EMBURY: 2018 Driver Change Analysis
Since the posting of my latest Ultimate Silly Season update last week, several suggested moves have turned heads.
If beliefs about other deals being inked are indeed on target, there could be as many as four new pilots joining the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet in 2018. Interestingly, however, is the chance of two of the circuit’s most dominant teams being destinations.
The addition of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport was a move that was a long time coming, for perhaps the most patient prospect in recent memory. Since the 2016 silly season, the Ohioan has been a realistic target for multiple rides, but was minus the funding and the experience desired to be able to sign on the dotted line.
While the inclusion at an organization that has won the last two Indianapolis 500s will provide a fair deal of expectations in the long term, the pressure to succeed will be a reduced rate next season. With Michael Andretti’s quartet featuring a pair of championship contenders in Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the goal for year one may be to at worst match the outputs from Marco Andretti, who has endured a difficult 2017 campaign.
Veach had two chances to gain IndyCar familiarity in 2017, and he fared well on short notice at Barber Motorsports Park, one of the series’ most demanding layouts. He also made his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt, and while he suffered a crash before qualifying, he mostly kept his nose clean on race day, when mechanical failure sidelined him at the three-quarter mark.
Spencer Pigot’s promotion to full-time service at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 was based on the potential shown, if not by the results sheet. While the 23-year old showed solid pace in several road races in 2017, he was often plagued by car trouble or being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment. Still, if the former Indy Lights champion did not get the bump up at ECR, other suitors may have snapped up the Pasadena, California resident.
The move gives the Speedway, Indiana squad its most strong driving cast for non-oval track competition since when Mike Conway was at the controls in 2014. With several potent road racing prospects on the free agent market, pairing another talented shoe with Pigot will show a desire from Ed Carpenter to improve his product in all events, rather than banking on solely the high speed runs.
With the 2017 Indy Lights championship now in the bank, expect Kyle Kaiser to use the advancement scholarship money earned to compete in at least three events, if not a full-run for Juncos Racing. The title promotes not only the number one driver, but also the best Mazda Road to Indy entrant into the IndyCar Series. Ricardo Juncos made his top tier debut at this year’s Indy 500, fielding two Chevrolet-powered entries for Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.
Kaiser was initially pointed toward taking one of the Indy rides this past May; however, Juncos elected to hold off on moving the 21-year old forward in favor of gaining further experience. The decision has returned positively as the Californian has won three times and placed in the top-three in six of 16 Indy Lights races this year.
The final newcomer is still in the yet to be confirmed at the time POPULAR SPEED went to press, however if reports are accurate, the addition of Brendon Hartley as a teammate to fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi is the ultimate boom or bust scenario. The former Formula One test driver and Porsche LMP-1 Hybrid competitor has a boat load of experience and a ton of speed, but the 27-year old does come with a “buyer beware” message. Hartley also has shown a case of over-aggressiveness during his time in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and while he may show incredible pace in IndyCar, he also could run up a substantial accident bill for Ganassi if confirmed for next season.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.