Conor Daly’s announcement Friday that he was returning to Ed Carpenter Racing in a part time role answered one of the few questions left about the 2021 lineup for the NTT Indycar Series. By my count, there are five spots unconfirmed plus the oval portion of Carlin Racing’s number 59.
Three of the spots belong to Andretti Autosport- the 28, 88, and 98. All three are expected to be confirmed after the first of the year. Ryan Hunter-Reay is expected to be in the 28. I have heard that DHL, his long time sponso, is looking to fine tune the contract a bit. I suspect James Hinchcliffe will drive the 88, replacing Colton Herta, who moved to the 26. The number may change, possibly to 29. Marco Andretti should stay with the 98, though there is no word on sponsorship for that car.
The two biggest question marks are the Dale Coyne cars. Both seats are open, with Alex Palou joining Chip Ganassi racing and Santino Ferrucci rumored to be driving 20 races in the NASCAR Xfinity series. Talk of a former Formula 1 driver taking one of the seats has cooled, although the one that is most likely to drive for Coyne is Pietro Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi drove part time for Coyne in 2018. Sergio Perez joined Reds Bull to stay in Formula 1. I’m not sure Romain Grosjean is as as enthusiastic about Indycar after his fiery crash in Bahrain.
Charlie Kimball is a strong possibility for the second Coyne seat. He brings some budget and would be a good fit for Coyne. His budget is probably not enough to run a second car for Carlin, which is looking to fill the oval portion of the schedule.
Daly may do what he did last year, which is run the ovals for Carlin, assuming Max Chilton returns for the road/street courses and the 500 There are only three oval races outside of the 500 in 2021.
The full time grid count stands at 19 confirmed. If the five open seats are filled, there would be 24 cars at all the races. meyer Shank will have Helio Castroneves in a second car in six races, including Indianapolis. Dreyer and Reinbold will enter an undetermined number of races. Some races could have at least 26 cars. The more the merrier, up to a point.