INDIANAPOLIS – As we near the turn of the calendars toward 2017, most of the Verizon IndyCar Series seats are now filled. This year’s silly season went extremely quick compared to the previous years with several highly sought big named drivers being free agents upon the completion of the 2016 season. That allowed moves to quickly fall into place with most of these deals being worked out prior to the end of this past IndyCar season.
The first dominoes to fall were going to be the destinations of Josef Newgarden, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan. Where these three ended up would shape the rest of the silly season.
To nobody’s surprise, Newgarden left Ed Carpenter Racing after having his best two years ever and will join a talented group at Team Penske. Newgarden, replaces Montoya in the No. 2 Chevrolet as Penske now has the top four finishers in last year’s driver standings on his team for 2017.
That then left a whirlwind for where Montoya could end up. The world renowned driver had options but none of them were better than racing a fifth Penske entry at Indy only for 2017. The two-time Indy 500 champion originally wanted to run a full schedule in 2017, but the Colombian didn’t have the budget to land one of the other top seats left. He also wanted to be competitive and not just a field fuller so his best chance to be competitive next season was to stay with Penske for the Indy 500 only and find work in other racing series’.
That in turn left the domino to Kanaan who opted to stay with Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 entry for a fourth straight season. The team also retained Max Chilton in the No. 8 entry as well, as the only major change for them this offseason was a switch from Chevrolet power to Honda moving forward. Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball are the other two drivers next season.
A.J. Foyt Racing let both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth go and signed Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly in their places. Munoz, will drive the famed No. 14 with Daly in the No. 4 (formerly No. 41). I don’t mention engine names here because it’s widely speculated the team will move from Honda to Chevy engine power but that deal has not been formally announced yet.
With Munoz and Daly going to Foyt, that meant seats at Andretti Autosport and Dale Coyne Racing were left open. Sato basically swapped with Munoz as he will drive the No. 26 Honda in 2017 while Sebastien Bourdais left KVSH Racing to join Coyne in the No. 19 Honda.
Last year’s Indy Lights champion Ed Jones will drive the No. 18 Honda at Coyne as Bourdais’ teammate being the only rookie on next year’s grid so far.
The only other move so far is J.R. Hildebrand replacing Newgarden with ECR in the No. 21 Chevrolet. Hildebrand, hasn’t driven on a full-time basis since 2012, so how he does in a ride that became a championship caliber effort with Newgarden the last two years will be under a microscope.
The only other seats open now on a full-time basis are with ECR in the road/street course program and KVSH.
Motorsport.com is reporting that Spencer Pigot who handled the duties of the road/street courses in the No. 20 ECR entry with Ed Carpenter a year ago will be back in 2017 while RACER is reporting that KVSH should make their plans for 2017 known soon.
I have also heard that Pigot will be back with the All-American ECR team while KVSH may fold. The “SH” in KVSH is no longer and Kevin Kalkhoven doesn’t want to fund the team anymore. That basically leaves a three-man partnership down to nothing as Kalkhoven was set to move his equipment and funding down to Florida to join Carlin Racing to form a full-time team. But, that has since hit a snag and doesn’t appear to be in place at the moment meaning Jimmy Vasser and Kalkhoven can either reconcile or not be on the grid at St. Pete in March.
So, to put it blunt, the only major news left is Foyt’s announcement from Honda to Chevy.