Where Does Hinchcliffe Go From Here? An IndyCar Silly Season Update

INDIANAPOLIS – Over the last few weeks, a lot of the NTT IndyCar Series Silly Season dominoes have fallen. Chip Ganassi Racing announced a few weeks ago that they have signed Marcus Ericsson to drive a third car for the organization for the 2020 season. That coupled with Colton Herta and Harding sliding back fully under the Andretti Autosport banner with a fifth entry and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing picking up the option for Takuma Sato to keep him in their second car, mixed with McLaren/SPM’s driver lineup announcement and you get a ton of activity with only a few gigs left.

Right now, we know there’s 24 cars that will likely be full time with a chance for a couple more too. So, what’s left?

James Hinchcliffe is the top domino now. More on him in a few.

In terms of teams, Carlin will have Max Chilton back on a part-time basis in 2020 as he will not race on ovals again according to several sources too. Carlin, is interested in Daly which says that he can run on all ovals for them, but there’s some complications for the Indiana native to run there full-time. The budget to land a Carlin seat is around $1-2 million less than elsewhere, so they should have no troubles finding two drivers. I wouldn’t count out former Indy Lights drivers Ed Jones or Matheus Leist as contenders to land with Carlin either. Charlie Kimball is also in play as he’s close to securing enough funding to return to full time status after racing only part time in 2019.

In terms of AJ Foyt Racing, obviously both drivers are now free agents but Tony Kanaan appears to be coming back for 2020. His teammate though is up in the air as ABC Supply is pulling out. They’ll need someone who brings money.

Ed Carpenter Racing has a full time seat as well as the part-time road/street course ride open. Spencer Pigot is in play to return to the full time seat. Daly, would make sense for the road/street course program if he chooses to run all ovals for Carlin/Andretti Autosport. Rinus VeeKay though appears to be the favorite to land somewhere with ECR as he’s not tested with them multiple times now.

Daly, also said that Andretti would run a sixth car during the Month of May for him and he has an option to run the rest of the ovals for Carlin, but he wants full time, so if he can make it work with ECR, that could be a bizarre full time effort for three teams.

Dale Coyne Racing knows Sebastien Bourdais will be back and it depends on whom you talk to about Santino Ferrucci. Some say Ferrucci has the option to choose where he goes for 2020 but other say it’s DCR. Nevertheless, with a Ganassi seat now gone and  Hinchcliffe sitting there now as a free agent, Ferrucci should sign on the dotted line and secure his place.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan’s chances of a third car was looking bleak but it may have just got better. With Hinchcliffe not being retained with McLaren/SPM, you can rest assure that Honda is feverishly trying to find their driver a seat. With Andretti at five cars now, Ganassi at three and DCR not having the resources available to expand to a three car operation, RLL would make the most sense to house Hinchcliffe. But, with Sato and Rahal already signed to return, it would have to be a third team being brought out. That’s the best scenario for Hinchcliffe.

The other factor could be with Michael Shank Racing. We know that they’re high on Jack Harvey, but MSR is has big ties with Honda/Acura. If RLL expanding to a third car is tough, does Honda tell MSR to replace Harvey with Hinchcliffe and pair MSR with RLL? That bridges a funding and resource gap.

MSR is looking for a team to align with since they have to remain with Honda and SPM teamed with McLaren and bolted to Chevrolet power. Andretti Autosport is the top opportunity for MSR to align with as they teamed up with Harvey for the 2017 Indy 500. They also share a sponsor in Auto Nation.

Also, there’s a big loophole with alliance teams in terms of testing that has everyone searching for one. That’s why with Andretti moving Harding in house, they’d love to keep an alliance open and MSR is the one that makes the most sense. But, can they run five full time cars and take on a sixth in an alliance role?

If not, Ganassi would certainly make sense to team with MSR. Both are Honda teams, which is the only way MSR can go and both have had sports car programs.

MSR also makes sense with RLL as RLL is wanting a third car but the pieces for them to handle a third team are diminishing. An alliance with another Ohio team that also has sports cars makes the most sense too.

Either way, if Hinchcliffe is with MSR, the pieces are already in place and they can get aligned with any one of the existing Honda teams.

The rest is pretty much done.

