Welcoming Four New Teams For Next Season

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When the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series came to an end at Sonoma back in mid-September, there was a lot of anxiety about the car count for 2018. There were twenty-one full-time entries for the 2017 season. Although not confirmed by the respective teams involved, it was common knowledge among fans that the grid was going to lose three full-time cars in the offseason. Of course, they were also gaining one with Takuma Sato having already announced he was moving to a new second car with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan; so the net loss was going to be two cars for 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing was going to go from four full-time cars down to two for 2018. Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton were all leaving on bitter terms. The teams for Chilton and Kimball would be dismantled, while the car driven by Kanaan would have a new driver. At Team Penske, Helio Castroneves was given a not-so-gentle nudge to move from his familiar No.3 IndyCar ride to join Penske’s new Acura sports car program for 2018. It was correctly presumed that no one would be replacing Castroneves and Penske would go from four full-time cars to three.

There were some fairly loud rumors that there would be some new teams coming on board to soften the blow of losing three cars from the grid at each race, but nothing in the fall was substantial.

In the last couple of weeks, those rumors became reality. There will be at least three new full-time cars among two new teams, while one of those teams could still add another full-time car. On top of that, there will be two more teams that debuted in this past year’s Indianapolis 500 expanding to multiple races next season. That’s four new teams to welcome to the party next season.

We pretty well knew that Gabby Chaves would be returning with Harding Racing, the up and coming team that ran three races this past season; the Indianapolis 500, Texas and Pocono. That was confirmed two or three weeks ago, so the result on the net loss on the car count went from two to one.

Earlier this week, we got another strong rumor confirmed when Trevor Carlin announced his team would move up from Indy Lights to the Verizon IndyCar Series with two full-time efforts that will feature the two drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing – Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball both with the same funding they had at Ganassi.

With these two announcements, the IndyCar grid will now have at least one additional full-time car for 2018. Of course, that’s assuming Dale Coyne runs a second full-time car which probably won’t be confirmed until March. The last time Dale Coyne did not run two full-time cars was the 2009 season. He was all set to run two for 2018 before Ed Jones signed with Ganassi to replace Kanaan, so I think it’s a fairly safe assumption to say Coyne will run two cars next season. I am also assuming that Ed Carpenter will name a non-oval driver for his No.20 car to team with Spencer Pigot.

So with two announcements, The Verizon IndyCar Series already has one additional full-time car over this past season. But there’s even more good news.

Juncos Racing, who also made their IndyCar debut this past May in the Indianapolis 500, will return for at least four races this season with 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser in the cockpit.

Then just last week, we learned that Michael Shank Racing will return for at least six races this season with Jack Harvey driving. If you’ll recall, Shank and Harvey both made their debut in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 in conjunction with Andretti Autosport. This season, they will have an association with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Two of these four new teams are moving up from Indy Lights – Juncos and Carlin. Juncos first entered Indy Lights in 2012, running in six races. Two years later, they entered full-time and won the 2015 championship with Spencer Pigot. They also won the 2017 championship with Kyle Kaiser.

After winning championships in many European series, Carlin joined Indy Lights in 2015 with two full-time cars driven by Ed Jones and Max Chilton. In 2016, Carlin won the Indy Lights championship with Ed Jones. In 2017, they ran four full-time cars including Matheus Leist, who will be piloting the No.4 ABC Supply car for AJ Foyt Enterprises.

Shank and Harding both made their debut in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 this past May. Gabby Chaves was impressive the entire month of May and earned a ninth-place finish for Harding in their very first race. Harvey and Shank didn’t fare so well. Jack Harvey got caught up in Conor Daly’s crash on Lap 65, hitting both the outside and inside retaining wall in Turn Three.

If you listened to Trackside this week, you heard Brian Barnhart tell Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee that their focus was on the No.88 car of Gabby Chaves and that there were no current plans for a second car at Harding next season. But if you read between the lines, he also indicated that if the right situation came along they would certainly take a look at it. That tells me that Harding would like to do it, but they are not going to do it without sponsorship and a lot of it.

It seems like all of these teams have a history of doing things the right way. Harding is the only team of the four that doesn’t come from another series. This time last year, there was no such thing as Harding Racing. But they have a strong group of people involved and they also have a three-race history in IndyCar that the others don’t have. The other three have all had success in other series and are taking a slow-growth approach to entering IndyCar.

I don’t expect any of these teams to compete for the championship or even win a race next season. For one thing, it would be impossible for the part-time teams to compete for the championship when running only four to six races. But the two full-time teams will have their growing pains too. If I had to bet on which one would be the most successful, I’d say Carlin, mainly because Chilton and Kimball have worked together for the past two seasons.

Things are now looking up on the car count front, just a few months after it looked like IndyCar could lose a few grid spots for next season. It’s safe to say there will always be at least twenty-two cars at every race and possibly a few more. With the common body kit, maybe another engine manufacturer might see an easier path to competing in IndyCar than existed just a couple of years ago.

Now if they could just do something about those double-point races…

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Welcoming Four New Teams For Next Season”

  1. Hey George, it’s still Fall until December 21, so all of those announcements came “this Fall.”

    I know, it feels like Winter but, well, it’s still Fall for another week….

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Phil – Where are you located ?

      On the east coast the calendar is of little consequence when snow and 8 degree temperatures or lower tell you otherwise…… :o)

      Stay warm ! !

    • billytheskink Says:

      It snowed in Houston last week. That means it is either winter or the apocalypse…

      • I had to “rewind” the DVR to make sure I heard right that the snow scenes on the news were from Houston. Yikes.

        It is summer again here at least during the day with humidity under 10%.

    • It may be Fall on your calender, but those are just numbers on paper. As I look out my window this morning there is snow on the ground and ice on the lake. Aka: Winter

  2. I keep waiting to see the glorious announcement that Flinn and Buddy Lazier will be running as a 2 car team at Indy and Flinn going full time in 2019, I am serious when I say this.

  3. Brian McKay Says:

    I’m glad that you always have a topic about which to write.

  4. I am quite pleased to have new teams on the horizon. Things are looking up for 2018 in many ways for a change. I agree with you George on losing the double points. Maybe in 2019.

  5. Tom from Lake Forest Says:

    Roger Penske is 80 years old. Chip Ganassi is only 59 but given his size and the stress he must be under, it’s not hard to imagine he’s just one prime rib away from something bad. Together, these two have been responsible for a disproportionate share of entrants in recent years, not to mention a disproportionate share of sponsorship dollars. Gaining new teams to diversify ownership is therefore very important because it makes the series less dependent upon those two. Stated differently, it make the series less vulnerable to some negative event with any single individual.

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