Indy 500 engine count update, post-three Indy announcements

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You might read this headline today and ponder the question, “Hey, it’s March 4, so why are you already writing about engine counts for a race in May?” Glad you asked.

With the last three IndyCar team-and-driver announcements – Martin Plowman for A.J. Foyt Racing, Jacques Villeneuve for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and today, Kurt Busch for Andretti Autosport – all related to the month of May and not the full season, it provides the first glimpse at where the engine count stands for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

The entry list is traditionally released in April, and in March is when deals usually begin to get announced. Here’s where we stand now:

  • As it stands now, there should be at least 22 full-season entrants. Of those 22, 12 would be Honda, and 10 Chevrolet. Another Honda (2nd RLL) and another Chevrolet (Panther) would push that number to 24.
  • Honda’s 12 right now are: Andretti Autosport 4, Dale Coyne Racing 2, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 2, and 1 apiece for Foyt, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.
  • Chevrolet’s 10 right now are: Chip Ganassi Racing 4, Team Penske 3, KV Racing Technology 2, and Ed Carpenter Racing 1.

Add in Plowman, Villeneuve and Busch’s confirmed entries, and that’s three more Hondas to take us up to 15.

Either or both of an RLL second or Coyne third would push the Honda number to 17, which would likely be the cap on leases with Chevrolet also needing to fill 17 to provide a 50/50 split for 34 cars (33 of which would start).

An 18th Honda could potentially appear if RLL and Coyne both run an extra car, and the Fisher team runs a second car. That could be either an RW/SFHR entry if Rotondo Weirich’s Steve Weirich’s second car (Bryan Clauson drove it in 2012 at Indy, Lucas Luhr in 2013 at Sonoma) is entered. Or, if the crowd-funded Cutters RT effort hits its number, SFHR would run that car.

The Chevrolet side will be a bit tougher to hit the 17 number with the 10 confirmed cars now. Here’s its breakdown:

  • Panther Racing is yet to confirm its driver or primary commercial partners for 2014, and has been left off IndyCar’s Leader Circle list for 2014. But a Panther entry would take the Chevrolet number up to 11.
  • Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, is expected to return with his family-run Lazier Partners Racing car. There’s a dozen.
  • KV Racing Technology team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said a third car is likely. That’s 13.
  • Up to four more could be possible with all four potential but not set-in-stone programs possible. That would include a second Carpenter car, fifth Ganassi car (the TUDOR Championship is off, so a crew would be available), a single entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and a single entry for Dragon Racing.
  • While DRR has made some overtones in the media about a return, Dragon hasn’t as much. The Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin said on his weekly “Trackside” show Monday night that Dragon has not returned multiple phone calls; TracksideOnline.com reported more than a week ago that the Villeneuve car, the third SPM, was purchased from Dragon Racing. With Dragon’s other car listed as “through a partnership” with Team Penske for Juan Pablo Montoya, the question of suitable equipment exists. Penske and SPM did run separate third cars at Indianapolis in 2013, for AJ Allmendinger (Penske) and Katherine Legge (SPM), respectively, while Dragon also ran two cars for now-KV teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra.

What this all means is as of March 4, there are 25 confirmed car-engine combinations for this year’s Indianapolis 500, 23 of them with confirmed drivers (the second Dale Coyne and BHA entries have yet to confirm their full season drivers).

The race is on for teams and drivers to now gather the funding to put together the remaining programs from here.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.