2020 Rides

Chevrolet (14-16)

Team Penske (3) – Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud. No plans to expand to a fourth full time car.

McLaren/Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2) – The team announced that the last two Indy Lights champions in Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward will drive the two cars in 2020. No expansion to a full time third car team will happen.

AJ Foyt Racing (2) – Currently both cars are open but Tony Kanaan has a handshake deal to return. The other car is available.

Ed Carpenter Racing (2) – The road/street course seat with Ed Carpenter is open, so if someone can play their cards right, they can run ovals for Carlin and road/street courses for ECR. Their full time seat is also open.

Carlin (2) – The team will be back with two cars, but other than Max Chilton racing on road/street courses, the ovals for that seat are open. The other ride is a full time entry for all races and is open too.

DragonSpeed (1) – The team wants Ben Hanley back and is eyeing as much as 10 races for 2020.

Juncos (1-2) – They have multiple chassis still but no word yet on if they use them at more races than Indy in 2020.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1-2) – They’ve showed up to Indy the last two years now with two cars for Sage Karam and JR Hildebrand. I think they at least do so again for 2020. The goal though has always been more races. Can they make it happen next year?

Honda (12-14)

Andretti Autosport (5) – All four current drivers will be back as will Colton Herta. They’re not running six full time cars so they’re set unless they find an alliance.

Chip Ganassi Racing (3-4) – Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson are set. The only way they likely now run a fourth car is in an alliance or if Hinchcliffe can make it happen.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2-3) – Same exact prospects as above. They want a third car but teaming with an alliance is their best option. Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato will be back too.

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – Sebastien Bourdais is back but what about Santino Ferrucci. His options are now limited. He should return.

Meyer Shank Racing (1) – They’ll be back. They made that clear. The goal is still full time. They’ve strategically advanced their participation each year and 2020 was always the goal to contest in every race. They preferred to remain as an alliance with SPM but with SPM merging with McLaren and switching to Honda, that can’t happen. MSR has to stay with Honda due to their Acura ties in IMSA. A full time alliance with a Honda team should be easy though. RLL and MSR share a home state (Ohio) and have IMSA teams. Ganassi is after an alliance. Andretti still wants another alliance and them and MSR share a sponsor (Auto Nation). Jack Harvey should be back but with Hinchcliffe now available, does Honda place him here?

Key Free Agents

James Hinchcliffe – It’s surprising the news came this late of him being out at McLaren/SPM but not surprising given the lame duck status with the team past this season. Hinchcliffe is a popular driver that’s a proven winner and is fast. He has Honda’s backing, so expect him to land somewhere. The problem is, RLL or MSR may be the only two options to fall.

Conor Daly – He’s got to be at the top of everyone’s list now right? The super sub has proven he’s earned a full time seat. He’ll be mentioned for Carlin, Foyt and ECR but if RLL expands to a third car or Ferrucci leaves DCR, those are good destinations for him too.

Santino Ferrucci – Depending on whom you talk to, some say Ferrucci holds the option for 2020 while other say DCR does. Right now, Ferrucci doesn’t have a ride for 2020 but that won’t last long. He should now be back with DCR.

Tony Kanaan – Only putting him on here because he’s technically not signed, but Foyt will be where he ends up for a third straight year.

Spencer Pigot – ECR is still high on him and he’s a good young driver deserving of another shot. If he doesn’t reup with ECR, a move back to RLL would make sense too.

Rinus VeeKay – ECR is his top option if he’s going to be in the series in 2020.

Ed Jones – The kid has talent but he didn’t show enough of it with Ganassi in 2018 and after a ho-hum season with ECR in 2019, his options for 2020 may be limited. Carlin may be his best shot.

Matheus Leist – He had a rough go of it in his two years with Foyt but it’s not surprising either. I don’t see him going back there but Carlin is the most logical choice.

Charlie Kimball – If he can find the money, he’ll be back with Carlin.

Sage Karam – He has the talent, he just needs the money. DCR or a part time gig at either Carlin or ECR would make the most sense for him.

Jordan King – He would like to race in Indy Car. The problem is, he doesn’t have a ton of funding. If he can find it, he will have a seat. ECR, RLL or DCR would be prime landing spots for him.

Carlos Munoz – He didn’t race in 2019 but he has talent and is always a threat at Indy.

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