Ryan Hunter-Reay has committed to Andretti Autosport until 2020. Continuing the long-standing partnership with Michael Andretti and DHL USA, the deal shut down rumours of a possible switch to Penske. With only 1 season left on his existing contract, Hunter-Reay had been considered a strong candidate to join Penske in 2018.
Who will replace Montoya or Castroneves at Penske?
The move however leaves Penske back looking for a long-term replacement for either (or both) Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves. Within the IndyCar paddock the suggestion is Alexander Rossi is topping that list.
Josef Newgarden has long been the driver at the top of the IndyCar wanted list for some time. Despite overtures from Team Penske, Newgarden is all but a done deal to sign for Chip Ganassi for 2017 onwards. And with Hunter-Reay now committed to Andretti, Team Penske have been left seeking another long-term solution.
Fast, polite, American – Rossi is the whole package
Be of no doubt Rossi is the ideal match: polished, polite, a talented racer and perhaps most importantly, American. For all the success Penske has had with the likes of Power, Castroneves and Pagenaud, The Captain would trade it all to have taken an American driver to the title and victory lane at Indy.
Expect an announcement shortly with the potential for NAPA or Castrol to follow the Indy 500 winner to Penske. Confirmation will then create a domino effect throughout the rest of the IndyCar grid for the likes of Juan Montoya and will see multiple seats confirmed.
A spanner in the works?
The only possible derailment of a deal to take Rossi to Penske would be opportunities in F1.
Rossi was considered a candidate for Gene Haas’ eponymous F1 team. But with the team likely to stick with Romain Grosjean in 2017 and needing the Mexican funding that comes with Esteban Guttierez, Rossi is out of the picture.
Manor F1 still have ties to Rossi as the re-incarnation of the team he made his F1 debut for. But the F1 minnows have effectively become Mercedes’ junior team, fielding Pascal Wherlein and Esteban Ocon. As a result the Indy-500 winner is very unlikely to find a seat there or other midfield teams without bringing substantial financial backing.
F1’s loss is – and has proven already to be – IndyCar’s gain.