PRUETT: The IndyCar summer break Silly Season update

PRUETT: The IndyCar summer break Silly Season update

Sweet Baby Jesus, the IndyCar silly season has gone wild since our first update.

In the weeks following that post just prior to the July 4 Mid-Ohio race, a better picture of how the 2022 field might look has emerged. But even after dozens of phone calls, there’s still too much in motion to make definitive statements as to where some of the main players in this silly season game will land. In other instances, we know what’s happening and simply await the press releases confirming the changes.

With that in mind, here’s RACER’s second volume of what’s happening in a busy IndyCar paddock:

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Romain Grosjean is the biggest name on the market, and that hasn’t changed. What has emerged that’s new is the sheer number of insiders saying he’s a lock for Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 Honda. I actually stopped counting after hearing the same Grosjean-to-the-28 story 10 or 12 times.

The most interesting development I’ve heard goes beyond Andretti’s pursuit of the Frenchman. If they come to terms on a deal – and it’s said to involve a steep asking price – Grosjean would join Honda/Acura/HPD as a factory-affiliated driver in the same way Scott Dixon, Colton Herta, and Alexander Rossi have direct ties to the manufacturer. Assuming that deal gets done, don’t be surprised if we see Grosjean racing for Andretti in IndyCar and in one of Acura’s factory IMSA DPi programs in 2022 and beyond.

And it couldn’t happen to a better guy. From driving for one of the worst teams in Formula 1 to, less than one year later, being brought into the Honda/Acura/HPD family in America? Assuming nothing goes sideways for Grosjean, the commitments and opportunities would present a new long-term chapter in his life and career.

And considering how effective the combination of Grosjean and his Dale Coyne Racing race engineer Olivier Boisson has been, they’d make one heck of a package deal in a more competitive environment.

A man in demand. Motorsport Images

So what does all this mean for Ryan Hunter-Reay, the current and longstanding driver of the No. 28? He’s searching for ways to stay in IndyCar, and with a greater number of opportunities opening up in IMSA’s prototype class in the coming years, a combination of the two – full-time in one, part-time in the other – could be where the IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner ends up.

With regard to Andretti’s No. 29 Honda, the replacement for James Hinchcliffe has been mentioned by a handful of people as being Andretti Indy Lights driver Devlin De Francesco, whose plans to join the IndyCar field have been anything but secret. His teammate and Indy Lights championship leader Kyle Kirkwood is also coveted by Andretti, but there are others, including Team Penske, who are said to have contacted the Floridian.

While Grosjean and DeFrancesco are the names I’ve heard attached to the Nos. 28 and 29 most often, keep Kirkwood and fellow Florida product Oliver Askew in mind for those upcoming vacancies as well.

Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi are signed to the team for at least one more year. Rossi, in particular, would be the first name to consider in every high-profile vacancy or expansion, but he doesn’t hit the free-agent market until the end of 2022.

In the first update, I mentioned Red Bull driver Alex Albon as another person of interest to Andretti. I’m not sure where he’d fit with all the aforementioned names now in play with both cars, but I am aware of two other IndyCar teams that either have or will make contact with the skilled 25-year-old. And for those who’ve asked, I’ve only known of the Albon situation to involve the driver seeking rides as an individual, not in concert with Red Bull, and not as part of a bigger plan for the energy drink company to pay for his IndyCar seat.

A.J. Foyt Racing says it will return with two cars next year. There’s a desire to take up Sebastien Bourdais’ option, but I’m told it’s too early to confirm drivers, so keep an eye on this area for developments.

Indy Lights points leader Kirkwood is on target to win his third championship on the Road to Indy ladder, and a call-up to the big leagues could be on the horizon. Image via Road to Indy

Arrow McLaren SP is known to be actively recruiting mechanics and engineers for a third full-time entry, but there’s still no guarantee the car will be on the grid in 2022. It’s feeling more likely than not to happen, but I get the impression that without a younger driver that’s on par with Pato O’Ward or Felix Rosenqvist to place his or her name on a third AMSP car, the organization will wait to expand until that kind of talent is available. If the right driver can be signed, which does not include some of IndyCar’s older stars and champions, look for a trio of AMSP entries next season.

We covered Carlin Racing in our first update; same routine with Max Chilton in for all the road and street course races, plus the Indy 500, and one or more other drivers in for the ovals with the No. 59 Chevy. Aspirations of returning to two cars remains, provided a paying driver is found.

Most of Chip Ganassi Racing’s affairs are sorted among its four-car driver squad, with the exception of Marcus Ericsson, who holds fifth in the standings. There’s a need to execute a new contract as well as secure the necessary budget for the Swede to hold onto the No. 8 Honda after 2021. I’d paint this as more of a straightforward scenario that both sides want to quickly resolve than a newfound issue to fix. Everyone there wants Ericsson back in the car, so I’d expect this to get handled in a timely manner, but with his newfound competitiveness, I wonder if some other teams might be inquiring about his availability.

Dale Coyne Racing, as I wrote in a separate story, would be wise to start building a list of drivers and engineers to join the team, if they haven’t done so already, with multiple vacancies to fill – including both drivers – looming on the horizon. It would come amid a rebuild, but would Hinchcliffe be a good fit in one of Coyne’s entries?