A Surprising Twist in IndyCar’s Musical Chairs

Put this in the category of “I didn’t see that coming”. Yesterday, Chip Ganassi announced that he has signed Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson to drive the heavily rumored third car at Chip Ganassi Racing. Perhaps there are some that suspected that move, but I didn’t. My friend Paul Dalbey of Fieldof33.com texted me about it yesterday afternoon and I was totally unaware of it. To say it caught me by surprise would be an understatement.

We have been hearing for a while that Ganassi was looking to run a third car for 2020. To be honest, I had mentally penciled James Hinchcliffe in for that seat. Now I’m not quite sure what options the Mayor of Hinchtown has left. Most signs are pointing to a third car at Rahal not happening, so I’m not sure where Hinch ends up.

Is it possible he goes to the second seat at Dale Coyne racing? Most have rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci returning to that car next season, but the second Dale Coyne car usually goes to the highest bidder. If Honda wants Hinchcliffe in one of their cars that bad, I have an idea they can outbid whatever Cly-Del Manufacturing (Ferrucci’s backer) is willing to pay.

That could put Ferrucci in a position to drive for McLaren, but many are already giving that seat to Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew. That’s probably because those same people had already penciled Askew in at Ganassi. Now that the third seat at Ganassi is taken, they are connecting the next most obvious dots.

Askew brings the scholarship money for winning the Indy Lights championship, which I believe is about enough for three races, including the Indianapolis 500 (which I believe is a requirement for running a driver with said scholarship money). If McLaren is going to run an IndyCar rookie, I’m thinking it will be someone from overseas. My bet is that Ferrucci will drive one of the two McLaren cars, and I still say that James Hinchcliffe will never turn a wheel for McLaren.

So where does that leave Oliver Askew? I think Askew will be tabbed to drive Ed Carpenter’s car on the non-ovals and he will drive a third ECR entry in the Indianapolis 500.

What are the chances of any of this happening? Probably not very good. But this is the offseason and the silly season. Debating any and all possibilities is what we do at this time of year.

But getting back to Marcus Ericsson signing with Ganassi, I am very surprised at this. Marcus Ericsson comes across as a very nice guy and a fairly decent driver that showed promise in a handful of races. But nice guys don’t normally fare well at Ganassi. Ryan Briscoe was an exceptionally nice guy, and he lost his IndyCar ride with Ganassi not once, but twice – although he is currently driving Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT in their sports car program which is about to come to an end.

Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton were nice guys who brought money, but eventually the two of them either wore out their welcome or got tired of seeing the money they were bringing getting put toward Scott Dixon’s car.

There was no mention of a sponsor, but you have to think that the Swedish driver is bringing significant cash to the program. I’m not sure, but I think his countryman and next year’s Rookie-of-the-Year teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, is bringing some money to his NTT Data ride. Ericsson’s resume just doesn’t justify being hired strictly on merit.

Ericsson finished second in the second double-header race at Belle Isle. He also finished seventh at Barber and Texas. He also finished fifteenth or worse in eight of the sixteen races he participated in on his way to seventeenth in points. Remember, he was not on-site at Portland due to being asked to stand by for Alfa Romeo at Spa. I imagine that possibility was completely eliminated before Ganassi signed the contract.

With five years of Formula One experience prior to his 2019 IndyCar season, Ericsson was not your typical IndyCar rookie. Still, there was a learning curve and I’m still not sure if you would call his 2019 season with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports a success. Then again, his far more experienced teammate, James Hinchcliffe, also struggled to a twelfth place finish – and we know he can drive. It could be that the Schmidt Peterson team was simply having a bad year.

I hate to be negative, but I’m not expecting a whole lot from Marcus Ericsson in 2020. He may develop into an excellent IndyCar driver over time, but Chip Ganassi isn’t known for his patience or developing drivers. Don’t forget; as much as Ganassi coveted Rosenqvist last year, there was some talk that Ganassi was getting tired of paying for his crash damage. But Ganassi stuck with him and he had a strong second half of the season and Rosenqvist ended up beating Colton Herta and Ferrucci for Rookie-of-the-Year. Perhaps Ganassi views himself now as a driver developer and wants to do it again with Ericsson. I’m hoping Ganassi sticks with Ericsson, but I’m not sure he will.

But the dominos keep falling, and this one came with a twist. Most predicted that Rossi would stick with Andretti Autosport. Then there were few surprises when Colton Herta was taken off the market by going in-house with Andretti. But few saw this coming and I think most had other drivers penciled in for the third car at Ganassi. The music is starting to wind down and there is now one fewer seat. Who’s going to be left standing when the music stops?

George Phillips

Please Note: As I usually do right around this time of year, I will be taking a personal day off from here this coming Friday, October 11. I will return Monday October 14. Enjoy the weekend. I will. – GP

6 Responses to “A Surprising Twist in IndyCar’s Musical Chairs”

  1. I saw a headline this morning that Ganassi is working on a fourth seat for Askew. I believe Marcus brings about $3million in sponsorship money (at least he did this past season) which is about half of a full-time budget. I’m happy he found a seat, I don’t think he’ll be the next Dixon but I think he should be in IndyCar and can do well here.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Sometimes “silly season” lives up to its name. With McLaren McLaren-ing, Ericsson to Ganassi, and Hinch twisting in the wind due to SPAM moving to Chevrolet and then further due to appearing in the final issue ever printed of ESPN’s magazine… I’d say we’re in a truly silly silly season.

  3. Who is paying millions of dollars annually to rent cars for Ericsson, who hasn’t stood on a podium since 2013?

  4. Enjoy your birthday tomorrow!

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    Hinch to Andretti’s second squad. ? ?

    And Daly to…………. ?

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