Fernando Alonso could be the biggest name to come to IndyCar for 2019. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar: 2018 season is over, here’s how 2019 is already shaping up

Leave a comment

SONOMA, California — The 2018 IndyCar season is now complete. So where do we go from here?

We start thinking about the 2019 season, of course.

After all, the new season is just under six months away.

Let’s take a quick team-by-team look at how next season’s driver lineups are looking:

Chip Ganassi Racing: 2018 champion Scott Dixon coming back. Ed Jones status uncertain.

Andretti Autosport: Zach Veach, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi all coming back. But keep an eye on whether two-time Formula One champ Fernando Alonso also races for Andretti Autosport in 2019, most likely in partnership with McLaren as a satellite team. But if there’s not enough room for Alonso (Honda has hedged on whether it will produce another motor for Alonso for next season) within the Andretti camp, don’t be surprised if Alonso winds up at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Team Penske: Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud all returning.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe returning. … Robert Wickens’ status is uncertain due to the lengthy rehab he will undergo to recover from his violent August 19 crash at Pocono Raceway. … It’s unclear whether Carlos Munoz will continue to drive in place of Wickens if the latter is unable to race at least in the early part of the 2019 season.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato (officially re-signed prior to Sunday’s race at Sonoma) will both return. There is a possibility RLL may add a third car, but details have been sparse. One possibility, although it’s a longshot, is to bring onboard Fernando Alonso if Alonso doesn’t end up with Andretti Autosport in a partnership with McLaren.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Team owner Ed Carpenter and full-time driver Spencer Pigot will return. Non-oval driver Jordan King’s is expected to return.

Dale Coyne Racing: Pietro Fittipaldi likely to return. … It’s uncertain whether Santino Ferrucci will return for 2019, likely hinging on sponsorship. … Also uncertain is the status of Zachary Claman De Melo.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan: Sebastien Bourdais has agreed to a new two-year deal, team owner Dale Coyne said Saturday.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Both veteran Tony Kanaan and youngster Matheus Leist will return.

Harding Racing: This could be an interesting situation. Gabby Chaves is under contract for 2019. Team president Brian Barnhart is highly enamored with 2018 Indy Lights champ Pato O’Ward and runner-up Colton Herta. Harding fielded cars for both O’Ward and Herta in Sunday’s race as they made their respective IndyCar debuts. Barnhart also said Harding hopes to expand to a two-car operation next year. That could potentially mean a full-time ride for O’Ward, who has a $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship in his pocket for winning the Lights’ championship. It’s rumored that Harding will be making a major announcement this week. But Herta is also a possibility to fill the other Harding seat. Again, what does that do to Chaves? It’s unlikely the team will field three cars. Plus, O’Ward and Herta are still signed with Andretti Autosport. There’s a possibility of a deal in the works where Harding could potentially “borrow” one or both drivers from the Andretti camp.

Carlin Racing: Both Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball are expected to return.

Meyer Shank Racing with SPM: Jack Harvey will return with a likely increase from six races this season to between eight and 10 in 2019.

Juncos Racing: Plans are unclear for drivers Rene Binder, Alfonso Celis Jr. and Kyle Kaiser.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).