Today’s question: Which driver’s decision about his team next season will play the biggest role in starting the Silly Season moves for 2024 in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES?
Curt Cavin: I think it begins with series leader Alex Palou, although I suspect other drivers and teams impacted by his decision – put Marcus Ericsson at the top of the driver list – know his plans. Why? One, I think considerable information is shared within the top corners of the paddock, and in this case Palou and Ericsson are teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing. If Palou is staying with CGR, then potentially the team has less budget to put toward Ericsson. If Palou is leaving for another team, that creates an important seat for CGR to fill, perhaps with David Malukas, Callum Ilott, someone from the European ranks or maybe even Felix Rosenqvist. Honestly, I don’t think Palou’s path will be known publicly for a while, and Ericsson needs to – and likely has – made his own decision in pursuit of a full hired gig. I won’t be surprised if we know Ericsson’s intentions as early as next week, but again, Palou is the big puzzle piece to decipher.
Joey Barnes: While I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with Curt’s assessment, I’ll go a different route because I don’t think that is the only pivotal play in this year’s edition of musical chairs. I’m looking at the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport and what happens with Romain Grosjean as a crucial domino effect to the rest of the driver’s market, for many reasons. Should Andretti Autosport not move forward with the Swiss-born Frenchman, that seat could be filled by anyone from a well-established Marcus Ericsson to a young speedster in the team’s INDY NXT by Firestone program like a Hunter McElrea or Louis Foster, and anyone in between. They could even extend outside of the paddock and into the program’s Formula E team with someone like Jake Dennis. Andretti Autosport is the one team that I believe could be in play for a radical shakeup just to try something different with hopes of recapturing the form that vaulted them into the vaunted “Big Three” status alongside Penske and Ganassi. A move away from Grosjean could give a current young driver such as David Malukas a shot with a bigger outfit (similar to how Kyle Kirkwood developed at AJ Foyt Racing as a rookie last year before joining Andretti Autosport this season), or the team could go a different direction. And to that end, if Grosjean leaves for another team, does renowned race engineer Olivier Boisson follow him in a similar move when the pair joined the team from Dale Coyne Racing? That could have ramifications on the team’s back end. Equally, if Grosjean stays with Andretti Autosport, continuity can build for a program that has lost veterans such as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay in recent years. Simply put, whatever is decided with that seat could shape Andretti Autosport’s future and shift the balance of power in North America’s premier open-wheel championship.
Paul Kelly: Marcus Ericsson’s decision about his destination for 2024 will be the domino that tips what could be a whirlwind of Silly Season moves leading into the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Ericsson has been increasingly public about his desire to be paid a salary commensurate with that of an Indianapolis 500 winner and a championship contender – both of which he is. It’s uncertain whether his existing team, Chip Ganassi Racing, will meet those demands or whether Ericsson becomes a free agent. There’s also plenty of talk around the paddock that Aug. 1 is a crucial date in the Ericsson saga because after then he contractually can begin to work deals with other suitors. I imagine that list is pretty long, and many signs and chatter indicate Andretti Autosport may be the most aggressive of teams pursuing the speedy Swede. I don’t think the Ericsson decision will linger too deep into August, and once his 2024 destination is sealed, you could see a late-unfolding, wild Silly Season explode that involves new faces at every team on the grid except for Team Penske.