conor Daly, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter

3: Team Penske: Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin

2: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Santino Ferrucci

1: Juncos Hollinger Racing: Callum Ilott

1: Top Gun Racing: TBD

OTHER CHEVY POSSIBILITIES:

The leading question mark among the Chevy tribe is found with Beth Paretta and her Paretta Autosport program. With crew and technical support last year from Team Penske under Roger Penske’s Race For Equality & Change initiative, and a car leased from Juncos Hollinger Racing, the Paretta team made a big debut in May that generated more interest in IndyCar and the Indy 500 leading into the race than any other entry.

Keeping in mind all of the immense value Paretta Autosport brought to IndyCar through national television, print, and digital outlets, it was a surprise to learn of the series’ decision to pull its RE&C support of Paretta and her group of women racers as they work towards making a return in 2022. The car was returned to Juncos, which is using it and its spare DW12s for rookie Callum Ilott, and Penske has diverted his extra crew to its new Porsche sports car program, which is more than understandable. Nonetheless, it leaves Paretta Autosport in search of a car and team at a time when both are in short supply.

A Paretta Autosport entry will have to follow a different formula this year. Motorsport Images

If a desire remains for ongoing support through Penske’s RE&C initiative, one might wonder if the exit of Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske and its downsizing to three cars would leave a spare chassis or two for Simona De Silvestro to use. Paretta has a Chevy engine lease for De Silvestro, and a budget, and most of the women from the 2021 crew ready to head to Indy if a car and a team can be sourced to tie its sophomore run together for the Speedway. With the rest of the puzzle solved, Paretta Autosport would take Chevy up to 17 entries and the qualifying list out to 34.

Will Marotti and Marotti Autosport’s Spirit of Speedway effort is an interesting one which we recently chronicled. If the full budget is acquired and it comes to fruition, I’ve heard the proposed plan involves becoming a co-entrant with the Foyt team on one of its cars, which wouldn’t require an extra Chevy lease or place another car in the field.

We’ll close with Top Gun, the scrappy team owned by Bill and Stephanie Throckmorton. We know they won’t have RC Enerson back to drive the No. 75 Chevy at the Speedway, and while speaking with the team about 10 days ago on where they’ll go without him, Bill declined to comment on the situation with Enerson, but did say the team has “something big in the works” for the 500. I have no doubt the Top Gun team will enter the Indy 500; what happens after that is unclear.

The Throckmortons are known to have spoken with most of the drivers or co-entrants looking for a home in May, and have done some crowdfunding to raise money among its fan base. And while it’s possible someone could step forward with a full budget, there are questions as to whether the No. 75 Dallara DW12 and the spare tub in Top Gun’s possession, which belong to Neil and RC Enerson, would stay with the team.

Considering the aforementioned chassis supply and demand issues, I’m aware of at least two potential entrants that would like to get ahold of the car and lease it for the month of May. I wouldn’t pretend to know what arrangement exists between the Throckmortons and Enersons, or if Top Gun will hold onto and run the No. 75 Chevy, or if the Enerson’s will find sponsors and a crew of their own to enter their car, or if they’ll look to lease their cars to a third party. I can say, however, that IndyCar’s smallest team holds the keys to a significant entry situation for the Indy 500.

HONDA (17 entries at present)

5: Andretti Autosport: Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Marco Andretti, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco

5: Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Tony Kanaan, Marcus Ericsson, Jimmie Johnson

3: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, Christian Lundgaard

2: Meyer Shank Racing: Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud

2: Dale Coyne Racing: Takuma Sato, David Malukas

OTHER HONDA POSSIBILITIES:

Where Chevy is at 16 entries and has two more leases that can be utilized, Honda’s sitting on one coveted motor program for Indy. Who might capture the defending race winner’s 18th and last engine lease?

Stefan Wilson and Cusick Motorsports, which ran as Andretti’s sixth car last year, are the main remaining seekers of a Honda-powered entry to continue building towards its desired expansion into becoming a regular IndyCar program. Katherine Legge, whose name appears on an annual basis of those who are vying to be on the grid with Honda, is said to be another candidate for Indy, and like Wilson — her new teammate in IMSA — the same need exists for a Honda team to make an extra car appear for the 500 to carry that motor.

This is the biggest difference between Chevy and Honda hopefuls. Although the team or car options available to those aligned with Chevy might not be plentiful, there are a few conceivable pathways to taking part in practice and qualifying. On the Honda side, it’s hard to find the same possibilities. Those with DW12s outfitted for a Honda engine just aren’t budging on making them available to lease, or as turnkey seats that can be bought for between $750,000 to $1.2 million.

The Vasser Sullivan team, which purchased a DW12 years ago and was used in partnership with Dale Coyne Racing’s Honda-affiliated program, is said to have the car back in its possession. The team says it’s still in the decision-making phase; filing an Indy 500 entry, leasing the car, or sitting tight until 2023 are all options to work through.

Whether Vasser Sullivan’s Honda turns a wheel in some form this year remains to be determined. Motorsport Images

And while Dallara is said to be capable of manufacturing and delivering a new DW12 chassis in time to be used at Indy, it might be hard for an Indy-only entrant to justify the big expenditure for short-term use when a new chassis design is expected to appear somewhere around 2024 or ’25. Altogether, being a small or emerging team trying to use its participation in the Indy 500 as a springboard to bigger things is by no means an easy or welcoming experience in 2022.

I can’t blame the tenured teams for wanting to hold onto their equipment and safeguard their programs in the event of a chassis-destroying crash in the run up to the Indy 500. It’s not their responsibility to field extra cars or lease their equipment to those who don’t own cars or don’t have crews.

At the same time, it’s also strange and unfortunate to see a number of folks who want to take part in the Indy 500 now — and the wider NTT IndyCar Series calendar in the future — hitting a variety of roadblocks that could leave one or more as spectators in May. If bumping is going to take place, some deals to get the field out to 34 or 35 cars will need to happen in a hurry.

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