The Joys of the IndyCar Silly Season

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With the NTT IndyCar Series in the midst of a two-weekend break, it’s not surprising that a silly season rumor has become reality during this down-time. Chances are, there may be others before the series reconvenes in Portland next weekend to kick off the so-called west coast swing to conclude the season.

I know a lot of you despise the term silly season, but until someone can come up with another name for “the period of time when there is rampant speculation until drivers and teams announce their intentions for the next season”, then we should probably just stick with silly season.

So far, the silly season has revealed that Jack Harvey will not be returning to his No. 60 ride at Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), due to his decision – not theirs. Rumors are swirling that he will be joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR), but nothing has been confirmed. The place of employment for Takuma Sato is still in the air. It’s uncertain if he will remain at RLLR, and Harvey will join the team in the No. 45 – or if Harvey will be taking over in Sato’s No. 30.

What about Santino Ferrucci? If you recall, I mentioned just after the Nashville race that someone in the media told me that RLLR was most likely going to pass on Ferrucci. I didn’t really believe it at the time, but it is now looking more and more like they may be right. Maybe Ferrucci can find his way back to Coyne, because it sounds like Ed Jones will not be back with the team in 2022.

It’s also becoming more and more apparent that Simon Pagenaud will not be back at Team Penske. Speculation has been placing him in Harvey’s old spot at MSR, where he could be paired with former teammate Helio Castroneves. That sort of goes against the theory that MSR would pair a young driver with the veteran Castroneves, but that theory may have come from those of us that speculate rather from the team itself.

This past Monday, Marshall Pruett of Racer.com reported that Romain Grosjean will be leaving Dale Coyne at the end of the season to take over the No. 28 car of Ryan Hunter-Reay at Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay had confirmed earlier that he would be moving on, after Michael Andretti had stated that changes would be coming to the team in 2022. Most suspected that meant that Hunter-Reay and/or James Hinchcliffe would not be with the team next season. With Pruett reporting that Grosjean is moving to the No. 28, that leaves two questions – Where will Hunter-Reay be going, and what will happen to Hinchcliffe?

To be honest, I have no idea to either of those questions.

It is looking as if both may be gone. Some say Hunter-Reay will be going to MSR, but I still think that’s where Pagenaud will go. Would he go to the possible third car for Arrow McLaren SP? Possibly, but that car still sounds iffy, especially for full-time. Would Coyne be in Hunter-Reay’s future? Possibly, but Coyne has done better lately with up and coming drivers – not drivers that want a stop-gap team on their way to retirement. I could see Hinchcliffe at Coyne before Hunter-Reay. Although Hunter-Reay has the glossy resume, Hinchcliffe might have more future upside.

Maybe things really get shuffled and Sato goes to Coyne, while Hunter-Reay joins Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey at RLLR. If Sato leaves Rahal’s team, his options would be limited to a Honda-powered team.

Speaking of Honda-powered teams, don’t forget that Marcus Ericsson is still unsigned by Chip Ganassi Racing. I am going to assume that both parties are happy with their current arrangement, but you never know. If Ericsson were to leave Ganassi, that would add a few more dominos to the mix.

For now, we (pretty-well) know that Grosjean has found a home for 2022, while Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and possibly Sato are likely on the move. Everything else is a “high-grade rumor” or just speculation.

Some say the most compelling question is where will Ryan Hunter-Reay finally end up. I mean no disrespect to the career of Hunter-Reay or even to him personally, but I’m not sure he will have a chair when the music stops.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will be forty-one in December – only about six months younger than Scott Dixon. They both have good resumes, but that’s where their recent similarities stop. Scott Dixon won a championship just last year, his sixth. He has won a race this season and is currently only forty-three points out of the points lead, with three races to go.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will be a decade removed from his only championship next season. His performance is definitely on a fairly steep decline. He has not won a race since 2018, when he finished fourth in points. In 2019, Hunter-Reay had two podiums and finished eighth in the championship. Last season, he was on the podium once and finish tenth in points.

So far this season, Hunter-Reay has no podiums, and his highest finish is fourth (Nashville). He currently sits sixteenth in points, behind Grosjean who has started three fewer races than Hunter-Reay and Rinus VeeKay, who missed Road America. Things are certainly not trending in the right direction for the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

I’m not sure where Ryan Hunter-Reay might land. As I said earlier, I think Dale Coyne is more interested in launching careers than providing a place for them to wind down. He is likely to have two vacancies next season, but I’m not sure I see Hunter-Reay being a good fit there.

