IndyCar Musical Chairs Is In Full Swing
Musical chairs seems to have become the main topic of the young IndyCar offseason. There are a few remaining seats left for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series grid, but they seem to be going quickly even though we still have almost two weeks to go in October. Some seats have not been officially declared open, but rampant speculation gives the perception that they are. As we all know, perception is reality.
We know for a fact that there is an opening at KVSH, with the now-official departure of Sébastien Bourdais from KVSH to Dale Coyne Racing. The questions surrounding his old seat at KVSH are not only who might fill it, but will it even exist for 2017. I’m no insider, but I’ve heard very little about the plans at KVSH other than Bourdais leaving the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winning team for Dale Coyne. If Bourdais knows something that we don’t, maybe his move to Coyne isn’t as curious as we thought.
The unofficial, but assumed open rides are both seats at Foyt and one seat at Michael Andretti’s team – the one held for the last three seasons by Colombian Carlos Muñoz. It seems that Muñoz has very little funding, compared to past seasons. Apparently, it was family money that was funding Muñoz and it appears that funding stream has dried up. Three of the four seats at Andretti are locked up for 2017; those being Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and of course, Marco Andretti. Hunter-Reay’s car just got an extension with DHL, Marco has a new deal with HH Gregg and Rossi’s sponsorship has yet to be named – or else I missed the announcement.
I’m assuming Andretti Autosport would like to keep Muñoz, since he was the highest finishing Andretti driver in the points this past season. But if a driver comes to Michael Andretti with full financial backing and Michael has been unsuccessful at coming up with a sponsor for the No.26 car, chances are good that Muñoz will be on the street.
Formula One’s Kevin Magnussen is one such driver rumored to be a candidate for that seat. Although the Danish driver denies the rumors and says he is working on returning to F1 with Renault; the rumors haven’t gone away. If that were to happen, that would give Andretti two Formula One refugees on his four-car team – Rossi, who won this past year’s Indianapolis 500, being the other.
Another rumor puts Takuma Sato in the last remaining open seat with Andretti. With AJ Foyt Enterprises switching from Honda to Chevy, Sato and his obvious connections to Honda are no longer needed at Foyt. With Sato’s funding, he could be a viable option at Andretti.
So where would that leave Muñoz? Connecting the dots, many people more knowledgeable than I am are putting the young Colombian into one of the two vacant seats at Foyt. I say two because it is widely believed, although not confirmed, that Jack Hawksworth will be moving on after his horrific two-year stint with Foyt.
That’s a shame, because I think Hawksworth is a good driver. But driving the second Foyt car is not a good place to be if you are trying to move up the IndyCar food-chain. The drop-off in resources from the lead car to the second car may be more marked and dramatic at Foyt than at any other team in the paddock.
Larry Foyt has made great strides in the last few years at his famous father’s organization. AJ Foyt is loyal to a fault. He has employed a lot of dead weight for decades out of sheer loyalty. Larry Foyt is changing that. He has improved a lot of positions on his staff with key hires. Unfortunately, it has not translated to improved performance on the track – not yet anyway.
I was hoping that Tony Kanaan would be retained at Ganassi rather than closing out his career with Foyt. It just seemed to be a frustrating way for Kanaan to finish up a great career. I got my wish last week when Kanaan re-signed with Ganassi.
But I think Muñoz moving to Foyt could be a win-win for both parties. I could see Muñoz thriving at Foyt as a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Let’s face it, he was never going to be the guy at Andretti Autosport. Ryan Hunter-Reay will probably close out his career there, now that he has a new contract in hand. For better or worse, Marco Andretti is a fixture there. Rossi showed continual improvement throughout the season and could quickly develop into a full-fledged star. Although Muñoz outperformed all of his teammates in 2016, he was always low in the pecking order at Andretti.
Still to be settled for next season is the future of Max Chilton and the No.8 car at Ganassi, along with who will be filling the No.21 at ECR. Word has it he is shopping his Gallagher sponsorship around to other teams. If Chilton leaves Ganassi, might that open up a spot for Juan Montoya who is still on the market? Or does Montoya end up at ECR? That one I just don’t see happening.
If not, how does an all-Colombian effort at Foyt sound? Carlos Muñoz grew up idolizing Montoya. Do you think he might savor the opportunity to drive alongside his childhood hero at Foyt? This would be an interesting duo to watch if they actually came together at Foyt for 2017. It could also be intriguing to watch the feisty Montoya and the fiery AJ Foyt come to blows (figuratively or literally) when things aren’t going well.
This silly season seemed to start early with all the speculation in mid-season regarding the respective futures of Josef Newgarden and Juan Montoya. It now appears that it will end early too. The game of musical chairs is about to come to an end – probably before Thanksgiving. As usual, there are more good drivers than there are seats. Who is going to be left standing when the music stops?