As ever, there’s more talent in wings than available IndyCar seats

8 Comments

We got an early run on driver announcements in the Verizon IndyCar Series offseason with Simon Pagenaud going to Team Penske, James Hinchcliffe replacing him at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Jack Hawksworth switching to A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

But come the holidays, things have slowed, and as always the glut of available talent will be larger than the number of available seats.

With news Davide Valsecchi will be testing for SPM next month, it got me thinking a bit about all the potential drivers in play that could fill the remainder of the grid.

While this isn’t a silly season breakdown per se, here’s the list of seats we expect to be announced before the season opener in Brazil in March 8:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing, fourth car (along with a formal confirmation of the full lineup)
  • Andretti Autosport, fourth car (plus a possible fifth)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, second car
  • KV Racing Technology, second car
  • CFH Racing, No. 20 road and street course driver alongside Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • Dale Coyne Racing, both cars
  • Bryan Herta Autosport, first car

So that leaves eight seats, as many as seven of them full-time, remaining to be filled. And here’s who is currently on the outside looking in:

2014 DRIVERS WITHOUT CONFIRMED PLANS

  • Ryan Briscoe, Justin Wilson, Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Huertas, Sebastian Saavedra, Mike Conway, Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand, Sage Karam, Luca Filippi, plus additional month of May drivers.

As we’ve already chronicled this offseason on MST, either Briscoe or Karam is potentially in a no-win situation when it comes to how CGR puts its fourth car together, Wilson is unsure of his plans even though many want him to move up, Conway is weighing a move to Toyota full-time in the WEC and Hildebrand or Filippi would be good to see in full-time efforts. It’s hard to see more than three or four from this batch making their way into full-time rides, and Aleshin’s seat should be one to watch if he either chooses not to return or his funding falls through.

2013 DRIVERS WHO FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS

  • Simona de Silvestro, E.J. Viso, James Jakes, Tristan Vautier, plus additional month of May drivers.

Out of sight, out of mind, right? De Silvestro is starting to make the media rounds wanting to make a comeback after her F1 dreams have ended; Viso at least kept his face present with good fill-in work for an injured James Hinchcliffe during Indianapolis 500 practice; Vautier, the 2013 rookie-of-the-year, drove several sports car races for Mazda’s LMP2 program and became a TV star for Road to Indy TV; and Jakes may have reverted to actually being The Stig. While it would be nice for any of these drivers to return, they’re mostly lacking for full-time seat time in the last 12 months and would need to shake off the cobwebs upon a return.

YOUNG GUNS IN WAITING WHO HAVEN’T HAD A FULL-TIME CRACK

  • Conor Daly, James Davison, Stefan Wilson, Sam Bird, Davide Valsecchi, Daniel Abt, Gabby Chaves, Peter Dempsey, Jack Harvey, Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Ryan Phinny, Rodolfo Gonzalez, etc.

You could also add Karam and Filippi from the 2014 group to this list. This group is essentially a paella of drivers from around the world, some who’ve had an IndyCar test and/or some starts, some who are Indy Lights drivers waiting in the wings, and some who would be coming over from Europe. And this likely leaves out several drivers who would be interested but their names haven’t come up yet.

The problem, as always, is that there’s at least 20-30 drivers listed above in either of these three segments, and nowhere near enough seats to provide for the opportunity. In most cases, the drivers listed above will need to provide for themselves in the form of budget to make that chance happen.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
0 Comments

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)