Alonso brought Indy 500 car count up to 30. Photo: Getty Images

Recent run on Indy 500 entries brings confirmed cars up to 30

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About a month ago (March 7 was our first tracker) there were barely mid-20s in terms of Indianapolis 500 entries confirmed. And then the last five days happened.

Friday at Long Beach, Zach Veach was confirmed in a third AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Then Sunday, Jack Harvey was added as a fifth Andretti Autosport Honda. Monday, Gabby Chaves’ ride with the new Harding Group Chevrolet was formally revealed.

Oh and Wednesday, there was a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion announced in a sixth Andretti Autosport Honda, as McLaren and Fernando Alonso are set to tackle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvey’s car was also announced to run under the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti banner in a joint entry.

The confirmations bring Honda’s total car count to its maximum 18 available leases and thus will leave it to Chevrolet to fill out the field.

Here’s the breakdown so far:

HONDA (18)

  • Andretti Autosport (6): 26-Takuma Sato, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay-W, 27-Marco Andretti (Andretti with Lendium), 98-Alexander Rossi-W (Andretti-Herta Autosport), 50-Jack Harvey-R (Michael Shank Racing with Andretti), 29-Fernando Alonso-R (McLaren Honda Andretti)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (4): 8-Max Chilton, 9-Scott Dixon-W, 10-Tony Kanaan-W, 83-Charlie Kimball
  • Dale Coyne Racing (3): 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 19-Ed Jones-R, 63-Pippa Mann
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (3): 5-James Hinchcliffe, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 77-Jay Howard (SPM with Team ONE Cure)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2): 15-Graham Rahal, 16-Oriol Servia

CHEVROLET (12)

  • Team Penske (5): 1-Simon Pagenaud, 2-Josef Newgarden, 3-Helio Castroneves-W, 12-Will Power, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya-W
  • AJ Foyt Racing (3): 4-Conor Daly, 14-Carlos Munoz, 40-Zach Veach-R
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2): 20-Ed Carpenter, 21-JR Hildebrand
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): 24-Sage Karam
  • Harding Racing (1): 88-Gabby Chaves

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

The expectation from here is Juncos Racing, Ricardo Juncos’ team, would be running two cars with Buddy Lazier and his family team joining in – all in Chevrolets – to bring the number up to 33.

For Juncos, the step up to IndyCar from its Mazda Road to Indy success understandably takes a bigger budget to make happen, and why announcements haven’t happened beyond its original reveal is solely down to that. It’s a matter of making the dollars work to see the new team on the grid for its first race.

Lazier’s team told IndyCar Radio at St. Petersburg they again plan to be in Indianapolis, as they have each of the last four years (failed to qualify in 2015 but have three starts in 2013, 2014 and 2016).

If one of these three cars would fail to materialize, another Chevrolet entry would have to emerge to make 33, and despite Carpenter’s wishes to the contrary from his planned two-car effort, that’d seem make the most sense as a logical replacement.

SO WHO’S STILL LEFT?

There’s still a number of drivers actively looking to be considered for those final couple seats. Here’s a quick primer on the likely five drivers vying for the final spots:

  • Spencer Pigot: At the moment, Pigot is sidelined by the double variable of ECR’s planned two-car entry and the fact most of the other entrenched one-off entries have been filled.
  • Matthew Brabham: Continues to make the rounds along with his management in the paddock, but finding budget remains the stumbling block.
  • Sebastian Saavedra: Saavedra and longtime supporter Gary Peterson were in Long Beach and they’ve run a chassis in this race several times over. The longer it gets before the entry deadline, the more likely Saavedra re-emerges once again.
  • James Davison: Like the other three above, the talented Australian was making himself available to team owners for meetings during Long Beach to try to finalize a program. Losing the 18th Honda engine lease potential did not help his prospects.
  • Gustavo Yacaman: Wasn’t at Long Beach but has been rumored for an opportunity, in what would be an IndyCar race debut, a different scenario from the other four.

At the moment, we’re not listing Stefan Wilson, Townsend Bell, Katherine Legge, RC Enerson and Kyle Kaiser among those drivers.

Wilson has publicly bowed out of a seat this year to forego his planned drive with Andretti to allow the Alonso opportunity to occur. If the racing gods are paying attention, the lanky, likable 27-year-old Brit is due karma in spades for making that tough decision.

Bell’s not said he won’t do Indy this year but after having his best chance to win last year fall short, he is smart enough to not take a likely bottom-of-the-field ride just to keep his start streak alive. He also has Le Mans to prep for, where he won last year in class with Scuderia Corsa.

Legge’s hopes likely rested on a Honda engine lease availability and with the Andretti possibility going away, her stint outside the ‘500 is set to continue as it’s highly doubtful you would see her in a Chevrolet.

Despite Enerson’s star turn with Dale Coyne Racing in his three-race cameo late 2016, things have quieted for his hopes, although he was known to be in contention for at least one of the now-filled vacancies.

Kaiser was perhaps the biggest slam dunk when Juncos’ arrival was announced, but we’ve heard in the last couple weeks that the team may not be inclined, and for that matter the driver may not be inclined, to be stretched so thin pulling off both an Indianapolis 500 and Freedom 100 double for Juncos’ planned IndyCar debut. Put this way – if the 21-year-old Californian does do both, it would be more of a surprise now than it was a month or so ago.

All told, the race to fill the final few spots on the 33-car grid is coming towards an end, and the next couple weeks will likely be pivotal in seeing who will make up the balance of the 2017 field.

GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA