In the background, bubbling away under the surface, a silly season for IndyCar’s 'worst' seat has been rumbling on.
It’s between 2023’s two lowest full-time championship finishers, Sting Ray Robb and AJ Foyt’s Benjamin Pedersen, for what is effectively Pedersen’s Foyt seat. Fasten in because it’s a bumpy ride also involving Santino Ferrucci.
Robb and Pedersen finished 118 and 85 points behind their team-mates respectively last season, with Pedersen at the bottom of the full-timers in the championship pile, although Robb has decided he wants to join that team from Dale Coyne and was announced at Foyt on Friday.
He brings one of IndyCar’s biggest budgets, valued at $8.5million by Racer, to the table, and the announcement that he would take over the Indianapolis-run AJ Foyt car - it runs the second car from Texas - raised eyebrows as that’s usually Pedersen’s car.
Asked about that and whether Pedersen would be back next year, team boss Larry Foyt replied “not sure about that, we’re sorting all that out”.
It encouraged Pedersen to take to social media with a statement confirming he would be Robb’s team-mate next year.
Foyt only desires two full-time cars, and Santino Ferrucci is wanted back in the Texas-run car, so now at least publicly it has two drivers for one car, both bringing very significant budgets.
The questions over Pedersen's future have existed for some time.
He signed what was announced as a multi-year deal starting in 2023 but, behind the scenes, Foyt is believed to be keen to move on from its rookie, who finished fourth and fifth in two seasons of Indy Lights before arriving here.
The deal in place between the two involves significant budget from Pedersen, but also has stipulations which are understood not to be favourable to Foyt in the long-term.
A number of car-damaging incidents - not all Pedersen’s fault, admittedly - and performances not good enough to earn Foyt one of the near-$1m spots in the Leaders Circle for full-time entrants have caused Foyt to look at how to move forward.
If it's a good Leaders Circle performance it wants, signing Robb - who was further behind his Coyne team-mate David Malukas than Pedersen was Ferrucci and still didn't make the LeadersCircle himself - perhaps it isn’t the best move. But it is most likely a more lucrative deal.
Behind the scenes there’s a bigger picture going on, too.
To call this IndyCar’s worst seat is accurate in terms of the full-time cars who competed in IndyCar last year, but it’s not true in terms of the potential Foyt has.
In the space of a couple of months, experienced engineer Mike Cannon came to the team last off-season from Chip Ganassi Racing and helped turn the team from an Indianapolis 500 backmarker to victory threat with Ferrucci, and Pedersen qualified brilliantly, even if he fell back in the race.
Ferrucci finished third, giving Foyt its best finish for 23 years at the Indy 500.
Many, including The Race, are very interested to see, with a year under his belt and focus placed on the rest of the calendar, how far Cannon can boost Foyt’s fortunes.
Then there’s the small matter of a partnership with Penske, which is more aimed at the development of young talent in and out of the car, but adds an immediate gravitas to this often underperforming team struggling to live up to the burden of the name of the team owner, IndyCar’s most successful champion.
It’s a fascinating story that may need outside intervention if Pedersen and Foyt can’t come to an agreement. Pedersen's statement makes it look like he's not keen to end this relationship yet. Your move, Foyt...
There’s only one seat at Foyt and two at Coyne remaining on the 2024 grid, so you can understand the urgency here.
Neither driver deserves to be in IndyCar on merit but, even with the cash to compete, Pedersen may end up missing out or driving for a team that hasn't made it look like it wants him very much.
As nice as both drivers appear to be, Foyt should be using Cannon’s arrival and the Penske link to aim for a higher-calibre driver than either, even if their bill-paying money is attractive.
If it keeps the doors open, fair enough. But it would be a shame to squander the momentum this team is building.