Monday, March 12, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Sizing Up the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Entry List

IndyCar had a phenomenal race in St. Petersburg that ended in heartbreak for rookie Robert Wickens and unexpected ecstasy for Sébastien Bourdais. Aaron Telitz had a disastrous start to the Indy Lights season. Wickens wasn't the only Canadian turning heads in St. Petersburg. NASCAR has a familiar face dominating races. Supercross had a familiar face finally get a first career victory. Bourdais wasn't the only Sébastien victorious this weekend in North America. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Sizing Up the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Entry List
It is March and the IndyCar season has started but we are going to talk about May and we all know where this is going.

With two-dozen cars entered for the IndyCar season opener and a wave of momentum there is a feeling the Indianapolis 500 will be more than 33 cars trying to make the famed race.

All 24 cars entered for St. Petersburg will be at Indianapolis although some will have a few different drivers behind the wheel.

Honda won last year with Takuma Sato and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver had an additional teammate announced for Indianapolis. Along with Graham Rahal, Sato will have Oriol Servià as a teammate with the Catalan driver competing in the #64 Honda in collaboration with 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Am class winners and IMSA GT Daytona champions Scuderia Corsa. This will be Servià's third Indianapolis 500 attempt in the last four years with RLLR and his fourth overall.

Andretti Autosport has already announced six entries with full-time drivers Zach Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti having Carlos Muñoz return to the team after a year at A.J. Foyt Racing and Stefan Wilson joins the team.

Schimdt Peterson Motorsports appears it will bring back Jay Howard for the second consecutive year in a third car alongside James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens. The team is also working in partnership with Michael Shank Racing and its effort for Jack Harvey.

Sébastien Bourdais will be the lead dog at Dale Coyne Racing and he will have as many as three different teammates from St. Petersburg. Pietro Fittipaldi will be in the #19 Honda for Indianapolis in what will be one of his seven races this season. Conor Daly announced he will return to Dale Coyne Racing for this year's Indianapolis 500 prior to St. Petersburg. Pippa Mann has not been confirmed but it seems she will be in a DCR entry for the sixth consecutive year.

While many Honda teams are adding drivers, two appear happy with the hands they have. Chip Ganassi Racing will stick with Scott Dixon and Ed Jones.

It isn't even St. Patrick's Day and tentative Honda has committed to 19 entries. With such a large number of engine leases accounted for it appears Honda is already tapped out and that isn't a bad thing.

On the Chevrolet side, the biggest announcement in the days prior to the season opener was the confirmation that Danica Patrick will drive the #13 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing with Carpenter and Spencer Pigot in the #20 Chevrolet and #21 Chevrolet respectively.

Another notable Chevrolet one-off will be three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves at Team Penske alongside defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud and 2014 IndyCar champion Will Power.

Outside of ECR and Penske, no other full-time Chevrolet entry has announced an Indianapolis one-off. A.J. Foyt Racing, shockingly, appears to be sticking with Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist. In its first full season Carlin will settle with Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton and the same goes for Harding Racing and Gabby Chaves.

The good news for Chevrolet is it will have a few part-time entries. Kyle Kaiser will compete at Indianapolis for Juncos Racing in what is the fourth and final race on the 2017 Indy Lights champion's schedule for 2018. Sage Karam was recently announced as returning with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

With 19 Hondas on the slate, Chevrolet sits on 14 tentative entries, bringing the entry list to 33 and enough for a full field. However, we might not be done yet.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has been linked to a second entry and J.R. Hildebrand's name has been linked to that seat. At the same time, Buddy Lazier has found a way to make to Indianapolis each year on a shoestring budget. If both those materialize and the American manufacture brings out 16 cars we would have bumping and be setting up for two cars to be heading home. Chevrolet even came out and said it could field 17 entries or more this year

It wouldn't be the first time we would see bumping during the DW12-era. Thirty-four cars entered in 2013 and 2015 but unfortunately both those years saw the 34th-fastest car a distant 34th and close to making it interesting.

It is still early. Chevrolet might call it at 14 entries and rob a few drivers of a shot at the most important race on the IndyCar calendar and also rob the fans of the agonizingly exciting experience of bumping, although I am not sure what bumping would look like since the qualifying format change has flipped and moved the run for pole position to the final qualifying run of the weekend. That is something we will have to look into at a later date.

If we get 35 or 36 entries, we should be happy. It isn't the excess of entries we were used to for decades but the last time we have an interesting bump day was 2011. There will be something missing as there will be plenty of capable drivers on the outside even with bumping. In an ideal world the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Briscoe, James Davison, Tristan Vautier and a handful of other drivers with the dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500 would be in the qualifying line and bump day would be have a few noteworthy names breathing into a brown paper bag and sweating bullets.

We don't live in that world but let's be thankful we could at least have 35 entries.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sébastien Bourdais but did you know...

Patricio O'Ward and Santiago Urrutia split the Indy Lights races from St. Petersburg. Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda races. Kyle Kirkwood and Alex Baron split the F2000 races.

Scott Hargrove won on his Pirelli World Challenge debut in the first GT race from St. Petersburg and swept the weekend with a victory on Sunday. Lawson Aschenbach swept the GTS races.

Justin Brayton won the Supercross race at Daytona, his first career Supercross victory in his 131st start. He is the oldest Supercross winner at 31 years, 11 months and 25 days.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix. Brad Keselowski won the Grand National Series race.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Mexico.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP season opens from Qatar.
The 12 Hours of Sebring.
NASCAR has one more date out west at Fontana.
Formula E returns to Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Supercross will head indoors to St. Louis.