Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Auditing IndyCar Seats: March 2017

One IndyCar race is complete in 2017 so we mind as well look ahead to the Indianapolis 500 because there aren't three races in April and another race in the month of May that separate us from the 101st running of that 500-mile race.

The 21 cars entered for St. Petersburg, 13 Hondas and eight Chevrolets are going to be there come the month of May meaning we are a dozen cars away from that not-so-magical but crucial number of 33. 

In addition to the 21 full-time cars we know Juan Pablo Montoya will be driving a fifth Penske entry and not only will the Colombian be attempting to make the Indianapolis 500 for the fourth time but he will enter the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well. Montoya is currently the only additional entry announced for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Sage Karam will return for a second consecutive year and for the third in four years with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and the entry will again be a Chevrolet. Juncos Racing will move up this year from Indy Lights and have at least one entry for the Indianapolis 500. The team has not announced an engine supplier but it is believed it will be Chevrolet after the team purchased some of the assets from KV Racing. Juncos Racing has also left the door open for a second car for Indianapolis. 

On the Honda side, it was announced last week that Jay Howard will make his first attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since 2011 as he will drive the #77 Tony Stewart Foundation Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Oriol Servià was confirmed over the winter to be driving an additional entry with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the Indianapolis 500 and the Belle Isle doubleheader with the hopes to extend the Catalan driver's schedule beyond those two rounds. Andretti Autosport has also announced it will run a fifth entry for the Indianapolis 500 with a driver to be announced. 

That puts us at 27-28 entries depending on if Juncos Racing runs two entries. Where could we find those remaining five to six entries?

A.J. Foyt Racing runs a third car even when the team announces it won't be running a third car. This year might be a little tougher seeing as how the team has just switched to Chevrolet and could be low on spare parts but let's at least pencil in an additional entry for the team. 

Dale Coyne Racing and Pippa Mann have become a fixture at the Speedway in the same vain as George Snider with the aforementioned A.J. Foyt Racing. It has been quiet on both fronts but even if Mann weren't the driver I would count on Dale Coyne running an extra car in May. After all, winning the season opener and leading the championship should increase the value of his team a bit.

Ed Carpenter Racing has been quiet about an additional entry for Indianapolis after running an extra car the last two years for both the road course race and the "500." It is hard to see how ECR doesn't run an extra car and it is hard to see how Spencer Pigot isn't the driver in that extra car should it come to fruition. I think the funding will come together and Pigot is there. 

This is where it starts getting tough because we currently have 30-31 entries with 17 Hondas and 13-14 Chevrolets. Perhaps Ganassi could roll out an additional Honda entry but that team is still fully invested in the Ford GT program and that team again has four cars going to Le Mans and the Le Mans test day is still the weekend after Indianapolis. That team appears to be stretched too thin to run an 18th Honda.

There is going to have to be at least one or two more Chevrolets to reach 33 entries. Bob Lazier, father of Buddy Lazier, was at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and said the team was working to return to Indianapolis. It would be Lazier Partners Racing's fifth consecutive attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with the team successful on three of four occasions. 

The one rumor that has gone quiet over the last few weeks is former IndyCar mechanic Larry Curry running an entry out of the Dreyer & Reinbold shop with Gabby Chaves. That doesn't mean the possible entry is dead on arrival and there is still two months until practice starts for the race.

Should both Lazier Partners Racing and Curry's team materialize it would increase the Chevrolet total to 15-16 and leave the entry list at 32-33. With Honda's increased attention to the IndyCar program this year, it can't be ruled out that the manufacture would be willing to field an 18th entry should Chevrolet only be able to support 15 entrants. If Ganassi isn't the team fielding that 18th Honda entry, it is tough to think of who it could be. Coyne has supported four entries before, as has Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Another option could be a team currently outside of IndyCar, whether that is an Indy Lights team like Carlin or Belardi Auto Racing or a team from IMSA like Michael Shank Racing, could provide the crew to support an Indianapolis 500 entry with an existing team providing the chassis. 

As for the chances of more than 33? Slim to none, which is unfortunate, but there is a chance should Chevrolet field 16 entries and Honda field 18 entries. However, the lack of active Chevrolet IndyCar teams and the difficulty to get a DW12 chassis, an engine lease and the proper aero bits makes it a stretch for there to be any kind of drama over who will make the 101st Indianapolis 500. 

It is to no surprise that while we scrape together 33 entries there are more than 33 drivers on the market for the month of May.

Besides the already mentioned Mann, Pigot, Lazier and Chaves, Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, Matthew Brabham, Stefan Wilson and Jack Hawksworth all contested the 100th Indianapolis 500 and are currently with out rides for this year's race. Juncos Racing's Indy Lights driver Kyle Kaiser has been rumored as potentially running one of the team's entry at Indianapolis. Dean Stoneman is interested in an Indianapolis 500 entry. Other 2016 Indy Lights drivers reportedly looking for a shot to make their first Indianapolis 500 are Zach Veach, Félix Serrallés and current Belardi Auto Racing driver Shelby Blackstock. RC Enerson made three IndyCar starts last year for Dale Coyne Racing and turned 20 years old last week.

Other drivers who have raced the Indianapolis 500 in recent years and still active in racing include Ryan Briscoe, Katherine Legge, James Davison and Tristan Vautier.