Today’s question: Seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton recently shook the motorsports world by announcing he was leaving Mercedes after this season to join Ferrari. What driver move would create similar aftershocks in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES?
Curt Cavin: I remember how “seismic” it felt a few years back when Scott Dixon’s name was linked to Arrow McLaren as control of the Indianapolis-based race team shifted from Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson to the English-based organization led by Zak Brown. I couldn’t believe that the leading race winner of my nearly 40 years covering this sport would leave Chip Ganassi Racing for another team. In some ways, it reminded me of 2003 when Sam Hornish Jr., then a two-time series champion, announced he was leaving Panther Racing for Team Penske, or when 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti left Andretti Green Racing to race in NASCAR for Chip Ganassi Racing. But Dixon leaving CGR would have been much bigger. Now that Dixon has continued with Chip Ganassi’s team, I’d be further shocked if he moved on, and I can’t see it happening. But it would be huge news if it did. For the record, things worked out well for Hornish and Franchitti. Hornish won the “500” and the season championship with Roger Penske, and Franchitti added two more “500s” and three consecutive season titles with Ganassi.
Eric Smith: My pick would be Josef Newgarden leaving Team Penske and joining Chip Ganassi Racing. Since Newgarden joined the organization in 2017, the Tennessee native has amassed 26 of his 29 career NTT INDYCAR SERIES wins, including the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge last May. To go along with that, 59 of Newgarden’s 76 top-five finishes and 87 of his 121 top-10 results have come under the Team Penske banner. Most importantly, Newgarden is a two-time INDYCAR SERIES champion in this span. That’s why for me, Newgarden taking that type of career and joining Team Penske’s main challenger for the Astor Challenge Cup each season would be a massive story. Penske and Ganassi have won every INDYCAR SERIES championship since 2013, including Ganassi winning three of the last four.
Paul Kelly: Alex Palou to Arrow McLaren? Oh, wait … Seriously, when pondering this question, my mind drifted to Colton Herta and Graham Rahal leaving Andretti Global and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, respectively, for any other team. Herta has been affiliated with Andretti Global – either directly or through technical partnerships with other teams – since his INDY NXT by Firestone debut in 2017. He’s under a lucrative contract with Andretti Global as the de facto NTT INDYCAR SERIES team leader. His father works on Andretti’s pit stand as a strategist. I just can’t see Colton leaving for any other pasture for a long time. Unlike Herta, Rahal has driven for other teams besides his father’s during his career, including Newman/Haas/Lanigan, Vision, Sarah Fisher, Dreyer & Reinbold and Ganassi. But Graham has driven for RLL since 2013, and I think he’ll stay there until he hangs up his helmet and gloves. He still is competitive behind the wheel, and his growing business empire and leadership acumen appear to make him the ideal candidate to succeed his father, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, as the team boss.