Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Indy NXT: Top Banana of IndyCar’s truncated Ladder system

But will this year’s Champion be able to find a ride in Indy Cars?


Think the IndyCar grid had an agonizing 42 days sabbatical between Long Beach and it’s season kickoff at St Pete, Florida on March 10th? As the Indy NXT grid had to wait a further week’s time before resuming racing at Ye Barbers’, nee Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama on April 28th!


Thanks to El Capitano’, nee Roger Penske and His Penske Entertainment buying control of North America’s premiere Feeder series from Anderson Promotions at the end of 2021. And the Knottsoe’ clever marketing brains at Penske Entertainment! What forever will be known as Indy Lights is now known as Indy NXT, Ralf!


Having scribbled my thoughts upon this stupendous rebranding here upon No Fenders, which Y’all can read below…




Otay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system Cough-cough! I’ll try giving a brief rundown on IndyCar’s “Minor League”, ergo Triple-A feeder series. Although I won’t go back to it’s very beginnings, when it was simply known as USAC’s Mini-Indy series from 1977-81.


Whilst it becomes harder every year to know I can still vividly remember how Quaint it was being in the Portland International Raceway Paddock some thirty-five plus years ago! Seeing somebody’s American Racing Series (ARS) racecar trundle past Mwah. With it’s Buick 3800 V-6 normally aspirated exposed plenum stacks sporting six bright banana yellow tennis balls in them to keep from having any foreign objects dropped into it’s motor!


As that was during the late 1980’s, since the (1986-90) ARS was the forebearer of the original 1991 Indy Lights series, known as the Firestone Dayton Lights Championship – which folded at the end of it’s 2001 season. As Lola dominated the series after March chassis won the first two seasons, all with the same Buick V-6 lump’, albeit at some point de riggour Airboxes were introduced…


Between 2002-05, the Indy Racing League’s (IRL) ran the Infiniti Pro Series, before Nissan and Menards pulled out in what became the Indy Pro Series instead for 2006-07. As All competitors raced in Dallara IP2 chassis with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) derived Nissan 3.5-litre normally aspirated Infiniti Q45 V-8 engines.


As the Split continued running it’s unwieldly course, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Champ Car World Series (CCWS) final rung became the Toyota Atlantic and lastly Champ Car Atlantic Championship circa 2002-07. Which of course is recognized as a separate racing category.


Finally, in 2008 the IRL and Champ Car merged after twelve ridiculous years of infighting! And today’s Indy NXT championship began with the resumption of the Firestone Indy Lights Championship, which remained until 2022. When Penske Entertainment butchered the championship’s Advancement prize and left that year’s champion Linus Lundqvist Hanging in the Breeze!




Now in it’s second season, NXT sports another 14-race calendar, which began at St Pete, Florida on March 10th, and concludes at Nashville’s Super Speedway on September 15th. All rounds are single events except for the Indianapolis Road Course and Laguna Seca weekends being Double Headers. While there a total of four Oval’s, i.e.; Iowa, Gateway, Milwaukee and Nashville. With all races running in conjunction with IndyCar.


All teams utilize the Dallara IL15 chassis propelled by an AER Mazda sourced 2.0-litre inline four cylinder turbocharged engine, which I believe makes 450bhp.


Being the last rung on the IndyCar ladder system, naturally the competition rachets up another notch! With there being no guarantee of graduating to IndyCar, America’s top Open Wheel Racing category.


As reigning USF Pro 2000 Champion Myles Rowe and 2022 U.S. F2000 National Championship winner Michael D’Orlando have both made the jump up to NXT as rookies. Although D’Orlando’s searching for further funding, typical of many promising drivers…


By my unscientific research, I came up with a total of 17 of the current 32 IndyCar drivers who’ve contested a race this year at St Pete and Long Beach; being over 50% of the grid.


With six former Indy Lights Champion in IndyCar from the past quarter century. With Scott Dixon being the Oldest in 2000. Followed by Josef Newgarden, (2011) Pato O’Ward, )2018) Kyle Kirkwood, (2021) Linus Lundqvist (2022) and Christian Rasmussen. (2023)


A further five Indy Lights Runner-up’s consisting of Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, David Malukas, Graham Rahal and Rinus VeeKay are currently on theIndyCar grid.


And a total of 16 of these 17 drivers, for which I’ve included Ed Carpenter and Katherine Legge, both expected to run an Ovals Only program. Have won races in Indy Lights or it’s relative Championships, i.e.; Infiniti Pro Series, Toyota Atlantic and Champ Car Atlantic. With the only Indy Lights Alumni to not win a race being IndyCar rookie Kyffin Simpson.


Meanwhile, current HMD Motorsports NXT driver and current points leader Nolan Siegel also made His official IndyCar start at Long Beach. Although Siegel made His IndyCar debut in the $1.0 Million Challenge exhibition race at the Thermal Club, and will contest a total of four races this season.


As the 19yr old Californian will contest the entire Indy NXT season in hopes of being crowned series champion. Along with attempting to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 and race at Toronto. Running only four IndyCar races in order to keep His eligibility for a Full season IndyCar campaign competing for the 2025 IndyCar Rookie Of the Year (ROY) Honours…


As Siegel’s one of the favourites to join IndyCar next year as reigning NXT Champion. But surely Andretti Global’s Louis Foster has something to say about that? As who knows who’ll be the next driver to graduate to the Big Boyz’ ranks. And better yet, as history’s shown. Will they be able to succeed and have a long and fruitful IndyCar career?


Since IndyCar’s landscape is littered with past Indy Lights Champions no longer racing in the series. Just ask 2019 Lights Champion Oliver Askew, or David Malukas…