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IndyCar 2016 Silly Season, Round 1

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It’s early November, and there has been little-to-no movement on the Verizon IndyCar Series lineup front for 2016.

Other than Josef Newgarden re-signing with CFH Racing and his Rising Star Racing protege, 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Spencer Pigot, moving up to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for at least a three-race program, there has been almost no news.

Nonetheless, this is still a good time to take stock of what we do know in a summary piece of where things sit at the moment. Even if there’s not much “new news” here, here’s an inventory list of what has gone on thus far. It’s still relatively early in the offseason with still four-plus months until the season opener, March 13, in St. Petersburg.

Here’s what we know, what might be available and who’s still trying to figure out Verizon IndyCar Series programs for 2016:

CONFIRMED CAR/DRIVER COMBINATIONS (14):

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (3): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball. For sure, three of the four drivers from 2015 will carry over into 2016.
  • Team Penske (4): Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud. Team Penske’s fearsome foursome rolls on for a second season together.
  • Andretti Autosport (2): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti. RHR is officially confirmed for another year and Marco Andretti will return for his 11th (!) season. Cars three and four are the question marks.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2): Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot. Rahal now set for year four at RLL, while Pigot will join for at least three races, with the hope of more materializing.
  • CFH Racing (2): Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter. Newgarden stays with CFH for at least one more year while Carpenter has a car on ovals as long as he cares to drive. Sponsorship is still being sorted for Newgarden’s car, with Wink Hartman set to scale back on his personal support due to declining oil prices.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (1): James Hinchcliffe. Popular Canadian will be in search of his first full season with SPM after injury-shortened 2015.

NEAR CERTAINTIES, BUT NOT DONE YET (5): 

  • KVSH Racing (1): Sebastien Bourdais. Three times a winner thus far with KVSH, Bourdais figures to once again be team leader at the team co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven, Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2): Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth. Intention is for these two to continue together at the Waller, Texas-based squad for another season.
  • Bryan Herta Autosport (1): Gabby Chaves. Awaiting commercial agreements, but the single-car team hopes to roll into 2016 with the defending IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year.
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1): Tristan Vautier. Both driver and team want to continue for a full season in 2016, after Vautier provided needed stability to the team’s No. 19 car throughout the second half of 2015.

SEEKING TO CONTINUE (2): 

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1): Sage Karam. Budget the determining factor for whether Ganassi’s young gun will have a second season in IndyCar.
  • CFH Racing (1): Luca Filippi. The Italian did a good enough job in his first season of road and street course races, planting the seed to continue, although he has not been confirmed yet.

WILD CARD SEATS (5):

  • Andretti Autosport (seats 3 and/or 4): Beyond the American pairing of Hunter-Reay and Andretti, this may take longer to settle. Carlos Munoz is a free agent, though Andretti remains hopeful he’ll be back for a third full season.
  • KVSH Racing (seat 2): Stefano Coletti barely made it through his first season and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be back for another. This seat has traditionally been filled late, and has changed, each of the last five years (Coletti, Sebastian Saavedra, Simona de Silvestro, Rubens Barrichello/E.J. Viso, Viso/Tony Kanaan).
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (seat 2): A popular seat. Would seem to be a landing spot for Jack Harvey if the Englishman jumps up from Indy Lights… others who could make sense here include James Jakes for another year, part-time 2015 driver Conor Daly, or Russian Mikhail Aleshin. Ryan Briscoe’s full-time open-wheel status for 2016 is undetermined, but unlikely, given he has been linked to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT program in sports cars.
  • Dale Coyne Racing (seat 2): TBA, and we’ll know for sure by opening practice at St. Petersburg. Rodolfo Gonzalez would like to continue for another year and Pippa Mann raced all ovals last season. A rideshare between these two could work once again. 

INDY 500/PARTIAL SEASON POSSIBILITES 

  • Jonathan Byrd’s Racing: Bryan Clauson. The short-track oval ace will make another attempt at the Indianapolis 500; team partnered with KVSH Racing last year but team partner not confirmed yet for 2016.
  • Grace Autosport: Katherine Legge. Team partner is TBD but the primarily female focused initiative led by Beth Paretta, with Legge as driver, was announced last May for an Indianapolis 500 debut.
  • Marotti Racing: Unheralded, seemingly out-of-nowhere effort from a Connecticut-based pastor was revealed in a RACER.com report last week. The a fancy Vimeo presentation video that goes with it has the slight faux pas of a stock car engine dubbed over the IndyCar turbocharged ones at the start, and includes his own personal contact details for more information.
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Dennis Reinbold’s team will return to the Indianapolis 500 with at least one car and the potential of a second, for the first time since 2011, when DRR ran four cars.
  • Lazier Partners Racing: The 1996 Indy 500 champion, Buddy Lazier, figures to return once again, some 20 years on from his victory. 

OTHER DRIVERS WHO WOULD, COULD MAKE SOME SENSE IN SEATS 

  • Jack Harvey – Indy Lights veteran told the Linc in the U.K. that he has an “80 percent chance” of racing in IndyCar next year.
  • Stefan Wilson – The younger Wilson has a solitary IndyCar start to his name in 2013 but is working on a “Think Solar” campaign to make a run at the 2016 Indianapolis 500 (teaser video linked here). He’d be a popular addition to the race.
  • Conor Daly – As noted above, impressed enough in his limited IndyCar outings this year to deserve a full-time seat on merit. Budget, as ever, remains the tipping point for the young American.
  • Max Chilton – Another Brit, and with budget to boot, Chilton came on strongly in the second half of the Indy Lights season and figures to step up into IndyCar next season. He’s held conversations with several teams, although he is yet to have his first official test in an IndyCar.
  • Matthew Brabham – The Australian American has reportedly had positive conversations about at least a month of May program in 2016, and has a test at Sonoma under his belt already with Andretti Autosport.
  • Sebastian Saavedra – The Colombian veteran is only 25, and did a reasonable job in a handful of starts for Chip Ganassi Racing, with AFS support. AFS will no doubt want a landing spot on the grid for a handful of 2016 races, and Saavedra’s long been its guy.
  • JR Hildebrand – The Californian who now resides in Colorado remains a fan favorite and overachieved in his two starts with CFH Racing this year.
  • Oriol Servia – Always seems to appear somewhere and generally always adds to whatever program he joins. You’d figure he’ll be in the Indianapolis 500 once again with anything beyond that a bonus.
  • Carlos Huertas – Does “Grumpy Cat” return after his departure just before the Indianapolis 500? The mystery continues for the serviceable Colombian.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.