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:
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
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.
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.
THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.
Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.
“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.
“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”
Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.
Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.
Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.
“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”
Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.
It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.
When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.
“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”
Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.
“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.
“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”
The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.
“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.
“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.
“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.
“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”
If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.
Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.
“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.
“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”
A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”
When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).
“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”
Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”
The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.
That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.
“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”
The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.
“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.
“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”
Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.
Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.
The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.
“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”
Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.
“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”
The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.
“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”
Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.
“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.
“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”
The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.
“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.
“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”
Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.
His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.
In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.
“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.
“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”