The annual offseason game of musical chairs, or what most call “Silly Season” is almost wrapped up for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series campaign.
Over the last month or so, a lot of the NTT IndyCar Series Silly Season dominoes have fallen. Chip Ganassi Racing announced last month that they have signed Marcus Ericsson to drive a third car for the organization for 2020. 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 as well as MSR teaming up with Andretti and bringing Jack Harvey with them, 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 in terms of drivers with Ed Carpenter Racing being the top team domino. It’s not likely that the pair hooks up. So, that leaves some interesting questions still left.
ECR has pretty well made it clear that neither Ed Jones nor Spencer Pigot will be back. Rinus VeeKay is high on their list but both sides confirmed a deal isn’t done. Nico Hulkenberg was rumored to be in the running for the road/street course shared seat with Ed Carpenter, but ECR has said that the overseas report isn’t true. Conor Daly is said to be in play for that shared seat as he has funding from US Air Force. Daly, is trying to piece together a full time deal but unfortunately, his best shot is to do so with multiple teams.
Daly, could run all road/street courses with ECR, all ovals minus Indy with Carlin and pick up the Indy 500 with Andretti. Yes, the same Andretti team that has basically six cars right now. They’re willing to run a seventh for Daly if needed.
Other than that, anyone with money will get the phone to pick up over at the ECR offices. The problem is, the talent pool with money is running low.
In terms of Carlin, Max Chilton should be 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. Pigot, should be on their list, but he doesn’t have much money though.
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.
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. He tested the car earlier this month in Sebring and all signs point to this combo remaining the same for 2020.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan’s chances of a third car is still looking bleak. With Hinchcliffe not being retained with McLaren/SPM, you can rest assure that Honda is feverishly trying to find their driver a seat. That puts the negotiating power on RLL’s side as the asking price is north of $5-$6 million. With one of the few options left, they can reach for the stars for funding. How bad does Honda want Hinchcliffe in a seat?
The rest is pretty much done.
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) – Other than Ed Carpenter racing on ovals, the road/street course seat with him as well as the full time seat is open. Rinus VeeKay will likely end up in a role with them in some capacity. Conor Daly makes sense too.
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?
Andretti Autosport (5) – All four current drivers will be back as will Colton Herta. They’re not running six full time cars but did land an alliance with Michael Shank Racing.
Michael Shank Racing (1) – They had to stay in the Honda family, so when Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports bailed to Chevy, it left MSR searching. They landed with Andretti and will have Jack Harvey as their driver.
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.
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 DCR are his only options if he wants to run full time.
Conor Daly – He’s got to be near 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.
Rinus VeeKay – ECR is his top option if he’s going to be in the series in 2020.
Spencer Pigot – ECR was high on him but they need money and Pigot doesn’t have any to bring. He’s looking at IMSA options now. He’s a good young driver deserving of another shot but with guys like Hinchcliffe and Daly sitting there with some money available, Pigot falls down the pecking order.
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.