With only a few possibilities left on the table, expect a lot of the final pieces of the field puzzle for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, presented by PennGrade Motor Oil to be set in stone by the end of this month. With three races on the slate in the month of April (Phoenix, Long Beach, Alabama), the focus for the full time teams will be to retain momentum in terms of the chase for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship, rather than on the month of May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Grand Prix of Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, represents the one-quarter mark of the 16-race slate in 2016 and championship scenarios can be made or broken at this early point, despite the fact there are two double points races further on down the road.
So with those concerns out there, the contenders for Indy should be officially separated from the pretenders earlier than normal this time around, which just a few months ago appeared to be an unlikely siutaion with only a 21-car full time fleet expected at most events this season. So with almost a full grid already on the serving plate, let’s see how things stand.
Keep in mind first off, one major influence on the entry list for the Indy 500 since 2012 has been influenced by the number of available engine leases being offered by Chevrolet and Honda. With the manufacturers showing a reluctance to support a giant number of cars, the entry list sizes have been affected. Over the past three months of May at the Brickyard, neither Chevrolet or Honda have supported more than 17 cars, or one entry over half of the 33-car field. Although rumors swirled that both would extend those numbers due to the significance of the 100th running of the event, nothing recently has been pointed towards that becoming a reality. So with already 31 to 32 entries pretty much sewn up, several promising drivers who have been a part of the Indy 500 regularly over the years could get left out. Below is what appears to be guaranteed as of now.
Team Penske: Four cars for each of their full-time drivers; Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud.
Chip Ganassi Racing: Same deal four-car team; Dixon, Kanaan, Kimball, and Chilton. CGR entered a fifth car last year at the Indy 500, but says they do not plan on doing so this year.
Ed Carpenter Racing: Three-car lineup for Indy, despite loss of funding from Wink Hartman. Carpenter, Newgarden, and Hildebrand all return for 2016.
KVSH Racing: For now this a two-car operation with full time driver Sebastien Bourdais and Pirtek Team Murray’s Matthew Brabham. This has also been tipped as a possible destination for Grace Autosport and driver Katherine Legge, as the team reportedly would prefer running a Chevrolet engine/aero kit package for Indy.
Dreyer-Reinbold-Kingdom Racing: Single Chevrolet entry for Sage Karam in 2016.
Lazier Partners Racing: Single Chevrolet entry for 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier.
Andretti Autosport: Team is expected to run as many as five cars again 2016. Four entries are confirmed: Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Alexander Rossi. There are several potential drivers in play for the final seat, including former Herta Autosport full-time driver Gabby Chaves, and Andretti’s current driver in Formula E competition, Indy 500 veteran Simona de Silvestro.
AJ Foyt Racing: Three cars now confirmed with all three of its drivers from 2015 returning: Alex Tagliani, Takuma Sato, and Jack Hawksworth.
Dale Coyne Racing: A full plate for the Chicago-based team will see four cars entered. Full time runners Luca Filippi and Conor Daly take two of them, while Indy-only efforts are set for both Pippa Mann and Jonathan Byrd’s Racing pilot Bryan Clauson.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Once again the Rahal camp will enter two cars for the Indianapolis 500, one for full timer Graham Rahal and a second for Mazda Road to Indy graduate Spencer Pigot.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: A three-car entry is the expectation here for the third straight year. Full time entrants Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe are set, the question now is who will join them. Indy 500 veterans Townsend Bell and Gabby Chaves have been mentioned as has NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner Brian Vickers. Although a Honda runner, Grace Autosport has also been pointed toward Schmidt as its partnering team as well.
Carlin Motorsport: The British-based squad who has multiple cars in the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Series in 2016 has indicated interest in making its first foray in the IndyCar Series at the 100th Indy 500. If it happens, it could represent an opportunity for an Indy Lights veteran to get the seat, with Jack Harvey and Ed Jones two possible targets.
Stefan Wilson: As reported by OnPitRoad.com earlier this week, the younger brother of the late Justin Wilson has secured backing from SolarAid and appears set to be track side in May. The only question now is who he will be driving for.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for further details on this developing story.