IndyCar silly season update: the Nashville edition

IndyCar silly season update: the Nashville edition
IndyCar silly season update: the Nashville edition

The current state of IndyCar’s silly season is slow and measured, all thanks to the paddock’s collective waiting to see what happens to two of the biggest names on the market.

The curiosity starts with championship leader Alex Palou and the most coveted available seat in all of open-wheel racing, the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. No answers on Palou’s replacement are expected before September 1, which is the first day the 2021 IndyCar champion is eligible to sign with another team.

Once Palou confirms where he’s driving, the logjam of talent scrambling to gain access to the No. 10 car will start to untangle itself. Ask any of the free agents who aren’t Palou, and they all want is clarity on who will drive that 10 car, because if it isn’t them, they will need to pursue their second and third options.

Palou’s Sept. 1 negotiating window is an important one, but yesterday, August 1, was the big day when Marcus Ericsson — the other top free agent — and a few others became eligible to grab a pen and finalize their futures. Like Palou, once Ericsson’s settled, a better picture of the remaining options will emerge, and there’s no shortage of drivers who want to claim Ericsson’s No. 8 Honda as their own.

While it’s true that everything about the silly season revolves around Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, we won’t necessarily see a flurry of announcements this week. With that being said, you can expect a lot of private meetings to go down this weekend in Nashville where face-to-face engagements between drivers, agents, and teams will continue to shape the market.

Then we have the overarching preference by many teams to hold their news — for drivers who are either inbound or exiting — until the last race of the year, or right after the season has concluded. Although I expect some business to get done by the end of the week in Tennessee, most of it will stay under wraps.

The one exception is when a team and driver agree to continue working together, and in those instances, August could produce a couple of press conferences.

As we wrote on Monday, the Ganassi team is in no rush to fill the numerous vacancies that are anticipated across three of its four entries. But what if one of those seats remains filled? More on that later, so let’s roll through the 10 full-time teams and what we know or have heard about their status in the silly season.

A.J. FOYT RACING

With rookie Benjamin Pedersen signed to a multi-year deal, the fate of his teammate Santino Ferrucci is the only question mark for the Foyt team. Ferrucci would like to return and the team is also interested in continuing with him, but the need to secure a proper budget comes first. The item to track here is the timing of that budget’s arrival, and if it arrives in a timely manner, I’d expect the relationship to continue.

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

One or two seats? That’s the main item to process with Andretti’s role in the silly season, and by all accounts, the team is shopping for two drivers to complement its young stars in Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood.

Herta’s on a long-term deal with Andretti and Kirkwood’s understood to be in the first of a two-year deal, so they are in position through at least 2024.

Grosjean and Rosenqvist both face unclear futures with their current teams…and so could fit into other teams’ calculations. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Kirkwood, however, continues to be mentioned as a perfect fit for Team Penske when Will Power retires. If Andretti wants to protect its assets, extending Kirkwood before he hits the market next summer — assuming he wants to stay — could be a wise move. If we look ahead, Andretti’s only race winner so far in 2023 would be among the top free agents one year from now.

Regardless of the car number, we know there’s one seat to fill in the No. 29 Honda, and until the team states its intent with the No. 28 Honda to keep or part ways with Grosjean, we’ll have two potential hirings to complete.

The cast of candidates hasn’t changed, with Ericsson seemingly destined to join Herta and Kirkwood. Felix Rosenqvist is another significant name who is unsigned for 2024, and like his countryman Ericsson, he’s drawing a lot of interest among those who have money to spend.

Add in Callum Ilott, provided he can be acquired from Juncos Hollinger Racing, and David Malukas, another quality driver who’s said to be on Andretti’s radar. In the Swedes, Andretti has a pair of race winners to consider, and in Ilott and Malukas, he has next-generation talent who could develop into winners. Would signing one of each be the right way to go?

Looking outside of IndyCar, there’s no lack of international options for Andretti, or its rivals. In no specific order, and without any implied or specific ties to Andretti, a ton of recent and current Formula E and WEC talent has been spoken of in relation to IndyCar, with Oliver Askew, Nyck de Vries, Brendon Harley, Jean-Eric Vergne, Sergio Sette Camara and Stoffel Vandoorne among the many I’ve heard from team owners and managers could be in the mix.

Reigning Formula 2 champion Felipe Drugovich is another, and while he’s been mentioned as an Andretti Formula E candidate for 2024, the Brazilian is also known to have met with a few IndyCar teams.

Andretti also has its new Formula E champion Jake Dennis, who impressed the team in an IndyCar test in 2022 and would seem ripe for the big team if he wasn’t just crowned last weekend in London. I’d struggle to find the logic in yanking Andretti’s best FE driver to give him a tryout alongside Herta and Kirkwood when there are so many options that wouldn’t involve destabilizing its title-winning FE program.

Like Ganassi, Andretti has some hard decisions to make. Should it extend Grosjean? And who’s the best fit in terms of talent and chemistry? Lastly, as much as I’d like to say Ericsson or any other driver is a sure thing, I’ve yet to get that feeling with Andretti at this stage of the silly season.

ARROW MCLAREN

If we work from the assumption that Alex Palou won’t be driving for an AlphaTauri-type F1 team next year, we can expect him to be racing for Zak Brown in IndyCar. I’ve probably had 50 people tell me Palou’s already signed a deal with Arrow McLaren which, we know, would not be possible because of the Sept. 1 date, but there is a significant segment of the paddock that believes the Spaniard is already betrothed to McLaren, even if it’s not in the form of a legally binding contract.

Regardless, as we detailed in our last silly season piece, Palou’s straight-to-McLaren plans have been fuzzier than anticipated due to his management team’s efforts to find him a race seat in F1. Barring that coming to fruition, we’d look for Palou to replace Rosenqvist in the No. 6 Chevy next year.

And what if Palou defies the odds, gets an F1 seat, and Arrow McLaren has a sudden driver need? The team loves Rosenqvist and would happily hold onto him. And if Rosenqvist decides he wants to leave, just look at most of the names listed above with Andretti and they’d all jump at the chance to wear McLaren’s papaya orange and wield the No. 6.

Although the Palou situation is the one that sits in the middle of the spotlight, Arrow McLaren’s interest in running a fourth full-time entry is where I’m focused. As we previously chronicled, expanding to four cars would require the outsourcing of that extra program due to the space limitations at the team’s current shop.

I understand a decision on whether to green-light or pass on the fourth entry is imminent, and if we look to the other Chevy-powered teams in the series who would want to function as a satellite McLaren team, it’s hard to find a suitable candidate in the paddock. Team Penske isn’t running a car for Arrow McLaren, and arming a Carpenter, Foyt, or Juncos Hollinger with its setup information would not be wise.

A team that isn’t a full-time rival makes the most sense, which is why the Chevy-loving folks at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, with full funding, engineering support, and a driver supplied by McLaren, stand out as the first solution to consider. And if it isn’t DRR, I’m not sure who would fit the bill.

Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi are locked in. Palou, Rosenqvist, and the fate of a fourth car aren’t, and have our full attention.


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