I think Hunter-Reay may have to take an unwanted pay cut to stay in IndyCar. If a seat opens up at Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), I could see him fitting in there. I think Conor Daly has a job there if he wants it, so really – the only way Hunter-Reay could end up there is if VeeKay or Daly left. There was talk earlier in the season that Team Penske was interested in Rinus VeeKay, that talk has cooled substantially and I think after his indiscretion at Gateway – it has cooled even more. I expect the Dutchman to be back at ECR next season.

What about Carlin? That’s a team that needs to do something different, instead of indulging Max Chilton’s hobby. If Trevor Carlin is serious about moving his IndyCar team in the right direction, he should hire a savvy veteran who can still get the job done. While I point to Hunter-Reay’s futility over the last three years, he has performed well in two of his last three races – Nashville (fourth) and Gateway (fifth). I’m not even going to bother looking up Chilton’s stats, because I know they are abysmal. If Hunter-Reay can bring some cash (and that may be a big “if”), that could be a possible landing spot for the former champion.

For once, AJ Foyt’s team ma be set for next season – assuming ROKiT comes back. Sébastien Bourdais seems to like it there, and I think Dalton Kellett brings a substantial amount of money. If those two funding streams continue for 2022, I think that team will look a lot like it does now.

With Jimmie Johnson expected to run the full season next year, and Alex Palou and Scott Dixon contending for the championship, I don’t expect any changes at Ganassi, because I fully expect Ericsson to be back there next season.

With Pagenaud likely to not return to Penske, I think they will be back to a three-car team for 2022. I don’t think Penske has ever liked running a four-car team and with their Porsche sports car program coming online next season, I think they are happy to scale back.

We probably say this every year at this time, but this seems to be one of the most active silly seasons in a while. Have I answered any questions regarding silly season? Absolutely not. Have I given anyone something to think about that they hadn’t already? Probably not. But that’s the fn thing about silly season – there’s all types of ways to speculate and no one holds you accountable. That’s probably a good thing.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “The Joys of the IndyCar Silly Season”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I’d be curious to see what Hinch and RHR could do in about any change of scenery (well, maybe not Foyt) just because their half of the Andretti team seems to be an awful mess beyond the drivers. I would expect only one of them to run a substantial number of races next year, though, and I’m not sure which one.

    As new information has come to light that the leader’s circle spots are capped at 3 per team outside of grandfathered-in Andretti, I also think it is quite likely Penske scales back to 3 cars. Especially since it does not seem that the car count will need to be propped up.

    • Much agreed. A couple of months ago a reader commented here that even boy wonder Veach couldn’t get his car out of last place. It seems that there are two well staffed and well engineered crews at Andretti … and the others who get almost nothing are destined to be at the tail end of the field. Many a career is being ended at Andretti.

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    What consideration/possibility of Pagenaud staying with Penske Racing and heading up Penske’s Porsche driver’s team ?

  3. It’s all hard to say, but man I know Helio probably earned some more time in the series, I don’t expect him to set the world on fire outside of Indy, and that’s disappointing that he will be taking a full time seat up. Same for Kanaan, Kind of ready to move on from some of these guys who have had their time. Add RHR, Hinch, Ed Jones and Connor Daly to that list. They have either had their shot, falling off or never really proved much in several seasons. The grid without any of them isn’t really all that sad to me at this point. Too many new names showing interest to hang onto these guys forever.

    I think Pagenaud has more to do, he is still a solid driver, and I don’t mind Seabass in the series one bit because he can, occasionally, give that 14 car a decent run.

    I really do wonder though, Kanaan has a 2 year deal at Ganassi, will they run a 5th car for him? I really do agree that Jimmie will run full time.

  4. George…I know news came out today but in almost all silly season reports everyone seems to leave out Juncos Hollinger Racing. It seems that they have plenty of money so they should be included. It will be an interesting off season for INDYCAR. Thanks!

    • One would expect Juncos now to have a serious budget care of Hollinger enabling them to hire the right engineers. I have followed Callum Ilott since karting and have been a little disappointed over the last few years. Mazepin beat him in F3 for example however you never know exactly what is going on at teams behind closed doors. F1 have seemingly passed on him. Is Ferrari paying for the three races as that would be seriously interesting. Also a newish team and rookie driver is a surprise. Santino would have perhaps made more sense or even TK vis a vis experience helping the team which makes me think Callum is bringing good money. Wish him well.

  5. Scott Dixon = Tom Brady.
    Ryan Hunter-Reay = Cam Newton.

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