The dominoes continue to fall in the NTT IndyCar Series’ quest to land its 33rd entry and fill the grid for the Indianapolis 500. Since our last update, the pool of candidates has gotten smaller as two potential entrants tell RACER they’re out of the running to take part in the month of May’s Speedway activities.
On the positive side, IndyCar continues to take a proactive approach towards solving the problem. Meetings with multiple teams took place during the recent Texas Motor Speedway event to search for assistance in fielding an extra car to break the deadlock of 32 cars for the May 29 race, and as we’ve moved into April, those efforts will continue as more meetings are expected to be held this weekend in Long Beach.
Nonetheless, finding a willing team to help IndyCar fill its 11 rows of three has been unfathomably hard: A.J. Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Juncos Hollinger Racing are said to be among the teams that have been approached. Of the many reasons behind the struggles, one consistent comment from full-time teams about their disinterest in taking on another entry has been the lack of experienced crew to run the car. Even for the teams with extra Speedway cars sitting in their shop, the absence of trained staff to handle all aspect of the program — from performing pit stops to engineering the car — has been the greatest limitation.
Assuming IndyCar will be successful in finding a team to put another car in the field, the next order of business will be to attach a funded driver to the entry and pay the team for its services.
Of the known options, RACER has learned two-time Indy 500 starter Katherine Legge will not be on the entry list after a considerable amount of support, including crew spanning IndyCar and IMSA and the use of Honda’s 18th and final engine, came to naught after the opportunity to lease a Honda-ready chassis fell through.
A plan to run former Andretti Autosport driver Zach Veach, which had an engine lease from Chevy on deck and a team willing to make a Dallara DW12 available, has also confirmed its quest to be on the entry list met its end after a major backer withdrew.
With their absences, the pool of candidates to fund and race a 33rd entry is down to Paretta Autosport/Simona De Silvestro and Cusick Motorsports/Stefan Wilson.
Taking a brief detour before we return to those camps, it’s believed the ongoing saga of ‘Who owns the cars that Top Gun Racing has at its shop?’ remains unresolved. Top Gun and Neil Enerson, father of its former driver RC Enerson, continue to fight over custody of the No. 75 DW12 that contested the second Indy road course event last year and a spare car that sits unassembled.
Both claim ownership of the vehicles, and until the matter is resolved — or Top Gun exercises a clause to buy the cars for a seven-figure sum — and a budget is then raised to run the car at Indy, the No. 75 will not enter the conversation as a real prospect to take part in the show. The Indy Open Test is 16 days away as of this writing and the green flag for the race is 54 days away and counting.
That leaves two serious options to take the 33rd entry in Paretta and Cusick. As RACER noted in its last Indy 500 update, there was a strong possibility of one or both parties taking a pass on this year’s Indy 500 to focus on doing a few races later in the year. At the moment, the odds of seeing Paretta and De Silvestro returning for their second Indy 500 together appear to be extremely long; rumors of a post-500 program with the Swiss driver continue to build.
It means that in the ever-changing dynamic of which entity holds the best chance of filling Indy’s final slot, Cusick and Wilson are on pole position to solve the series’ problem unless a new and unknown figure enters the mix. If it’s not Cusick and Wilson attached to the 33rd entry, there are no known alternatives with a qualified and interested driver waiting in the wings to bring a complete budget to whichever team comes through for IndyCar.
As one driver recently said, “At what point does Roger Penske wheel that fourth car out and fix the problem himself?”
Elsewhere, chatter regarding IndyCar veteran James Hinchcliffe being in the frame to drive a third Coyne entry have circulated — with the 2016 Indy pole winner serving as NBC Sports’ in-car race reporter — but the ambitious idea lacked full funding and did not make it out of the conceptual stages.
We aren’t far from a solution to this puzzling problem, and if it isn’t Cusick and Wilson as the answer, there’s going to be one hell of an interesting story to tell about how that lone vacancy was filled.