2018 IndyCar Driver Lineup Continues to Shuffle Through Silly Season

The Verizon IndyCar Series has been just as hectic off the track since the season ended as it was on it. With an offseason filled with key moves and changes, the makeup of the 2018 driver lineup brings a new dynamic to IndyCar’s marquee series.

After a flurry of activity from drivers and teams, here are a few of the big moves and remaining questions from this year’s silly season.

Key Extensions

No longer the lone Canadian, James Hinchcliffe returns to the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for 2018. The first piece of the SPM puzzle for upcoming years, the Oakville native was rumored for rides at Chip Ganassi and Andretti Autosport before confirming the extension. Hinchcliffe scored a victory at Long Beach in 2017, his first IndyCar victory since an injury-shortened 2015 season.

Subject of several rumors around multiple racing series, 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi will return to Andretti Autosport in 2018. The extension included the commitment of NAPA as a sponsor and Honda as engine manufacturer for the team. Rossi had a strong finish to 2017, scoring a win and two further podiums in the final six races. He will look to carry that momentum into 2018.

A prime product of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Spencer Pigot returns to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 with a full-time ride. Having previously only competed on road and street courses with the team, Pigot had to look to Juncos Racing to compete on ovals such as in Indianapolis. Making his first complete season in 2018, Pigot will have the opportunity to show what he’s really made of.

Key Additions

Perhaps the biggest splash made in the silly season has been 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year Ed Jones to Chip Ganassi Racing. Having impressed at Dale Coyne Racing with a podium finish in the Indianapolis 500, the 2016 Indy Lights champion will take over the seat vacated by Tony Kanaan. The 22 year old will race alongside four-time series champion Scott Dixon, likely the greatest driver on the grid to be mentored by.

Guelph, Ontario native Robert Wickens will make the move from DTM to IndyCar in 2018 to make an all-Canadian lineup at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. A childhood friend of new teammate Hinchcliffe, Wickens has yet to find a racing series he couldn’t conquer. He sets his sights on the Verizon IndyCar Series to continue that trend.
2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato has made a surprising move to Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing for 2018. A successful season with Andretti Autosport wasn’t enough to keep the well-traveled 40 year old from returning to RLL.

Sato’s signing left the No. 26 seat open for Zach Veach to enter the series full-time. The 20 year old has seen two starts in the series. Despite his youth, he enters the series with five years of experience with Andretti Autosport through the Mazda Road to Indy.

AJ Foyt Racing is undergoing a major overhaul for 2018, starting with placing 42 year old Indianapolis 500 and series champion Tony Kanaan in the No. 14 car. Coming off a four-year stint with Chip Ganassi Racing, Kanaan has consistently found a spot on the podium each of those seasons. This pairing hopes to bring some stability to a struggling Foyt team.

Key Free Agents

The shrinking of Chip Ganassi Racing to two cars has left both Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton on the outside looking in. This, coupled with Team Penske and Helio Castroneves’ move to IMSA shrinking the team by one ride, leaves the two drivers with limited options for a top team. Both drivers bring sponsorship and experience, maybe benefitting teams such as Dale Coyne Racing and AJ Foyt Racing that still have empty seats.

A disappointing 2017 saw AJ Foyt hit the reset button for next year, dropping both Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz. This is not a position either driver is unfamiliar with, and with their experience in IndyCar it is hard to imagine they could be left on the outside looking in for 2018.

J.R. Hildebrand no longer has claim to the full-time Ed Carpenter ride if the titular owner continues to ride ovals. With Pigot claiming the full-time ECR seat in 2018, it’s hard to make of what is next for Hildebrand. While his performance speaks for itself, scoring two podiums in 2017, Hildebrand could be on the outside looking in next season.

Zachary Claman DeMelo has been impressive in Indy Lights and made his first stab at the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017’s season closer at Sonoma. The Montreal native’s one-race ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showed his potential in the top series. Rest assured the young Canadian will be seeking out more chances to gain experience in 2018.

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