INDIANAPOLIS – If you thought last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series silly season was wild, well buckle up, this one could be just as crazy. Last year, we saw Penske and Ganassi downsize but the car count in turn grew. Carlin and Harding stepped up to the plate, so did Shank and Juncos on a part-time basis. Throw in Foyt taking on two new drivers, Schmidt replacing Aleshin with Wickens, RLL expanding to a two car team and hiring Sato and all the movement, 2017 into 2018 was a wild one.
Well, 2018 into 2019 may be just as crazy.
For starters, the first domino is going to begin with Scott Dixon. He’s the top free agent. While it sounds crazy that a driver of his caliber isn’t signed yet for 2019, the moral of the story is, he’s not. It’s hard to envision him not driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, but he’s been rumored to have had calls from McLaren, Andretti and Penske.
That’s why he’s the first domino. If he and McLaren do team up, that means another new team too. Everyone just kind of assumed that McLaren would be bringing over Fernando Alonso, and they still can, but Dixon is high on their list and a possibility of a two-car team is on the table. The rumor is they would have an alliance with Andretti Autosport.
The problem is all four of Andretti’s seats and full. All four drivers are under contract for 2019. So, don’t expect any movement from there. It would have to be an alliance. Andretti can’t run six full-time cars but they can with a partnership.
Dixon and McLaren and what both do are the first two dominoes standing.
If Dixon does stay with Ganassi, then does McLaren come over at all for 2019 or wait until 2020? It’s getting late in the game for next season anyways.
Then, Simon Pagenaud is rumored to be a free agent and it’s speculated that Penske is after Dixon, Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi for that third seat. If they strike out on all three, then Pagenaud will be back.
Wickens and Rossi are under contract for 2019 with their respective teams, so the odds of them moving are slim. Albeit, never say never when Penske is involved. Both SPM and Andretti have said that they aren’t letting these two go but with Penske’s checkbook open, who knows.
Then there’s the Indy Lights/Andretti conundrum. Both Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta are coveted free agents. Both currently drive for Andretti in Indy Lights. One of which is going to have scholarship money for next year. Herta/Steinbrenner have the money it takes to run full-time already. So, if O’Ward wins the championship and has scholarship money and Herta has funding too, then both are able to land somewhere. The question is, where?
Andretti doesn’t have any room. Again, there’s the rumor that they could team with Harding and have an alliance there too. If that’s going to happen, Harding would need to switch from Chevrolet to Honda power for this to happen. They’re already bringing back Gabby Chaves and have expressed interest in a two-car team in 2019, that could grow to three or four now. It just all depends on how much Andretti wants to put into it. It also depends on McLaren too.
Harding is going to try out O’Ward and Herta and have also tried out Conor Daly over the past two races. All three are in the mix for the second Harding seat for 2019. How much does Andretti play into that now? Does Harding sign one and Andretti bring the other or does it remain a two-car team and Andretti brings the second driver? The potential is there for Harding to have Chaves, Daly and one of those Indy Lights drivers for 2019. It’s also there for it to be just Chaves and just one of those Indy Lights drivers too.
There’s a lot in play there. If Andretti can’t land either and McLaren takes up the alliance, then Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is interested in expanding to a three car operation and bringing on either O’Ward or Herta too.
As you can see, we’re talking about all big named drivers and teams with moving pieces now. Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are all major players this offseason as I expect a ton of movement and some shocking relocations.