Nine multi-car Sprint Cup squads form Race Team Alliance

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Some of the biggest teams in the NASCAR garage have joined together in a “collaborative business association” known as the Race Team Alliance according to a release.

Nine teams in all have formed the RTA, which says in the release that “the purpose of the organization is to create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”

The teams involved all field multi-car efforts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. They are: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Together, those nine teams field 25 full-time Cup programs (Hendrick and SHR have the biggest camps in the RTA with four programs apiece). However, the release notes that the RTA will open up membership to all full-time Cup teams “in the very near future.”

MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman has been named as the RTA’s first chair.

“With the encouragement of NASCAR and the manufacturers, the teams have met in various forms and forums over the years to explore areas of common interest,” Kauffman says in the release. “This simply formalizes what was an informal group. The key word is ‘collaboration’. We all have vested interests in the success and popularity of stock car racing.

“By working together and speaking with a single voice, it should be a simpler and smoother process to work with current and potential groups involved with the sport.

“Whether it be looking for industry-wide travel partners or collaborating on technical issues – the idea is to work together to increase revenue, spend more efficiently, and deliver more value to our partners.”

If this happens to sound like a union to you, you may not be alone in that sentiment. However, in comments this morning to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, Kauffman insisted that was not the case:

Shortly after the RTA put out its release, NASCAR issued a statement of their own through the sanctioning body’s vice president and chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes:

“We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now. NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete. Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we’ll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will.”

Open-wheel racing has had several major instances of teams joining forces in associations.

In 1978, a group of dissatisfied USAC car owners, spurred on by Dan Gurney’s famous “White Paper,” formed CART, which eventually took over and held control of American open-wheel racing until Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George formed the Indy Racing League (now the Verizon IndyCar Series) in 1994. Additionally, the Champ Car World Series that was born after CART’s demise at the end of 2003 was also headed up by an ownership group at the time.

This second split took a major toll on the sport, and while it reunified under the IndyCar banner in 2008, its former glory has yet to be recovered.

Over in Formula One, a group known as the Formula One Teams Association was formed in 2008 in order to work with the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. But while FOTA was able to help stop a possible collapse of the sport in 2009, it ultimately lost most of its political power and then went under completely.

These days, the F1 Strategy Group is the closest thing to a teams’ body in the series. However, only six of the bigger teams are involved in the Group – Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and Lotus.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.