Do The Dominos Fall Or Remain Standing?

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On Monday, Racer.com reported that Andretti Autosport is staying with Honda after many had been speculating for weeks that Michael Andretti was headed back to Chevy, whom they left after the 2013 season. Other reputable sites were also reporting the same. But by Tuesday, it seemed there was still some doubt to those reports

Unconfirmed word got out on Saturday at Gateway that Takuma Sato was moving from Andretti Autosport to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to pilot a second car as teammate to Graham Rahal. When I heard that, I figured that pretty well sealed it that Andretti was headed to Chevy.

Then Monday night, a report surfaced that Sato was planning to go to Rahal, but the deal hasn’t been signed yet. Although it seems that Andretti is staying with Honda, it seems that the uncertainty at Andretti Autosport has encouraged Alexander Rossi to explore other options with existing Honda teams.

There is at least one available seat at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, possibly two if James Hinchcliffe goes elsewhere. It’s looking like Chip Ganassi could have as many as three empty seats if he chooses to run four cars in 2018, which I think is highly unlikely. There could also be an available ride at Dale Coyne, if Ed Jones doesn’t return – but I don’t really see Rossi leaving Andretti for Coyne.

The silly season is riding on what Michael Andretti decides. The longer he delays his decision or announcement, the closer he comes to losing the last two Indianapolis 500 winners. This year’s winner, Takuma Sato, is all but gone. It sounds as if the signing is just a formality, but you can’t count him as completely gone yet. Last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi, is said to have found a couple of intriguing possibilities – more than likely, Schmidt and Ganassi.

Most tend to think that Rossi will eventually stay at Andretti. He probably does have some other opportunities, but he could be leveraging Sato’s departure in order to get a better deal at Andretti. Robin Miller reported Monday night that Rossi was staying, so we’ll see.

I don’t blame Sato or Rossi for looking around. All indications were that Michael Andretti was headed back to Chevy, and they both have ties with Honda. Going with Chevy would have blown up half of their driver lineup, so they would have been foolish to not explore their options. Neither of them wanted to be left standing when the music stops.

If Andretti had gone with Chevy, the dominos would have started to tumble. It looks like Sato wasn’t willing to wait anymore. Would Hinchcliffe have moved back to Andretti with a couple of empty seats? Maybe. With a driver of the caliber of Tony Kanaan pounding the pavement, that tightens up things.

If you listened to Trackside last night, you heard Kevin Lee speculate that even though Kanaan is now a free-agent, that doesn’t mean he’ll not be back at Ganassi. I think I’m more likely to drive for Ganassi in 2018 than Tony Kanaan is. And that isn’t speaking from Ganassi’s viewpoint. I don’t think there is any way in the world Tony Kanaan would ever think of doing anything for Chip Ganassi after he climbs out of the car at Sonoma. That ship has sailed. I could use a more graphic description, but this is a family site.

No one has asked what an elderly blogger sitting behind a keyboard in Nashville, TN thinks; but here is how I think the driver lineups will sort out for 2018:

The Foyt team stays intact, with Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly. Team Penske goes to three cars with Helio Castroneves being the odd man out. He drives sports cars as a consolation prize. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will see James Hinchcliffe return to the fold to drive alongside Tony Kanaan. Ed Carpenter Racing? I have no idea. I have some thoughts, but that’s a separate post altogether. Dale Coyne returns Sébastien Bourdais and possibly/probably Ed Jones. Rahal will have Graham Rahal and will welcome back Takuma Sato after driving five seasons elsewhere. Harding Racing will run two fulltime cars for Gabby Chaves and another driver to be named later.

That leaves Ganassi and Andretti. I think Chip Ganassi will contract to two cars, driven by Scott Dixon and Esteban Gutierrez. I think that Andretti will now stay with Honda and Alexander Rossi will stay there too. He will drive alongside Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. If Andretti does stay with Honda, don’t be surprised to see Fernando Alonso back in an Andretti car next May. I also wouldn’t be terribly shocked if a deal has been struck to have Alonso drive the full season. Perhaps that’s why the sudden turn of events.

Aside from Harding, there are potentially two new teams that may come on board for the full season – Juncos and Carlin. I would expect Spencer Pigot to run one of the Juncos cars, while Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball could be with Carlin if they can pull things together over the offseason.

Those are my predictions and they are only worth the bandwidth it took to open this page, which wasn’t very much. I could nail them or be completely off base. Reality will probably be somewhere in between.

So regardless of what Michael Andretti ends up doing, there is lots of change in the air. But the dominos would have really tumbled had Andretti gone to Chevy.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Do The Dominos Fall Or Remain Standing?”

  1. I think you are pretty much spot on, George. I read the Racer Magazine articles and one of the most telling quotes I saw was from Max Chilton, who said when he was ordered to park “It’s the first time I’ve had a decent car in a while. Why can’t we learn, or are we a quitting team? Good riddance, [I] can’t wait for next year.”

    When’s the last time someone said they can’t wait to *quit* Ganassi?

    I think Chip took everyone’s sponsorship money, threw it at Dixon’s car and whatever was left over went to everyone else. The team as a whole performed pretty poorly this year, but the setup on the other three cars was generally abysmal every race.

    Hunch and TK paired up would be good match, but bad for the other drivers because of the potential for practical joking…

  2. Your comment regarding Alonso and next season took on some weight after Sunday’s Belgian GP. His remarks and the [allegeded] retirement because of engine problems may be the beginning of the end for that partnership. He has a performance clause in his contract and that should be really easy to invoke given the Honda’s performance this season in F1.

  3. Pretty silly.

  4. And lets not forget Robert Wickens.

    Mercedes is leaving the DTM ( U kidding me??) to go sewing machine racing and a lot of VERY talented drivers are looking for a home. Don’t believe that the Hinchcliffe/Wickens driver swap was just a couple of good old Canadian boys having fun. Somebody had to pay for it. For a reason.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Kyle Kaiser only part-time, then?

  6. Wow….this is a ton of moving pieces. Crazy to see the Andretti cars with a lack of sponsorship. Good to see Graham have a solid teammate. Kind of amazing to see how far he’s come recently. Seemed like every week we were complaining about how much he complains.

  7. I can see Chip getting a check from Carlos Slim and have the two car team you stated . Or I can see Chip saying the hell with it in 2018 and just run Scott Dixon one car for the 2018 season and regroup and seek another mega sponsor for 2019- whenever . Who knows Chip might get Amazon or Walmart cars in 2019 .

  8. Ed Emmitt Says:

    If you ask me the Chipster was running on fumes once Target left.
    The 3rd and 4th cars have always gotten the short end of the deal.

    IndyCar is in for a wild ride this fall and I’m loving it.

  9. Brian McKay Says:

    Alonso would like to win the 24 Hours of LeMans, the Indy 500, and another Formula One championship. He’s not interested in racing a complete IndyCar season.

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