The IndyCar offseason continues to roll along with a flurry of headlines to cover over the past week.
On Monday, December 18 it was announced that Andretti Autosport would reunite with driver Carlos Munoz for a sixth team entry at the Indianapolis 500. Additionally, it has been reported that Ed Carpenter Racing is in discussions with multiple drivers possessing partial funding, but no strong candidates just yet.
With those developments and more action across the IndyCar landscape, let’s dive into what unfolded this week with our latest IndyCar Round-Up.
King, Gutierrez Stake Claim for ECR Road and Street Course Seat
One of the few major rides left without an announced driver is the road and street course program for the No. 20 car fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.
With last year’s road and street circuit driver Spencer Pigot replacing J.R. Hildebrand as full-time driver in the team’s No. 21 car, it has created a vacancy when Carpenter himself is not driving the No. 20 in oval events. This week, two drivers disclosed that they have had talks with the team regarding the open spot.
Esteban Gutierrez, who had been linked to the seat by ESPN Indianapolis 1070’s Tony Donohue on December 15, told Racer Magazine that he had been contacting people while declining to name a team.
“I’m working on coming back, and things are looking positive,” said Gutierrez, who replaced Sebastian Bourdais at Dale Coyne Racing for seven races during the summer. “I have been contacting many people and I think it’s important to settle down and learn about the opportunities that have come up – good opportunities.
“I’m excited to work on what I have in front, and keep working on making a reality of things without giving up any expectations.”
The 26-year-old ex-Formula 1 driver had a best finish of 13th at Iowa last season. Although the Ed Carpenter Racing ride would not include any ovals for the time being, Gutierrez would position himself for an extended stay in the series, as some of the others who have driven the No. 20 on road and street courses have done.
Thursday, it was reported that another driver was considering a move to IndyCar and the Carpenter ride. GP2 winner and Formula One development driver Jordan King told Racer Magazine’s Marshall Pruett he has also had discussions concerning an IndyCar ride.
“I’m looking into IndyCar and have spoken with a couple of teams regarding a drive, but there are no details to confirm yet” King noted. “I’ve been trying to put something together and make something that works, but it’s proving trickier than expected.”
King added that the number of drivers competing for so few rides makes it tough, although rides with Carpenter and Coyne remain, he would be open to going with a newer team.
“I’m open, and wouldn’t be saying no to a situation like that with new entities but I’m also not limiting myself to the challenge,” King replied.
King and Gutierrez look to add their names to an expansive list of drivers with European racing backgrounds to make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series. The last two months of the IndyCar offseason will be interesting with two respectable rides up for grabs.
Munoz Announced for Sixth Andretti Indianapolis 500 Entry
Announced December 18 on the team’s official Twitter account, Andretti Autosport has confirmed a sixth entry for May 2018’s Indianapolis 500 by hiring former driver Carlos Muñoz.
Muñoz, who turns 26 on January 2, raced full-time for Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. Certainly excited to be back with Andretti after a sub-par season in 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing, the Colombian driver finds himself in an ideal position reuniting with his former team at his career-best track.
“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year.”
Recognizing the opportunity to secure a prime one-off talent, Andretti Autosport team owner Michael Andretti jumped at the chance to re-align with the young Muñoz. “We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” Michael said.
“There is no denying that Carlos has talent at (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway); he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”
Starting with the Indianapolis 500, Munoz hopes to build on his appearance with Andretti Autosport by adding additional races following the Month of May. He says that right now the focus is on the ‘500, but following Indy the group will “start working to try to do other races.”
“I want to keep my focus in IndyCar,” Munoz says. “I’m still young, 25 years old … I have some work to do, like win the ‘500, to win more races, to be fighting, for sure. Right now my main focus is IndyCar, so we’ll see what happens next year.”
Juncos Pursuing Third Indy Lights Team
In the few years since arriving in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series, Juncos Racing has become one of the most ambitious teams in the paddock. Team owner Ricardo Juncos has led efforts the past three seasons as a full-time team in the Indy Lights, and last year the team made their IndyCar debut with Spencer Pigot and Sebastien Saavedra at the 101st Indianapolis 500.
This year, Juncos Racing has expanded those efforts. The team boosted its IndyCar slate to at least four races in 2018 with Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser bringing scholarship money as a result of his 2017 triumph.
