INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday, I took an updated look at the current 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Silly Season efforts. With 12 current rides open for next season, the musical chairs are going to shape the future of this series. Out of the last 18 Indianapolis 500’s, 16 of them have been won by Andretti/Herta/Penske/Ganassi. There’s six combined seats open with them.
With that being said, stars like James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly are currently free agents. But, drivers like Esteban Gutierrez and even Fernando Alonso are also in the fold.
What about a recent crop of Indy Lights drivers though?
Spencer Pigot would love a shot at a full-time season, as he ran a partial schedule last year with Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (3 starts) as well as Ed Carpenter Racing (7 starts). All but the Indianapolis 500 were on road/street courses. He returned to that role in 2017 with ECR, making nine starts with them so far in this year alone. He also ran a one-off with Juncos Racing in this year’s Indianapolis 500 too.
But, Pigot is wanting to get a full season under his belt and next year could be it. Both ECR rides are open for 2018, with JR Hildebrand being a free agent and Ed Carpenter needing a driver to fill the road/street course portion of the schedule in his ride. I know Carpenter and Hildebrand would like to stay status quo, but Pigot needs to be in a full-time ride sooner than later.
Maybe though, this is where Juncos Racing steps in.
It’s no secret, Juncos wants to eventually be a full-time IndyCar team. They ran two cars for the ‘500 in May. There’s also been rumors that they’d like to at least do a partial schedule in 2018 and possibly move up with two cars on a full-time basis for 2019. Pigot, makes the most sense for at least one of those cars.
Pigot, won the 2014 Pro Mazda championship with the team, reaching victory lane six times that season. In 2015, he was up in Indy Lights with Juncos and he won the title again. This time, he won six more races. It’s a proven winning combination. 12 wins and two championships in two different series’.
But, Kyle Kaiser is there too. The current Indy Lights driver for Juncos is going to be the champion this season. All he has to do is start at Watkins Glen and the title is his. Kaiser, has spent all three years in Indy Lights with Juncos as well as the 2014 Pro Mazda season with them as well. He will have funding through the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to run three guaranteed races in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. One of those races is the Indy 500. It would only be natural to run one car on a part-time basis and have Pigot and Kaiser split it. Then, run two at Indy with both of them for 2018.
In 2019, run both drivers full-time. Both were teammates in Pro Mazda in 2014 and have a history together.
But, those aren’t the only two Indy Lights connections to Silly Season.
Ed Jones won the Indy Lights championship in 2016 and he’s been stellar in his rookie season in IndyCar in 2017. He has five top 10 finishes already this year, with one of which a third place run in the Indy 500. Rumor is that Dale Coyne Racing and Jones would both like to remain together for next season. But, nothing is signed and Jones has been looking elsewhere. The only problem is that there’s not many options for him.
That takes care of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Indy Lights champions. But, there’s still more.
Jack Harvey drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for two seasons in Indy Lights but he narrowly lost the championship in both years. That cost him that scholarship money. But, he nearly had a deal for Indy with the team before Tony Stewart came in with his funding and Jay Howard. Luckily, Harvey landed with Andretti Autosport. Now, with the departure of Mikhail Aleshin, Harvey has a two-race deal with SPM for this weekend at Watkins Glen as well as the season finale at Sonoma. He’s definitely in the running for one of the two open SPM seats for 2018. He also has some funding too. All it comes down to is funding and what Hinchcliffe and Rossi do.
But, current SPM/Belardi Indy Lights driver Santi Urrutia also expects to be in IndyCar next year too. He too has funding and proven himself over two seasons in Indy Lights with the team. Urrutia, has five career victories in Indy Lights competition, including last weekend at Gateway. He has five podiums in his last six starts too. He will also be in the running for one of the two SPM seats for 2018.
If Hinchcliffe and Rossi end up elsewhere, SPM could go younger with Urrutia and Harvey.
Zach Veach is also rumored to have a deal with Andretti Autosport. He has a ton of funding and is likely landing with Andretti or even Harding Racing in a second seat. There’s a really good chance Veach is on the grid at St. Pete.
Speaking of Harding, they’re definitely showing up with at least one full-time car and Gabby Chaves will drive it. He’s the 2014 Indy Lights champion.
Then, Carlin Racing has also been rumored to wanting to move up to IndyCar full-time as well. If that happens, which it sounds like next year they may have a car, Max Chilton will be one of their drivers. He’s currently on his way out with Ganassi and his dad is a part owner of the Carlin operation. That ride will have full funding. Then, if Jones parts ways with DCR, this is a natural fit since he won the Indy Lights title with Carlin.
But, also don’t count out
Don’t be shocked if next year’s driver lineup features all of these current or recent Indy Lights stars. That’s seven drivers including the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 champs.