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

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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.

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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

IndyCar.com
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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”