As part of their expanded 2018 plans, Juncos announced on December 21 they are looking to bolster their Indy Lights efforts by adding a third team.
“After three successful years in the Indy Lights championship, I am ready to field three full-time cars,” Ricardo Juncos told Racer Magazine. “I am looking for drivers who we can develop over a period of time and prepare them for the next step into the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
Juncos also noted how Kaiser’s time in Indy Lights has allowed him to grow and mature, something he wants accomplish with other drivers.
Kaiser lauded Juncos’ efforts in helping him reach the pinnacle of the MRTI ladder.
“My success in the Mazda Road to Indy was directly correlated with Juncos’ work ethic, passion for motorsports and their desire to win” Kaiser noted.
“Every time I got behind the wheel of the car, I had no doubt that every person on the team gave their best effort. My only focus was on performing at my best because they provided me with all the tools to get the most out of myself.”
In speaking with Open-Wheels back in November, Kaiser echoed these sentiments by mentioning the importance of developing with Juncos through the years. “To be able to stay with the same team for five years says a lot about the program they have put together and I’m looking forward to continuing to build upon it.”
After becoming the first time to win the Indy Lights and Pro Mazda titles, Juncos will have Pro Mazda winner Victor Franzoni join Nicolas Dapero for the Indy Lights Season. With a third car now in the works for Indy Lights and Kaiser stepping up to IndyCar, Juncos will have a great deal on its plate for 2018, but will be as up to the challenge as ever.
IndyCar to Test Driver Protection Screen in February
At the first open test of the season, teams will gather at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona on February 9th and 10th in preparation for the 2018 championship. Adding to the excitement, IndyCar announced on December 21 that they plan to outfit a single car with the latest prototype of a windshield driver protection system.
According to IndyCar president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, the sanctioning body has been testing the device in various capacities over the past few months and they feel comfortable enough to give it a run in an actual racing environment.
“There’s been a lot of simulation, wind tunnel work, modelling, a lot of everything, but we’re yet to actually get it on a car,” Frye said. “We’ve had it on a car statically but we haven’t tested it on a car at speed or at a racetrack so we’re working diligently to get it on one car to run at the open test.”
In later comments Frye made to Autosport.com, he noted that the reduced engine cover behind the driver’s head for the 2018 universal aero kit actually makes it easier to plan the windshield’s application points and how it will affect the car aerodynamically.
“One of the things (that helps) is moving the air intake from the top to the bottom,” Frye explained. “That doesn’t affect (the car) anymore, so that helps. We’re excited about where we are at and we look forward to getting a car at the track.”
Detailed by Dallara’s head of research and development, Andrea Toso, the protective device will bear resemblance to an F-16 fighter jet’s cockpit design.
“First, the car has no halo,” said Toso. “I think IndyCar will do some destructive testing, and they will modify one of the existing monocoques with a structural frame to keep the screen in place.”
It will be interesting to follow this development when teams head to the desert in early February.
Urrutia Continues to Report Negotiations for IndyCar Program
Mazda Road to Indy developmental driver, Santiago Urrutia, is reportedly still seeking an IndyCar ride for 2018. In speaking to the Uruguayan media, Urrutia mentioned that he is still in conversations with one unnamed team for an IndyCar program next season. This is after he reported in August that he was the centerpoint of negotiations with three winning IndyCar teams.
“The main objective for next year, obviously, is to keep running in the United States,” said Urrutia. “There is a great chance to be able to reach the top category, IndyCar, for which we have been working all year and last year as a runner up in Indy Lights.”
“Everything would be defined in January. There you will know if I’m going to IndyCar or not. There are no longer three teams in negotiation, but only one. That team is negotiating a sponsor that more or less would be the one that gives me the OK to be able to compete in IndyCar.”
Urrutia additionally mentioned that in the event a full-time IndyCar program falls through, there is still the possibility that he returns to Indy Lights for 2018 and makes a one-off appearance at next year’s Indianapolis 500.
“Those are the next steps to follow. Wait until January to see what that long-awaited call from the United States says, when they say, ‘Santi you are in IndyCar,’ or ‘Santi you have to repeat Indy Lights.'” Open-Wheels will continue to monitor the developments.
Images courtesy of IndyCar and The Checkered Flag.