With the recent announcements of Simon Pagenaud to Team Penske and James Hinchcliffe to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the dominos have finally started to fall in looking ahead to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series grid.
There’s three or four potential drivers that could be next in line to announce their plans over the next several weeks, but they’re not slam dunks quite like those two were once word started to leak that those were the directions they were going.
A quick run through the points standings reveals that the top 10 drivers from 2014, are locked and loaded for 2015.
So in 11th place, Ryan Briscoe would seem to be next of the drivers who doesn’t have his or her plans settled yet next year.
The Australian returned to IndyCar full-time this year and was expecting a multiyear game plan with Chip Ganassi Racing. While CGR is planning to maintain its four-car lineup for 2015, team managing director Mike Hull told MotorSportsTalk this past weekend that the budget for the fourth car is the holdup at the moment.
Briscoe could well be replaced by rookie Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion who showed both aggression and excitement in limited 2014 opportunities in IndyCar and sports cars. Unfortunately the way the situation has evolved, it seems one of the two drivers will come up on the short end of the stick.
If CGR makes a switch, and Briscoe becomes a free agent, the next most attractive seat remaining is the fourth at Andretti Autosport, Hinchcliffe’s 2014 seat.
The plan is to “rebuild” the seat from a commercial standpoint, per a high ranking Andretti official to MotorSportsTalk this week.
However, Hinchcliffe’s 2014 sponsor, United Fiber & Data, has said publicly it will stay with Andretti Autosport going forward.
If bringing budget is no worry, the fourth seat at Andretti is a landing spot for a veteran, and Briscoe or Justin Wilson would make the most sense in that slot.
Wilson, notably, just followed the Andretti Twitter account earlier this week. It may lead to nothing or it could be a sign of things to come.
Alas, for Wilson, who’s been stuck finishing 15th in the points in both 2012 and 2014 with Dale Coyne Racing, his opportunity at one of IndyCar’s best teams is long overdue.
Next up would be 2014 rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth, who would both seem likely to return to IndyCar for 2015. Hawksworth told me at Circuit of the Americas during the TUDOR Championship weekend he was optimistic of having a deal done within two to three weeks, so he could be the next domino to fall.
Takuma Sato and his management group are also working towards a return with A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Sato was unlucky more often than not throughout 2014 and his races were better than his final standing of 18th (behind Aleshin and Hawksworth) would indicate.
From there things get murkier as drivers with some level of IndyCar experience or potential rookies begin to fight things out for the remaining seats at play. It would be a surprise if a rookie is named to a seat before any of the 2014 drivers get their 2015 plans sorted.
It’s likely at least two to three more signings will be announced by the end of the month, at which point the driver grid will come clearer into focus.