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PRUETT: IndyCar Silly Season Update, Mid-Ohio Edition

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The silly IndyCar season continues to move at a fast pace as it approaches Mid-Ohio. It’s been over a month since my last update, so let’s do a full rundown of everything that’s happened and what’s in motion right now.

In recent weeks, my private conversations have focused on the narrowing of options in the paddock, with the No. 7 Chevy at Arrow McLaren SP currently driven by Felix Rosenqvist being the best example of how fantastic possibilities exploding in the networks social can vanish. in an instant.

First, it was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, who was contacted by AMSP in early May with a view to taking over the No. 7 next season and participating in McLaren F1 testing with the aim of obtaining a Superlicence.
An effort to cut the reigning IndyCar champion out of his contract was unsuccessful, and with his obligation to CGR intact, Palou’s move to AMSP went nowhere.

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The next effort to replace Rosenqvist in the No. 7 involved courting CGR cornerstone six-time champion Scott Dixon with offers of a race seat and a long-term leadership role, with long-term financial security. , to help the president of AMSP, Taylor Kiel. manage the team once he retires.

Like Palou, Dixon is under contract beyond 2022, so there will be no immediate move from either driver, but they could be inclined to leave CGR once their deals are complete.

With both elements known at the most recent race at Road America, plus the recent confirmation that McLaren’s F1 drivers will continue next year and Rosenqvist’s signing for an extension with no details on whether he will remain in the No. 7 Chevy or being deployed in McLaren’s new Formula E programme, we are right where we were a few months ago.

Going into July, McLaren has yet to decide who will partner next year with Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi, Rosenqvist is in limbo but has new confidence in the team he will drive for, and AMSP’s search for Big-name riders, who have been on the go all year, have largely stalled due to timing.

And with AMSP making repeat runs on Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, it’s worth wondering if Ganassi will work to extend Palou, Dixon and championship leader Marcus Ericsson, who is on the first of a new two-year deal, in the coming weeks and months. . As McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown recently told RACER: “As I hope, whether it’s Penske or Andretti, Ferrari or Mercedes in Formula 1, they’re looking for the best talent they can get. And that’s why you have to make sure you keep superstars off the market for as long as you can.”

Dixon is the most fascinating driver in this regard. Signed through 2023, the 41-year-old has no immediate plans to retire as he pursues a seventh IndyCar title and second Indy 500 win. But there will come a time when the best of his generation, now in his 21st season with Ganassi, decide to step out of the cockpit, and when it does, as McLaren has already shown, Dixon’s vast driving experience and competitive savvy will be a coveted asset.

Most of the time, it’s not too difficult to score Dixon’s signature. But which team will be able to get one when the Kiwi’s contract ends? Images by Michael Levitt/Motorsport

I can’t say if Ganassi has thought about or crafted a post Dixon-driving offer, but if he hasn’t, I’d have to believe McLaren’s rumored incentive package of equity in the team, and a long contract to remove any concern about the stability of income could prompt the CGR to act with a long-term offer of its own. Losing Dixon, CGR’s competitive engine, to a rival is the last thing they can afford.

Ericsson is another driver to think about in a different light. Yes, he’s lucky to have a longtime sponsor offering a quote for the new Indy 500 winner, but the days of seeing Ericsson first as a paycheck and then as a driver are long gone. . In addition to leading the CGR championship, he has become the best and most consistent player on the team this year. As adversaries begin looking for leading drivers to fill vacancies when their drivers leave or retire at the end of 2023, Ericsson could be among the top targets unless the CGR intervenes.

Going back to the No. 7 Chevy, conversations I’ve had with a lot of smart people have all ended in the same place with the belief that keeping Rosenqvist in the car for another year is the smartest move. He’s growing up right now, works incredibly well with and is loved by O’Ward, and is immensely popular within AMSP.

Just when AMSP is starting to give long-established Big 3 teams headaches, the idea of ​​adding two new drivers at once is a sure way to risk all the gains they’ve made. And with plenty of star drivers hitting the market before 2024, the idea of ​​waiting until next summer to land a big catch has a lot of merit. Will O’Ward and Rossi quickly become friends and embark on a winning run together? Or will things freeze? It’s hard to tell, so maintaining the chemistry and consistency that O’Ward and Rosenqvist bring, while also bringing in some great talent and a unique personality like Rossi’s, makes the most sense in the short term.

Returning to Meyer Shank Racing, Helio Castroneves’ full-time return to IndyCar hasn’t been the best of journeys, as the Indy 500 legend sits a distant 17th in the championship standings, one spot behind rookie from RLL, Christian Lundgaard, but I recently heard the Brazilian is expected to return for another full season run. That is a significant change.

MSR has been known to talk to some of this year’s top free agents, as those drivers made stops in the paddock to see what might be available for next year. Castroneves is also interested in continuing in the No. 06 Honda, so it would be a surprise if an extension isn’t signed.

Continuing on the closing-doors theme, there is still a chance Rinus VeeKay is heading to AMSP, but it seems the smart move for the Ed Carpenter Racing driver might be to sign a one-year deal to stay on and continue looking for the best. long-term fit in the paddock. Looking ahead to 2024, are there any vacancies at Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or MSR that could make the young Dutchman a title contender? For a driver who wants to be the leader in a leading team, there are simply no obvious options that fall into that category among the seats remaining to be filled next season. Standing still makes a lot of sense with the way this year’s silly season game has gone.

The Andretti team is ready with its next roster as AJ Foyt Racing’s Kyle Kirkwood heads in to replace Rossi’s entry. I’m told that Rossi and Grosjean aren’t exactly best friends, so from a chemistry standpoint, I wonder if the Floridian surfer could bring something new and more positive to the quartet.

Can Kirkwood rebalance the chemistry within Andretti when he arrives for next season? motoring images

The Foyts are losing the best young talent they’ve had in a long time, and while I’d love to see them go and hire another young star to replace Kirkwood, ongoing payment issues with the No. 14’s title sponsor could force the team to search for a financed driver. As Ericsson at CGR has shown, a driver who can bring sponsorship is not necessarily a bad thing, and with that in mind, 22-year-old Indy Lights talent Benjamin Pedersen, who has sponsors ready to make the move to IndyCar, could find himself in pole position to land the car.

So far, all driver and team scenarios have involved teams staying at their current number of entries or expanding. With Foyt and his No. 11 Chevy, we have our first shot at contraction. Dalton Kellett will likely return in the No. 4 Chevy with sponsorship from his family-owned K-Line, and while it’s hard to say who will be the primary sponsor for the No. 14, that car means the world to the team and financing to be found.

It’s the No. 11 that risks crashing off the grid, as early as Toronto in a few weeks’ time, unless immediate sponsorship concerns are resolved and, from there, worrying about whether the car returns in 2023 seems like something best saved for someone else. day.

Chip Ganassi told us this week that his team will be “status quo” next year with the return of all four of its drivers. The main thing to answer, and it’s too early to get anything definitive, is whether Tony Kanaan will return as CGR’s fifth driver for the Indy 500. Considering the huge impact he had on the team’s competitiveness at the Speedway, Kanaan is A must for the 500.

Dale Coyne Racing has an option on Takuma Sato that the team owner has said he hopes to exercise and Sato’s rookie teammate David Malukas is in the first of a multi-year deal with DCR, so for the first time in a long time, the team should have year-over-year consistency with its drivers. As we wrote last week, an expanded relationship with HMD Motorsports to put another car on the grid, for HMD’s Indy Lights championship leader Linus Lundqvist, is also a high probability.

Of the remaining full-time teams, Ed Carpenter Racing’s VeeKay has been covered, leaving Conor Daly to quickly scout. He has a new multi-year deal with ECR and despite the daily doom and gloom around crypto values, he recently told me that all is well and stable with his crypto-based backers.

Juncos Hollinger Racing wants to keep Callum Ilott and Ilott recently told RACER that he intends to stay. Although JHR has not made a formal statement of its plans, the team is known to have a few drivers on its radar to test in the coming months, all with an eye toward adding a second full-season car alongside Ilott’s No. 77 Chevy. . . Provided the driver is as good as the Brit, and a race engineer of comparable talent can be found, this team could be headed for great things.

No changes are expected for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s trio of Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey, although former RLL driver Santino Ferrucci is known to have keen interest in returning to the team. It’s unclear if they’re receptive to the idea, but Connecticut’s little spark wants to come back and wants to help turn the tide of the team.

Finally, as the Captain told me a few days ago, the Penske trio of Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin will be back in their respective Chevys.

For a final brushup, Andretti, Coyne, Ganassi, MSR, RLL and Penske are up for grabs, provided all new contracts or extensions are signed. AJFR, AMSP, ECR and JHR have openings or new cars to fill, or drivers to assign or renew.

Yes, the silly season is coming to an end, but there is still a lot to be figured out before the championship is over.

PROJECTED NUMBER OF CARS

A. J. Foyt runs: 2
McLaren SP Arrow: 3
Andretti Autosport: 4
Chip Ganassi Races: 4
Dale Coyne runs: 3
Ed Carpenter Racing: 2
Rushes Hollinger Racing: 2
Meyer handle runs: 2
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Careers: 3
Team Penske: 3

TOTAL: 28

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