The Verizon IndyCar Series grid looks set for a significant expansion for the 2018 season. Multiple teams look to either bolster their current level of participation or join the series for a first time next year. No less than six teams, current and new, have expressed an interest in joining the field as the series switches to a uniform aero kit. Here’s an overview of who might grace the IndyCar grid in the coming seasons.
Juncos Racing: Team owner, Ricardo Juncos, purchased the assets of the now-defunct KV Racing team ahead of the 2017 season. Juncos’ methodical approach towards his Mazda Road to Indy entries carried over into his IndyCar entry. Juncos ran two cars at Indianapolis and may enter additional entries later on in the year but looks at 2017 as a building year before a full season campaign in 2018. It is uncertain whether his Indy 500 drivers, Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot, might play a role in the team’s 2018 roster.
Harding Racing: If not for McLaren’s adventure to Indianapolis, the new effort of Harding Racing would likely have taken the title for most unexpected entry coming into the month of May. The team, seemingly out of nowhere, announced its intention to run Gabby Chaves at Indianapolis and all super speedway events like this weekend’s RainGuard 600 and the race at Pocono. The team, not wanting to purchase road course aero bits for a single season, chose to sit out every event not running the super speedway aero kits. The team has confirmed its intention to field an entry for the entirety of 2018, however. Chaves looks to remain on as the team’s full time driver next year.
Carlin Racing: Unless all of Trevor Carlin’s talk falls through, the feeder series powerhouse team looks set to join the premier ranks of IndyCar in 2018. Carlin mulled the purchase of the KV Racing assets as a means to enter this year’s grid but ultimately declined; opting to continue building his infrastructure for next year’s proper effort. Fellow Indy Lights competitor, Ricardo Juncos, instead purchased the assets with an eye for a minimal 2017 effort as outlined previously. Carlin’s connection with Grahame Chilton—the father of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton—means Chilton could be a shoo-in for one of Carlin’s seats. Should Chilton move to Carlin, it is thought unlikely Ganassi would retain a fourth car.
Michael Shank Racing: MSR’s joint effort with Andretti Autosport to run Jack Harvey at Indianapolis stirred the Ohio native. Shank, one of the first to purchase a DW-12 (now IR-12) chassis upon its release, looked set to enter the series previously in 2012. Due to strains on both OEMs, Shank proved unable to secure an engine lease and sold off his newly acquired IndyCar assets. Shank appears to have shaken off any possible residual bitters between him and the series and expressed an interest in becoming a staple of the IndyCar field in the near future. MSR’s factory-backed Acura NSX program in IMSA leads one to believe he would likely find himself running a Honda power plant. Shank’s resources give him an element of fluidity. His structuring and commitment to perfection could see him enter on his own merit. But his connections with multiple already-established teams could lead to something of a Bryan Herta Autosport/Andretti Autosport situation, operating as a satellite outfit.
RLL Racing: Speaking of Ohio natives and satellite teams, RLL Racing’s recent successes means the team looks set to expand in 2018. The team already runs two entries at select venues with Oriol Servia at the helm. Team owner, Bobby Rahal, indicated to Racer Magazine earlier this week the outfit is nearing completion on a deal for a second, full-time entry in 2018. Between the team’s desire to expand, its Honda affiliation, and its Ohio location, RLL might prove a likely pairing for Michael Shank Racing should MSR take a satellite affiliation approach to a 2018 entry.
McLaren: Team CEO, Zak Brown, indicated during the team’s foray into IndyCar that he envisioned a full-time return to the series for the F1 team. Those suggestions turned more serious this week as Autoweek revealed that IndyCar CEO, Mark Miles, believes McLaren might look at a full-time entry as early as next year. McLaren, at the end of its rope with its Honda gremlins in its F1 program, might use IndyCar as a means to salvage the Honda relationship and appease star-driver and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, Fernando Alonso. One option the legendary team could explore is using 2018 as a year of reimagining what its brand might look like. The team could begin to restructure its F1 program while operating an IndyCar team to satiate Alonso’s need for competition and wins. At the same time, the team could incorporate Alonso in any development work while keeping him off the F1 grid before a hopeful competitive return in 2019. In the meantime, Alonso would stay fit and skills honed while competing in IndyCar. However, a piece on Motorsport.com clarified the positionof McLaren CEO, Zak Brown. Brown told reporters gathered for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix that McLaren intends to compete at next year’s Indy 500. But a full time IndyCar effort, Brown said, must be decided upon now. Brown said no such discussions or decisions have taken place and thus leaving their full-time return potentially delayed.
During the Detroit Grand Prix double-header weekend, Alexander Rossi—the 2016 Indy 500 winner—called for more teams and more seats within IndyCar. Based on early indications of an expanding grid for 2018, Rossi may see his wish come to fruition. The teams mulling entry will likely offset the scaling back of other teams as they arise. Collectively, however, the grid could expand by as much as a half dozen full time entries. A more likely number, given financial constraints of some teams and engine availability issues, closes in on a three or four additional Dallaras on the 2018 grid. Just who might occupy them remains a question mark.