Team/driver alignment for 2017 season coming more in focus

Updated: 

What’s silly about the Verizon IndyCar Series’ offseason? Team realignment is nearly done and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

Past years have seen a flurry of activity in the weeks leading up to the next season’s opening race, but this time nearly all of the teams know which drivers will pilot their cars at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12, 2017.

Recent announcements by Dale Coyne Racing and AJ Foyt Racing have the number of confirmed car-and-driver combinations at 18.5.

What’s left? At a minimum, the fourth seats at Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, the ride shared with oval-track driver Ed Carpenter and the KVSH entry Sebastien Bourdais drove the past three seasons. (Team officials have not presented plans for 2017.)

Count them: 3.5 more full-season rides to fill, assuming there are no surprises.

Also to be settled are the team/manufacturer pairings. With Chip Ganassi’s four cars moving to Honda, it’s expected at least one team will switch to Chevrolet. The best bet? A.J. Foyt’s two-car team, which did not list a manufacturer when it confirmed drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly on Nov. 15.

The lineup as it stands:

CHEVROLET

Ed Carpenter Racing: Signed JR Hildebrand for the full-season No. 21 car and it will have Carpenter back in the No. 20 machine for the oval races. Still to be resolved: The driver taking Carpenter’s place on the road courses and street circuits. That was Spencer Pigot in the recently completed season, but Carpenter said he is in no rush to finalize next season’s plan.

KVSH Racing: This is the most fluid of the entries. A pairing with the Trevor Carlin-owned program is possible, if not likely, but at this point it seems anything is possible, including the driver behind the wheel. What’s known: Bourdais moved back to Dale Coyne’s team and KVSH co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven has said this team likely will move from Indianapolis to Florida.

Team Penske: Signed Josef Newgarden for the No. 2 car, announced Juan Pablo Montoya will compete with the team for the Indianapolis 500. Series champion Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves return. Still to be resolved: Everything seems in place and it’s worth noting the top four drivers in the 2016 standings will be employed here in ’17.

Another team TBD: All signs point to Foyt’s team making the switch from Honda, but that has not been announced.

HONDA

AJ Foyt Racing: Signed Munoz and Daly, changed car numbers and moved Daly’s program (now car No. 4) to a shop on Main Street in Speedway, Ind. Munoz (one career win) has two runner-up finishes in the 500 and will give the famed No. 14 car a chance to win its first Indianapolis 500 since 1998. Daly had a strong first Verizon IndyCar Series season with Coyne, which makes this team one to watch.

Andretti Autosport: Re-signed Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and brings back Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. Still to be resolved: The driver of the fourth car, which had Munoz in it the past three seasons. Could this be the landing spot for Takuma Sato? Indy Lights product Felix Serralles?

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams: Re-signed Tony Kanaan to again partner with four-time series champion Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball. Still to be resolved: The driver of the No. 8 car. Last year it was Max Chilton, and his return makes the most sense. Expect a resolution before Christmas.

Dale Coyne Racing: Signed Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who drove 10 races for the team in 2011 (he had top-10 finishes in five of his final six races that year), and Indy Lights champion Ed Jones. Like the Foyt pair, this will be an intriguing combination.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal returns. Still to be resolved: The possibility of a second full-season entry. A program for veteran Oriol Servia is the goal; the Spaniard has his fingers crossed.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin return. Sam Schmidt would like to field a third entry, but that seems unlikely given the expanded Honda lineup.

AMONG THE DRIVERS TO WATCH

Matt Brabham, Gabby Chaves, Max Chilton, RC Enerson, Luca Filippi, Jack Harvey, Sage Karam, Kyle Kaiser, Pippa Mann, Pigot, Martin Plowman, Sato, Serralles, Dean Stoneman, Santi Urrutia, Zach Veach, Stefan Wilson.

Curt Cavin recently became INDYCAR’s vice president of communications after 30 years covering Indy car racing for The Indianapolis Star.

 

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