August Means Silly Season is Here

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We are now officially into August, and you if you are a longtime fan of the NTT IndyCar Series, you know what that means – Silly Season. Under ideal circumstances, the good teams are finalizing their budgets for the next season in August. If a sponsor intends to leave after the season, they would ideally let their racing team know before August so that they can be in full hunt-mode for a sponsor before the next season.

Of course a lot of times these days, the team doesn’t go hunting for sponsorships – drivers do. And sometimes those deals are done much later in August. Dale Coyne has a habit of waiting until the last minute to announce his driver lineup, most likely because he is holding out for the highest bidder for his second car. Last year, it was a combo deal with Pietro Fittipaldi and Zachary Claman DeMelo that got the nod. But when Fittipaldi was injured in a sports car crash at Spa in April, it was Claman DeMelo that got the bulk of the driving duties, with a smattering of Santino Ferrucci mixed in as well. That led to a full-time deal between Coyne and Ferrucci for this season.

But many of the top rides still don’t require the driver to go sponsor hunting. Will Power has been linked to Verizon for ten years now, but that was Roger Penske that made that happen. It’s the same for his other two drivers, although they have rotating sponsorships throughout the season. Most of the drivers at Andretti Autosport do not bring their own money, but I’m not quite sure about Zach Veach. It seems to me that he’s the one with the relationship with Gainbridge. Scott Dixon didn’t broker the deal with PNC Bank and Chip Ganassi. Felix Rosenqvist didn’t bring NTT Data either, but I’m not sure if he has brought any of the other deals – like last weekend’s Clover livery that he ran at Mid-Ohio.

So if the good teams have their budgets in place in August, that’s when the Silly Season starts heating up. All of the speculation up to this point has been where Alexander Rossi would end up. If he left his seat at Andretti that would have left a fairly coveted seat open. That most likely would mean that the dominos would start falling, but not necessarily. Remember the last time a big name vacated the No. 27 car at Andretti? It was 2008 when Dario Franchitti, the reigning IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner left IndyCar to drive in NASCAR for Chip Ganassi. Who took his place in that in-demand ride? I’ll give you a moment. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Give up? It was Hideki Mutoh. Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up myself. Anyway, I digress…

With Rossi now officially off the market, teams looking to shore up their driver lineup for 2020 and beyond have predictably turned their attention to Colton Herta. It makes sense, because Herta is no fluke. He is very young, extremely talented and drives for a team that has had financial difficulties for a while. It would be easy to convince him to leave a team, whose financial future is questionable at best – in order to join a much more established team that has a history of at least being in the championship hunt every year.

But have you heard the latest rumor? Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren is rumored to be pursuing Herta to drive for McLaren full-time next season in the NTT IndyCar Series. The rumor also has McLaren pushing for an alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. If you’ll recall, Arrow entered into an alliance with McLaren back in the spring and their Formula One cars carry the Arrow logo. Real estate on a Formula One car does not come cheap, no matter how small the logo or where it is placed. So it’s easy to connect those dots between McLaren and Arrow.

But there still remains one stumbling block – Honda. A couple of years ago, Honda and McLaren had a very nasty divorce in Formula One. Brown publicly criticized and trashed the Japanese auto maker and that did not set well in Japan. Honda Performance Development (HPD) is a subsidiary of American Honda Motor Company and is based in Santa Clarita, California. They supply the Honda engines to the NTT IndyCar Series. But ultimately, they answer to Honda in Japan and the powers-that-be within Honda in Japan still consider Zak Brown and McLaren as toxic and refuse to partner with them, no matter the series.

That was why McLaren was forced to partner with a Chevy team for this past Indianapolis 500. A relationship with Andretti would have made so much more sense, but the bad blood prohibited a relationship between McLaren and any Honda team. There are ten full-time teams in the NTT IndyCar Series. Six of them are with Honda, so McLaren is limited to only four full-time teams to partner with – Carlin, Foyt, Carpenter and Penske. It’s not happening at Penske, it didn’t work out at Carlin this past May. I don’t see it happening at Foyt, so that leaves Ed Carpenter Racing. That was the speculation heading into this past May, but it didn’t happen, I’m not sure it will.

Racing has always had an odd way of creating strange bedfellows. After the 1994 season, Bobby Rahal and Honda parted on very bad terms. But ten years later, his cars were powered by Honda and won the 2004 Indianapolis 500. His cars have been powered by Honda ever since. In the sixties, the relationship between AJ Foyt and Goodyear and Firestone was a soap opera within itself. Foyt was even wearing Goodyear on his racing suit when he won the 1964 Indianapolis 500 on Firestone tires. Time and money (not necessarily in that order) can make a lot of sins be overlooked in racing.

What’s my prediction? I think that a deal will be worked out eventually, allowing McLaren and Zak Brown to partner with a Honda based team – most likely Arrow Schmidt Peterson. I think Meyer Shank Racing wants to be on their own when they go IndyCar racing full-time next season. That will make room for McLaren at Arrow SPM. But will Colton Herta be their driver? Stay tuned.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “August Means Silly Season is Here”

  1. Well if Honda and Fernando can kiss and make up it would be good as we’re flying over for the race and that would spice things up a tad….

  2. I hate the term silly season.

    Veach has a three year deal through Gainbridge so yes, he brings money to the table for his ride and he’s pretty much guaranteed a ride for next year (the last of his three year deal).

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I’ll believe McLaren when I see it. A thaw in their relationship with Honda would make things a lot easier for them (EVERY team they’ve been linked to is a Honda team) but I really haven’t heard much on that happening.

    It would be a welcome development, though, as a more stable and better-funded home for Colton Herta.

  4. I don’t think Honda will forgive, let alone forget, how they were publicly dissed by Zak Brown and McLaren. But this is racing, so who knows.

    We had better not lose Colton to F1 or another series. I will be &$**ed for a long time. He is the future of THIS series.

  5. Ron Ford Says:

    This is silly. Que sera, sera.

  6. Since apparently George has enough time on his real job to blogivate here on a regular basis, perhaps he could find the time to research how the term “silly season” got started and by who (whom?) I think Brandon would be interested in reading that.

    • I never cared for the term “Silly Season” either, but it’s been called that since I can remember. If that’s what it’s called, who am I to wage a war against it. Then again, I refuse to use the term “GOAT” while referring to someone as the Greatest of all Time. But what else can I call it? Rumor season? Rides-up-for-grabs season? If I had a decent alternative, I’d use it.

  7. Your-Guess-is-as-Good-as-Mine Season?

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