Some well-known INDYCAR drivers currently on the outside looking in

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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Bobby Rahal would love to sign James Hinchcliffe but finding the money to increase to a third car has been difficult. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series team owner Chip Ganassi said he would sign Hinchcliffe “in a heartbeat” if he could find sponsorship for a fourth car. Another team owner, Dale Coyne, is still interested in Hinchcliffe, but it’s going to take an addition $4 million to $5 million to do that.

Those are some big figures for Coyne, who runs perhaps the most efficient team in IndyCar by getting the most on track out of a modest budget.

Then there is popular driver Conor Daly, who also is out of a ride and doesn’t have many positive prospects at the moment. Just last week, another young driver, Spencer Pigot was told he would not be back to Ed Carpenter Racing in the No. 21 Chevrolet, replaced by former Indy Lights Series driver Rinus VeeKay.

Spencer Pigot

On Tuesday, Carpenter also silenced any discussion of Renault Formula One driver Niko Hulkenberg joining ECR in 2020. Hulkenberg was considered to be in line to share the No. 20 Chevrolet with Carpenter, who would continue to drive on the ovals while another driver competes in that car for the street and road course races.

Carpenter admitted that he hopes to have that driver signed before Thanksgiving, but told, “But no, it’s not going to be Hulkenberg.”

The biggest shocker out of this group remains Hinchcliffe, the popular driver from Oakville, Ontario who was stunned to find out that although he remains under contract with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, he will not be driving the car in any of the races. He remains on the payroll and has to make public relations appearances on behalf of the team that will feature rookie drivers 20-year-old Patricio O’Ward of Mexico and 22-year-old Oliver Askew from Jupiter, Florida.

O’Ward won the Indy Lights championship in 2018 and Askew won the title in 2019.

Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART champion as a driver, currently is partners in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing along with David Letterman, former host of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” and South Suburban Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing currently has a two-car team featuring Rahal’s son, Graham, and popular driver from Tokyo, Takuma Sato.

Rahal is friends with Hinchcliffe. His son and Hinchcliffe were teammates at Newman Haas Lanigan Racing in 2011.

Bobby Rahal

The team owner admits the Canadian driver would be a perfect addition.

All it takes is money and sponsorship.

“James and I have talked, but it’s a tough place,” Rahal told NBC “We don’t have the sponsorship. We don’t have the personnel, so that makes it tough. We’re not saying the personnel can’t be found, but you have to have the money first and we don’t have that. We are going to run a third car at Indy, but I don’t know with who, yet.

“I’m sure James would prefer to get a full-time deal, which I don’t blame him at all.”

Rahal, however, believes there is time. Despite having a hip replacement on November 13, the team owner continues to talk to potential sponsors, but remains cautious.

“Who knows? It’s still four or five months before the first race so a lot can happen,” Rahal said. “But at this stage of the game, nothing has transpired yet to say we are ready to sign anybody, let alone him.

“Unfortunately for James, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, frankly. I hear Chip Ganassi said he would hire him and I’m sure Dale Coyne said he would hire him and probably a lot more than that, really.

“But it all comes down to money.”

Hinchcliffe has a close relationship with Honda, serving as commercial spokesman for Honda Canada. The past two years, he has also been the face of American Honda and its “The Honda Dream Garage Spring Sale Event” commercials that aired in the United States.

When McLaren bought into Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in August, that team had to switch to Chevrolet because of Honda Japan’s edict that it will no longer do business with McLaren after a falling out over the Formula One engine in 2017.

Honda’s high-profile spokesman was suddenly on a Chevrolet team.

“He has been a Honda driver, but what that means at this stage of the game?” asked Rahal, who is a Honda team owner. “It’s certainly not enough to go racing by any stretch of the imagination.

“I feel for him because it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It’s not going to be impossible, but it’s tough for anybody to find the right amount of money for him.

“It’s a shame. A real shame. We are out there talking to people, but nobody has said we want to do this, here is $6 million. Everybody has made their plans for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway