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100 days out from Indy 500, questions abound to get to 33 cars

Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 23: A general view of the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 23, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Today marks 100 days until the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

In those 100 days, there’s going to be a heck of a lot of questions and documenting exactly how the field will get to 33 cars this year.

It will, as it always has, but for the first time since the North American open-wheel merger in 2008 there seems to be fewer confirmed cars for this time of year.

Here’s what we know will be happening from what we’ve gathered and what’s already been announced:

You can count 21 expected full-season cars:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (4): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton
  • Team Penske (4): Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud
  • Andretti Autosport (4): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, TBA
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2): James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2): Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth
  • Dale Coyne Racing (2): Conor Daly, TBA
  • KVSH Racing (1): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1): Graham Rahal
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1): Josef Newgarden

Then we factor in the cars that have already been announced as extras for either the month of May only or selected races:

  • Dale Coyne Racing (1): Bryan Clauson
  • PIRTEK Team Murray (KVRT technical alliance) (1): Matthew Brabham
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1): Spencer Pigot
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1): Ed Carpenter
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): Sage Karam
  • Grace Autosport (1): Katherine Legge

Grace, as we noted last week in an interview with team principal Beth Paretta, is at an important stage in its race to make the field - it will need a team technical partnership and an engine partner to be determined probably by early next month.

From the aforementioned 27 cars, the six extras joining the 21 full-season, here’s the projected engine breakdown:

  • Honda (13): Andretti 4, Coyne 3, SPM 2, Foyt 2, RLL 2
  • Chevrolet (13): Ganassi 4, Penske 4, Carpenter 2, KVSH 1, PIRTEK 1, DRR 1
  • TBD (1): Grace

The engine numbers are vitally important here. If Honda and Chevrolet can provide up to a total of 17 engine leases apiece - Honda’s Steve Eriksen has already told MotorSportsTalk that’s it’s likely target - that means there’s only four remaining engine leases per manufacturer still available.

For it being only February 19, Honda’s four “extras” as you were beyond the 13 that we know are confirmed could already be accounted for.

In recent years, Andretti, Schmidt Peterson and Foyt have each run an extra car at the Indianapolis 500. Even with Thursday’s news that Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport have partnered, Andretti still has the capabilities to add a fifth car.

It’s a de facto net loss of one potential extra car between the two of them. Andretti accounted for five cars in 2015 (Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Munoz, Simona de Silvestro and the late Justin Wilson) and Herta one (Gabby Chaves).

Then, if you factor in a potential fourth Coyne entry for Pippa Mann, as was not-quite-confirmed-but-strongly-suggested in December, that coupled with the same three teams adding one car each would take Honda up to 17, and its potential limit.

The Chevrolet teams tend to keep their cards closer to their vest. Ganassi has added an extra car each of the last three years, for Ryan Briscoe (2013), Karam (2014, DRR with Ganassi technical support) and Sebastian Saavedra (2015). Carpenter, KV and DRR could have the potential to add extras as well. But whether Ganassi goes to five and/or Carpenter and KV goes to three this year remains to be seen. Buddy Lazier’s family-run team has been present at each of the last three Indianapolis 500s, but failed to qualify last year.

Assuming Grace Autosport secures its lease and a team partnership, that removes one extra spot at either manufacturer and limits the number to three remaining leases, again if 17 is what we’re going for to make 34 cars and thus one over the limit of 33.

Then you get to the drivers who could be in the frame for seats, again, based on past history.

  • 2015 Indianapolis 500 drivers not currently announced (13): JR Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, Townsend Bell, Gabby Chaves, Alex Tagliani, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro, Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra, Stefano Coletti, James Davison, Tristan Vautier, Oriol Servia
  • Young guns of note seeking to make their way in (3-plus): Stefan Wilson, Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, others TBD
  • Other veterans who’d be keen to race: TBD, but they’re out there

Bell, Mann and Saavedra have generally, consistently assembled programs to make their Indianapolis 500 dreams come true.

Of the others in that 2015 range, Tagliani or Servia are solid veterans who can help a team, Chaves is a rising talent now left sidelined, Vautier impressed in limited running last year at the Speedway and Hildebrand could well be in the frame too.

Where they fit is the question, and where the other cars come from for the race is also a question.

It’s going to likely be an interesting next 30 days, as the countdown to the 100th hits 100 today.

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