INDIANAPOLIS – The inn is now full at AJ Foyt Racing as the team announced that they have signed rookie Matheus Leist to pilot the No. 4 Chevrolet for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Leist, replaces Conor Daly in the seat and joins fellow countrymate Tony Kanaan who is also replacing Carlos Munoz in the No. 14 Chevrolet.
Furthermore, Canadians Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe were confirmed to be driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2018 too as that deal was revealed a few weeks ago.
See a theme?
It could be a coincidence, it could not, but several teams in the series are hiring drivers as teammates from the same country. Leist, a Brazilian, can learn from fellow Brazilian and veteran Kanaan with AJ Foyt Racing. Wickens, a Canadian, can learn from childhood friend and veteran Hinchcliffe at SPM.
Even Andretti Autosport has a fleet of countrymen. The team signed American rookie Zach Veach to join American teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi. Again, Veach can learn from his veteran teammates.
They’re not the only ones too. Ed Carpenter Racing signed Spencer Pigot to drive the No. 21 Chevrolet. He will be in the full-time seat and learn from Ed Carpenter who will still pilot his No. 20 Chevrolet on all the ovals in 2018.
Four teams, all with drivers hailing from the same country.
That’s a good thing for the series because it helps global growth too. If you’re from Brazil, you’re likely going to cheer for AJ Foyt Racing. If you’re one of the many rabid Canadian fans, you’re likely going to take a liking to SPM. If you want to cheer for American drivers, Andretti Autosport or ECR are your picks.
With that being said, what’s even left in the Silly Season?
Dale Coyne Racing now holds onto the final guaranteed full-time seat. Granted that’s not a shocker as they normally do, but a month ago, they didn’t think they’d be in this position. Ed Jones and Dale Coyne hand a handshake agreement for the two sides to remain together for 2018. But, Chip Ganassi Racing came calling and Jones bolted for greener pastures. Who could blame him.
So, the No. 19 Honda is available and a whole slew of talented free agents are at their disposal.
The only other ride left is the road/street course gig with ECR to pair with Carpenter. That’s a good solid ride too, but it’s not full-time. Outside of that, Harding Racing, which is likely going to run full-time and the rumored Carlin Racing program is all that’s left.
So, who’s likely going to get those seats?
To me, I’d be stunned if Conor Daly doesn’t land with either DCR or ECR. He’s proven his worth and that he could be a future series champion is given the right circumstances. He had a great year with DCR in 2016, then landed with Foyt for 2017. After a great end of the season, Foyt went in a different direction. I want to see Daly get a multi-year deal so he’s not racing over his shoulder and then show what he can do. DCR and a pairing with Michael Cannon again makes the most sense.
But, DCR needs funding and Tristian Vautier, James Davison, RC Enerson, Esteban Gutierrez, JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton or a whole slew of other drivers are available.
If Daly doesn’t land with DCR, I expect ECR to be his landing spot. ECR would love to remain the All-American team and Daly fits that criteria. Also, Daly is Doug Boles’ step son. Carpenter is Tony George’s step son. Daly, grew up with a vast array of road racing background. The seat open is on road/street courses. It makes too much sense. Fuzzy’s Vodka is the sponsor, that’s an Indiana company. Daly, is an Indiana born driver.
As far as Harding, if they run full-time it will be with Gabby Chaves and only Gabby Chaves.
That leaves Juncos who’s actively pursuing more than a four-race program for Kyle Kaiser. I think they get that done. But, do they bring out a second car? Then, it’s to Carlin who have two cars and all signs are pointing to former Ganassi teammates Kimball and Chilton landing in them.
Outside of that, Silly Season is done.