PRUETT: IndyCar silly season update, November edition
There isn’t much to offer that brings us closer to completing the 2023 IndyCar field in our latest silly season update, but there’s been plenty of developments going on behind the scenes to pique our interest as teams try to fill the last few full-time seats that remain available. Of the three teams with major business left to conclude, Chip Ganassi Racing is known to have been extraordinarily busy during its quest to find a qualified driver to fill its fourth entry. In the days after Jimmie Johnson announced he was stepping away from the seat – along with his sponsors – in September, the team made it clear on multiple occasions that its sole focus was to find a single driver to replace Johnson and contest all 17 rounds. The perfect candidate was one who possessed strong driving skills and an equally strong ability to fund the car; as expected, joining one of IndyCar’s top two teams comes with a financial premium. That perfect candidate looked like Williams Formula 1 driver Nicholas Latifi, but in recent weeks, I’ve heard conversations with the Canadian reached a quiet end. That leads to the other item I’ve heard which involves shifting from the fourth car’s single-driver plan to searching for one or more drivers to share the road and street courses, and possibly one or more for the ovals. The team has Ryan Hunter-Reay under contract, and the 2014 Indy 500 winner would be a no-brainer for the Speedway, but he’s also in high demand for a few of the other Indy-only seats. You also have a couple of talented veterans and a few Indy Lights drivers with budgets who are seeking rides in May, so solving the Indy 500 part of the fourth car’s calendar vacancies should be easy. It’s the road racing side that has been problematic for all of the teams with seats to sell as I continue to hear the armada of Formula 2 drivers with the same $2 million budget to offer – a fraction of the $6-10 million IndyCar teams are asking for – bounce from Dale Coyne Racing to Juncos Hollinger Racing to CGR over and over again, without any real progress being made. Former DCR IndyCar driver and current Haas F1 test and reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi has also been looking for a way to return to IndyCar, but like his F2 counterparts, a modest budget is understood to be a limiting factor. To close on CGR’s fourth car, it might take the stacking of a few drivers with a few million dollars apiece to solve the car’s financial puzzle, and after a couple of months of trying to do it with one pilot, the efforts to confirm its roster for 2023 are ongoing. If there’s one race-winning F2 driver that seems to have a decent chance of joining the grid, it’s Marcus Armstrong at DCR. There’s still nothing significant to share in terms of whether it will indeed happen, but the New Zealander is said to remain in the mix to drive for the team. Whether it would be in a full-time capacity in the No. 51 Honda or limited to the road races is unknown, and as I wrote in the last update or two, he’s not the only driver on the list who is capable of bringing some funding to the seat. I also continue to wait to hear on Takuma Sato’s confirmation as an oval-only driver for DCR. At JHR, its demonstration runs in Argentina from November 4-9 created by co-owner Ricardo Juncos with countryman Agustin Canapino only helped to raise interest in adding an NTT IndyCar Series event to the schedule in 2024. Although I haven’t heard it’s anything close to being finalized, I will not be shocked if Canapino – who’d be making a similarly big leap from fast touring cars to IndyCar just as Scott McLaughlin did with Team Penske – gets confirmed in the new JHR entry next to Callum Ilott. There would be no better way to stoke state interest and commercial support for a future IndyCar race in Argentina than to have a domestic hero like Canapino promoting the concept for an entire season from inside the cockpit of the No. 78 Chevy. With CGR, DCR, and JHR covered, let’s switch to something I’ve been hearing about for a couple of months that falls into the silly season category, but also belongs in the ‘Yeah, that would make sense’ category as well. On the heels of a woefully uncompetitive season with the No. 45 Honda, there’s been rumors of a car number and sponsor swap between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Jack Harvey and Christian Lundgaard. Taking Lundgaard’s routinely impressive rookie season into account with the No. 30 Honda, I’ve heard the Dane will wear the No. 45 and represent Hy-Vee next season with the change regarded as a surefire way to move the grocery store’s name and colors closer to the front of the field. Harvey would take the No. 30 and the represent its rotation of sponsors while no crew changes would take place. Considering how important Hy-Vee has become to RLL and the IndyCar series as well, going with Lundgaard would seemingly remove any question as to whether the company will find itself in a few podium celebrations next season. Changing gears, I don’t recall the specific mailbag editions where I wrote that the likes of Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson would only want to drive for a championship-level Chevy-powered team at the Indy 500, but I’m happy to report I could be completely wrong. I wouldn’t get too excited about either one being in the field at this stage because there are others on the list, but I have recently heard that both NASCAR Cup title winners are among the options to drive the second Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry. Let’s close with what could be a fun one, if and when it gets confirmed. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin took to social media this week to tease his need to learn Daytona’s roval circuit, and from what I’ve learned, he’ll be competing in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona in January in the LMP2 class. Even better, I’m told it will be a #BusBros-themed driver lineup with Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in the same car. And if that isn’t enough of a party, the final bit might be the coolest of all as McLaughlin and Newgarden are said to be continuing their LMP2 adventure together after Daytona where they’re meant to make their debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the middle of June on the great endurance event’s 100th anniversary. From conversations I’ve been part of regarding IndyCar-grade drivers being considered for factory GTP seats at major endurance races, most manufacturers have been very strict in their requirements for the McLaughlins and Newgardens of the world to first gain experience in similar cars at big events before the door would opened to racing in those factory cars at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans. This has a similar feel. Assuming everything moves forward for Penske’s IndyCar stars at Daytona and Le Mans 2023 – and it’s with an excellent LMP2 team – I would not be surprised to see their names listed as enduro drivers with the Porsche Penske Motorsport GTP program or one of its customer teams in 2024. Enjoy Thanksgiving, Festivus, or whatever you’ll celebrate next week, and let’s see where the silly season takes us in December.