IndyCar: the driver who is key to 2016’s line-ups

Josef Newgarden has been the sole topic of discussion during a rather muted IndyCar silly season. He is considered key to the 2016 driver market but as MotorSportNotes writes, it could be another American – Marco Andretti – that unlocks the merry-go-round.

Rumours abound that Chip Ganassi has already had discussions with Newgarden’s representatives. CFH Racing are desperate – understandably so after Newgarden’s breakout season – to hold on to the two-time winner and there are now murmurings that Honda are pushing for him to run with Andretti Autosports alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay as their all-American 2016 line-up. At face value, Newgarden is spoiled for choice and the man everyone is waiting on.

Josef Newgarden, CFH Racing
Josef Newgarden, CFH Racing

However, in the recent lawsuit filed by Andretti Sports Marketing it was alleged that Andretti Autosport is insolvent. This season the cars of Carlos Munoz, Simone de Silvestro and Justin Wilson have run sponsor-free, barring representation from other parts of the Andretti business empire. A lack of sponsors outside of DHL and Snapple and alleged financial difficulties imply the ability of Andretti to fund a for Newgarden – complete with a fat ‘big leagues’ salary – looks tentative at best. Short of Honda picking up the check or a title sponsor emerging, one of the established Andretti drivers is going to have to make way.

Indy 500 winner vs. the ‘next big thing’ circa 2006

The rides for Munoz, de Silvestro and Wilson are entirely dependent upon securing significant sponsor backing. Despite their undisputed talents, none of the trio has tempted sponsors to back them fully and sadly it does not look like that will change. Which leaves Marco who has slid from ‘next big thing’ in 2006 to consistent under-achiever, up against former IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Hunter-Reay. Blood is thick but money rules in motor sport meaning Andretti will be key to the market simply because he will determine the extent (or otherwise) of Newgarden’s options. Allied to that Marco has recently admitted to speaking with other teams in the series.

Simona de Silvestro in action for Andretti Autosports.
Simona de Silvestro in action for Andretti Autosports.

Retention of Marco at his father’s eponymous team would limit Newgarden’s options at Andretti if not entirely destroy them, barring a complete Honda subsidy or a new title sponsor. Consequently an opportunity at Ganassi – most likely shadowing Tony Kanaan in 2016 prior to his retirement – with established backers and a pedigree only Penske can match provides a more attractive option. Despite the exceptional efforts of CFH Racing this season, they are not a championship winning team. That is not to say they cannot be but for the next 3-4 seasons Ganassi and Penske are the places to be.

The next generation

A move for Marco would not only be good for him but potentially shake up the driver market when there are currently few opportunities available. With more next generation drivers knocking on the door of IndyCar – which given the recent drought of American talent aiming for open-wheel over NASCAR is something to cherish – a changing of the established order is arguably overdue. The potential for two seats at CFH Racing (if Ed Carpenter hangs up his helmet, which he should) is then created along with subsequent gaps elsewhere as and when drivers move around and/or IndyLights talent moves up.

Andretti has long needed to leave his father’s team and join a squad as their lead driver. A one-car team – something which could be viewed as a backward step – would provide a better environment and would certainly, and finally, answer the question of whether Marco is as good as his name implies.

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