With the confirmation of JR Hildebrand on the ovals in the No. 11 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy, the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 has 32 drivers in position for its field of 33.
One month after RACER published its first look at the entry list for the May 29 race, the biggest news to report since mid-February is the lack of movement on filling the grid. Getting to 33 cars has been anything but easy as all the players who want to join in are missing at least one key element required to participate in the event. For a 33rd car to happen, some extraordinary changes will need to take place in a hurry.
Outside of Hildebrand’s seat in the third Foyt car, there’s no progress to report on fielding extra Indy 500 entries from the other veteran teams. Of the few that are still rumored to be entertaining the idea of adding another car for the race, such notions were swiftly quashed earlier this week.
Starting with a text to Michael Andretti Monday morning, he confirmed once more that his Honda-powered team will not grow to six entries; it will stick with five. Larry Foyt provided an update and says his team remains locked in at three. Dale Coyne Racing says it’s set at two, and despite constant inquiries from drivers and interested co-entrants, Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger won’t budge on running more than one Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevy. However the leverage might be applied, IndyCar’s life would become much easier if one or two of its regular teams volunteered to cover off a 33rd and a 34th entry just to be safe.
Chevy has 15 cars on its current roster and Honda has 17. Both engine manufacturers continue to say they are capable of supporting 18 apiece, provided they are presented with quality teams and drivers to power. The “quality” part will certainly play a part in the manufacturers’ final decisions. Nonetheless, one brand or the other will make certain IndyCar has its 33rd entry to ensure the traditional 11 rows of three will be maintained. Chevy is the leading candidate to handle the 33rd car.
WHY ARE WE STUCK ON 32?
Indy has gone from 35 entries last year and a recent peak of 36 in 2019 to holding firm at 32. Two factors are mentioned when the topic is raised within the paddock, with the general reduction in Indy 500 entries by a number of teams as the first reason, and second, the expansion of IndyCar’s full-time grid is where the blame is often laid.
With growth among some teams for the complete 17-race calendar, the available staff and cars they once used to run an extra entry at Indy have been elevated to full-season status, and the knock-on effect is a lack of resources to add another car for the Speedway. The full-time growth is a great thing, but it has come at the expense of the Indy-only entrants. Factor in the lack of desire by some who have cars — that will go unused in May — to help by leasing them to the Indy-only crowd, and we have the reasons behind the current situation.
AS OF TODAY
Among the drivers and co-entrants on the outside looking in, there’s been regression in some areas and modest gains in others. If there were a betting line on which young team will pull everything together and take the 33rd entry, the best odds recently shifted to Beth Paretta and her Paretta Autosport Chevy effort for Simona De Silvestro. However, before we pencil her in as the de facto solution to the problem, there’s more to consider.
In 2021, Paretta had the full technical and infrastructure support of Team Penske though Penske’s Race For Equality & Change program. In 2022, she’s been left to assemble all aspects of the team on her own, and so far, she’s made great headway. Paretta’s got ongoing support from Team Chevy on the engine side, a nearly complete budget, a partial crew, and continues to work on finding a suitable chassis for her Swiss driver to wield. With the better part of three of the four pillars required to go racing at Indy, Paretta’s been chasing an all-elusive Dallara DW12 and senior technical personnel to complete her program and file an entry. More on Paretta Autosport in a moment.
Next — and a distant P2 on the 33rd-car depth chart — is Stefan Wilson and Cusick Motorsports, who have full funding to offer. But with nobody offering a competitive seat for Cusick to secure or a proven car to lease, they only have one of the four pillars. Granted, possessing a budget is crucial, but so far, Don Cusick’s desire to enter his second consecutive Indy 500 with Wilson, and to develop the effort into a bigger program next year with a partner team, has been rebuffed.
They’re needing a car, team, and engine partner, although the latter is something that would be the easiest to take care of once the team and car fell into place. Even so, the prospects are somewhat slim for the three-time Indy 500 starter to hit the track in May.
Returning to Paretta, she and Wilson/Cusick face shared difficulties in reaching the Indy 500 grid, and together, they have looming internal deadlines to consider. Although IndyCar will work with all teams to try and get to 33 or more entries — beyond the official entry deadline if needed — the two top contenders for the 33rd spot aren’t too far away from making hard decisions.
Would it be smarter to abandon their Indy 500 plans and shift to running a few races later in the year when veteran teams might be more willing to provide turnkey solutions? Like the manufacturers’ insistence on supporting quality efforts, Paretta and Wilson/Cusick are known to be holding themselves to the same high level of expectations for what they’re trying to assemble.
Neither can afford to scrape into the field and have two consecutive 500s with poor showings. Wilson was the first driver out last year in P33 with an effort led by Andretti Autosport, and after struggling all month for speed and being relegated to the Last Chance Qualifying session, Paretta’s Penske-run car for De Silvestro came home an unfulfilling P31. As both continue to be stuck with late, compromised, or sub-optimal situations to choose from for the 500, do not underestimate how close they are to pulling the plug on their entries.