MOORESVILLE, N.C. – For most of its recent history, the Verizon IndyCar Series didn’t have a set driver/team lineup until the cars were getting revved up to start the season. Team owners were searching for the money to roll a car onto the grid and those deals often fell through.
It wasn’t too long ago that the rest of the grid wasn’t finalized until the week before the season-opening race. Some team owners such as Dale Coyne often had a “rent-a-ride” for the second car on the team.
That is not the case this offseason.
Drivers and teams came together much earlier than in the past and by Nov. 15, with a few exceptions, next year’s lineup was nearly complete. Even Coyne had both drivers signed with four-time Champ Car Series titlist Sebastien Bourdais alongside Indy Lights champion Ed Jones.
And A.J. Foyt Racing got a lot younger with a two-car effort that includes Colombia’s Carlos Munoz in the No. 14 and second-year American driver Conor Daly in the No. 4.
Takuma Sato filled out the four-driver Andretti Autosport lineup with an announcement in December. The only holes left to fill in the lineup will be what happens to KVSH Racing and will Chip Ganassi Racing be successful in re-signing Max Chilton to the No. 8 ride? (After this column was written, Chilton re-signed with Ganassi).
There could also be a split between KVSH Racing team owners Jimmy Vasser, Kevin Kalkhoven and James “Sulli” Sullivan. Kalkhoven and Indy Lights team owner Trevor Carlin, also a GP2 and GP3 team owner in Europe, could be joining forces for a team based out of Carlin’s shop in Florida. Chilton’s father is a partner in Carlin’s operation. Vasser and Sullivan could split off on their own to field another team if they can put funding together.
This has been a dramatic sign of progress for the Verizon IndyCar Series as stability in the schedule and team lineup has allowed deals to come together sooner and that can only be a positive for sponsors as they consider the series.
It all started at the Toronto race in mid-July when Team Penske told two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1999 CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya the team would pursue Josef Newgarden for a full-time ride. Newgarden was in the final year of his contract at Ed Carpenter Racing and Penske wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to sign the talented driver from Hendersonville, Tenn.
Montoya has accepted a Team Penske ride in the 101st Indianapolis 500 next May and a ride in an IMSA Sports Car for a program that hasn’t been announced but is being evaluated and put together at the team’s Mooresville, N.C., shop.