IndyCar Musical Chairs Is In Full Swing

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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?

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “IndyCar Musical Chairs Is In Full Swing”

  1. I was really hoping in the Andretti deal that Marco would be moved over to the Herta side of the team, he needs a change very badly!

    I would like to see Munoz and Montoya at Foyt, think Sato to AA will happen, Chilton to KV maybe to shore them up, the KV ride might just be better than the B-team Ganassi ride to be honest. I say Magnussen ends up at Ganassi to replace Chilton. Probably Hilderbrand at EGR, ugh. Fast guys like Sage and Hawksworth on the outside again. Hoping Daly has a seat somewhere, would be nice if he got the Ganassi ride but I doubt it.

    Hoping when we talk about 2018 that we can say Helio and Kanaan are retiring and we can get some young blood in decent seats, other than Josef of course.

  2. Munoz may be let go because he can’t bring enough money to the team. In spite of the fact he could have won the Indy 500 except for the exceptional gamble of his teammate. And he out raced all of his teammates during the season.

    Looking for an F1 seeking “rich” European to bring “funding” to the team. With how much experience on ovals?

    Again this highlights at least two of Indycar’s biggest problems.

    If a team can’t manage to get sponsorship for a driver of Munoz’s caliber……..

  3. Munoz finished 10th in the standings ahead of Rossi, RHR, Hinch, Seb, Aleshin, Marco, Sato, and the rest. Perhaps Andretti could afford to keep him if they dropped the electric cars and whatever else keeps Michael’s focus from being 100% on IndyCar. Michael has admitted that his fractured focus is hurting the team.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Would be disappointing to lose Munoz, but I would be shocked if he is not at Indianapolis at least. Foyt would appear to be his best bet at this point for a full-time ride. Coyne could be a landing spot as well. I may be more concerned about Daly’s prospects for next season.

    Sato in a third Schmidt-Peterson car is apparently a possibility too…

  5. I don’t really care about Munoz, I just want Pigot, Daly, Karam and the other American’s to end up with rides. I would hope Daly gets to return to Coyne (if he can’t get a better ride, RE: ECR) because Coyne seemed to have “invested” in him over the last two years and it would be a waste to see him sidelined. I would prefer Daly to ECR, of course. Or Hildebrand, or Pigot. Pigot already has an in there as does Hildebrand. Karam at ECR would be ideal, but I’m not sure Carpenter would be into that. However, I think Montoya or Munoz to ECR is very possible since it is a good ride with good funding and Carpenter needs a driver who can win races. I would prefer to see Montoya there over Munoz if it comes down to it.

    I don’t see a reason for Chilton to leave Ganassi, but I’d be happy if he left Indycar never to return. Talk about a less than competitive driver. From Max’s perspective if he thinks he’ll be more competitive somewhere else he is dreaming or deluded. But, for some reason people think he, his sponsors, and the Euro Lights team wants to work with KV so maybe that happens.

    Foyt ride is bad news for everyone involved. They just aren’t good. I can’t even blame Hawksowrth or Sato for that. I would hope at least one unemployed American shows up there, but honestly I don’t know if it really benefits said driver. Hildebrand and Karam are desperate so I suppose they could use it. Pigot, Veach, and some of the others are probably better off part timing with Rahal or ECR than going there if that’s all they’ve got. Foyt is a career killer. Unless you’re Sato and have honda money. Maybe Chevy makes Foyt better, but I really doubt it.

    Rahal really needs a 2nd car to continue as a top level team. While I would prefer an American, if Munoz, Montoya, or Sato can bring money and they don’t have enough for a 2nd car, they need to make that deal.

  6. Munoz is really good at Indy. His 2 runner-up finishes speak for themselves. It is beyond me as to how Andretti Autosport cannot keep him on their team full-time, but it’s not like this hasn’t happened before with this team: years ago, they had to release Tony Kanaan when a sponsor did not remew (7-11) and not soon after, they could not renew with James Hinchcliffe when a sponsor didn’t pay up (United Fiber & Data). Munoz and Andretti Autosport is a combination capable of winning the Indy 500 so in regards to a ride, Carlos would probably be better off if he were in the 5th Andretti car during the Month of May, than with any other team if the full-time seat were not possible anymore.

    Motorsport.com recently featured an article in which they interviewed Sato’s manager, and he said if any sweet deals exist between Honda and teams who hire Sato, it’s not going through him nor Sato but it’s Honda’s business what they do. However, he confirmed that Sato intends to stay with Honda, not with Foyt. He also expressed the 4th Ganassi seat to be the most desirable but Max Chilton is 1st in line for that seat, so they were looking at other opportunities first, namely Andretti, Schmidt and Rahal. He categorically ruled out Coyne because he was afraid that the team would focus too much on Bourdais and not enough on his client.

    Given how Graham Rahal struggled with Sato’s setups when he took over after Sato left Team Rahal for Foyt, I don’t think Sato returning would be a productive move for the team. Andretti still needs an allrounder on the team, who is equally good on all types of tracks. Sato has shown speed on the ovals and his most recent victory came on a street circuit (Long Beach). So he might be a good fit for the team.

    Max Chilton obviously has got the budget for the 4th Ganassi seat again, but Carlin Racing rumors remain.

    Looks like the dominoes on this year’s silly season are not going to click into place in as linear a fashion as one might have expected.

  7. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    With all this talk about teams and drivers I’m being to wonder about fielding 33 car’s at Indy next year.

    • The KV / Carlin merger rumors indeed put a question mark on the grid of 33 in May yet again. But there is still plenty of time to discuss that topic later in the offseason.

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