Is it March yet?
Not even close. Halloween decorations are still up in the neighbor’s yard and the candy hasn’t even gone on sale yet. Even the holiday junkies haven’t put up the Christmas lights yet. So the offseason for the NTT IndyCar Series plods on, but at least some news and nuggets have dropped over the last few weeks.
Let’s take a look and have a discussion on them.
Driver changes announced
Some of the teams that had open seats in our last offseason story now have a “no vacancy” sign flashing outside their garages at 3 a.m.
From a team perspective, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing made the surprising announcement that Pietro Fittipaldi will drive the No. 30 next year. He will replace Jack Harvey who was let go after this year’s Gallagher Grand Prix. Fittipaldi, the grandson of racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, jumps back into IndyCar after two separate forays in 2018 and 2021. It will be his first full-season attempt and is coming after the Brazilian earned vast amounts of racing experience overseas. The lack of rust might get him into the groove sooner than others. Unfortunately he won’t be in the running for Rookie of the Year after running five races in 2018, surpassing the four that would have retained his status for the future.
The Fittipaldi name is good for a single seater series to have back, but more meaningful is the guarantee that the full time field will have a Brazilian on the grid. There has been an enduring connection to the Portuguese-speaking nation since the elder Fittipaldi moved his open wheel career to America in 1984. With the retirement of Helio Castroneves, perhaps the greatest Brazilian IndyCar driver, from full time competition, Fittipaldi ensures the continuation of a historic legacy.
While RLLR works to finalize one more deal which is for Graham Rahal to return, other teams made decisions on their paths forward. Just this week Ed Carpenter Racing announced its signing of Indy NXT champ Christian Rasmussen and downsizing to two cars only, removing the No. 33 entry from all ovals except the Indianapolis 500. Ed Carpenter will continue in the No. 20 car with his schedule that’s just ovals and Rasmussen will run a rookie campaign on street and road courses.
The move makes sense if the effort is to rid the work load in preparing a third car at the ovals as results were disappointing beyond the Indy 500. Even the veteran Ryan Hunter-Reay, applauded for his technical feedback and experience, wasn’t able to push the team further than they ran early in the year, notching one top 10. Perhaps the transition to a familiar two-car-setup will help realign focus and create an environment for the team to regain ground with the competition. It is disappointing that the young Dane who has won seven races in the past two years in pinnacle junior formula series for IndyCar will not get a shot at Iowa, Milwaukee or Gateway, he can at least run Indy. However, a proper Rookie of the Year campaign battling Linus Lundqvist and Tom Blomqvist will be a daunting task for Rasmussen if he is primarily running street and road courses.
As for the other driver that was up for the seat at ECR, Oliver Askew misses out on another opportunity to get a foot back in IndyCar. The American had one proper season in the series with Arrow McLaren and an unfortunate concussion limited his ability to maximize his results. A one-and-done season was the result. This is the second seat he’s been able to secure, after trying out in the No. 45 for RLLR in 2021 which eventually went to Christian Lundgaard.
Finally, Juncos Hollinger Racing is bringing back Agustin Canapino for another season. After a rookie year in which he was bested by Marcus Armstrong for Rookie of the Year on a part-time schedule, the Argentinian will no doubt be better in year two. His campaign this year had several bright spots, and a run near the front at Laguna Seca in the finale was just a blip of the possible talent on display. Returning to tracks that he’s now run with more experience will be a geat benefit to him and his JHR crew. Bring it on.
$2,000 and Change
The new exhibition $1 million prize race at the Thermal Club released pricing for tickets last week. And there was sticker shock.
At $2,000 for the base level admission, the price quickly appears a bit out of range for a wide margin of fans. However, with the race being held at a private facility with the infrastructure to host 40,000 fans not yet there, the event is being designed for a select group to attend. Does it feel like trying to go to a Super Bowl? Yes, but at the same time, if fans want to trek to California to see a race, there’s always the options at Long Beach and Laguna Seca. If the event is successful in 2024, and plenty of $2,000 tickets are sold, then the site could expand accessibility and capability for more fans, and cheaper tickets, in the future. Patience, IndyCar world, give it some time.
It’s within reason to expect 28 full-time cars on the grid in 2024. How does the series get there? Well, with all of the cars from this year returning (except for the aforementioned No. 33 car no ovals outside Indy), the series would have 27. Now add the new entry for Kyffin Simpson at Chip Ganassi Racing and that’s plus one. Not bad.
The hold up on this is the Andretti Global fourth entry that has been a stalwart of the field for years. There are reports, most recently from RACER, that there is still work to be done to get that car on the grid. But if it happens, IndyCar is looking at a very healthy field. Had ECR stuck with three cars at ovals, imagine seeing 29 machines ripping around the high banks of Iowa. That would be the most IndyCar machinery on a track outside the Indianapolis 500 since 2011.
There’s still several months left for teams to lock in their drivers, so time is on their side to make the field the biggest in over a decade or just keep it at the same, respectable size.
Hang in there, because it’s not quite March yet.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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