Home Featured How Indy Nxt’s title contenders feel ahead of the oval leg of the season

How Indy Nxt’s title contenders feel ahead of the oval leg of the season

by Ida Wood

Photo: Travis Hinkle

There could be a switch-up of Indy Nxt’s competitive order this weekend onwards as the championship begins a run of oval races that will fill the next two months and determine who takes the title

Mathematically speaking the 2024 Indy Nxt title race is still wide open, but realistically there are only three contenders going forward, and some may say only two. There have been five different winners in the first nine races, but one of those (McLaren’s new IndyCar signing Nolan Siegel) is no longer on the grid and it looks unlikely that Andretti Global’s Jamie Chadwick will be taking away points from the championship’s top three going forward since her Road America win has been accompanied by only one other top-five finish so far.

Siegel started the season with a win and two second places, but has the third best qualifying average and fourth best average finishing position in the field. But he had already slipped down to third in the standings before leaving HMD Motorsports’ line-up, and is currently 12th in the points table.

Andretti Cape’s Michael d’Orlando is another whose potential has only been shown part-time, and he has the fifth best qualifying average. He dropped off the grid at the same time as Siegel, and is currently 17th in the standings having only picked up one top-five finish.

Siegel’s replacement is Christian Brooks, who in three races has already proven he can handle the step up to IndyCar’s primary feeder series. He already has the fifth best average finishing position, having been in the top eight in all three of his starts and most impressively finishing fifth at Mid-Ohio last weekend.

HMD’s Caio Collet was the winner there, his first triumph helping his title chances although he is still 71 points off the top. He credited instant adaptation to his success, while Andretti Global’s points leader Louis Foster rued the opposite as he finished second on the repaved track.

Photo: Paul Hurley

“The resurface, candidly, we didn’t figure it out as a team. We struggled a lot this weekend,” he told media including Formula Scout post-race. “We turned up in FP1 with a car that I was definitely not happy with at all. But worked really hard with the guys and we worked into a spot where we could challenge for the podium.

“To be honest with you, second place today feels like a win. We worked really, really hard to be up here. Caio and HMD did an amazing job this weekend, I think it [would’ve] been really, really tough to beat them. Pretty much just too much tyre degradation. We were good at the start, and then at some point I kind of knew it was going to go downhill from there, so I backed off of him and then just conserved tyres the best I can.”

Abel Motorsports’ title contender Jacob Abel also “struggled a little bit coming off the trailer” then “made a tonne of progress throughout the week” to make a third place finish possible. He qualified 0.1011s off poleman Collet, and Foster was just 0.0194s off being fastest. In the race, Abel “had a little bit of tyre deg issuel: a bit of a vibration in everything” which meant he drove with caution at times.

The podium trio want to maintain good relations with each other as they fight for the title, which may be made easier if the top two use their oval racing experience to gap Indy Nxt rookie Collet over the upcoming rounds, starting with this week’s race at Iowa Speedway.

“We’re looking forward to the ovals coming up. Everybody keeps saying that I’m pretty excited for them,” said Abel, who claimed pole and finished second at Iowa last year.

Collet is at even more of a disadvantage since Indy Nxt’s in-season test at Iowa got rained off, although his mindset has not been about focusing on the title race and instead picking up a first win. However now that box has been ticked, he needs a new aim.

Average positions
Grid Driver Team Finish Driver
2.44 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 2.56 Foster
3.22 Caio Collet HMD Motorsports 3.44 Abel
4.00 Nolan Siegel HMD Motorsports 5.00 Collet
4.44 Louis Foster Andretti Global 5.60 Siegel
7.17 Michael d’Orlando Andretti Cape 6.67 Brooks
7.56 Reece Gold HMD Motorsports 8.33 Hedge
7.67 Jamie Chadwick Andretti Global 8.33 d’Orlando
9.33 Christian Brooks HMD Motorsports 9.00 Gold
9.78 Callum Hedge HMD Motorsports 10.11 Rowe
10.0 Myles Rowe HMD Motorsports 10.78 Chadwick

“I think it’s always a little bit tough [to race on an oval for the first time],” said Collet. “I think it depends on how, when you put a car [there] and start driving, how confident you feel. And also I think the support you have from the team means quite a lot. But I think together with HMD, I’ve been really, really happy where I am, and hopefully we can put a good show.”

Abel is not carrying too much confidence to Iowa from 2023 [pictured below] and the result he claimed that weekend, and is feeling the weight of being two months without a win while Foster has won four times in that period.

“We had a really strong car [at Iowa] last year, but everywhere basically we run now is repaved. So that’s definitely going to change things,” said Abel. “It’s going to be really interesting, the weekend, actually because IndyCar’s seen some pretty drastic differences there. It’s going to be interesting. It’s pretty unknown. And so all of our weekends are relatively compressed and relatively short, so it’s just going to be whoever, driver and team, adapts the best. I don’t think it’s going to be very similar to last year, unfortunately. But yeah, I think I feel confident that we’ll be able to adapt quickly.”

The Indy Nxt paddock will get a 75-minute practice session on Friday at Iowa, and a 45-minute qualifying session which starts little over three hours later. The 75-lap race takes place the next day.

“I find it a little bit weird that they only repaved like half of the track. It makes it frustrating for us drivers because it makes it single lane,” noted Foster. “Whereas if they’d paved the entire circuit, it would have been like – I understand why, obviously it costs less money to do that, but it’s the same as Milwaukee. Like unless we do something different, that race is going to be the most boring one to ever watch, because we’re just going to follow each other for 50 minutes.”

He added: “The best part of ovals, is the actual racing. And the fact that some of these repaves are limiting that because of the grip levels on and off-line, I find it disappointing as a driver. But we’ll have to see what we get when we get there.”

A month after Iowa is a trip to the Gateway oval, where Foster finished second in 2023, then Formula E venue Portland hosts a race on August 25 before two more oval bouts at Milwaukee Mile (August 31) and Nashville Superspeedway (September 15).

Photo: Chris Jones

“You’ve got to have the right car to do [passes],” Foster continued. “On the oval, the car is everything. I guess just waiting for for a chance to get past, and probably just setting up your move a few laps in advance as best as possible [could be an approach].”

Abel was slightly more convinced that Indy Nxt would be able to put on a show in its remaining races.

“I mean, sure, they’re one-lane race tracks, right? But we have 20-odd cars now. So like it or not, you kinda have to learn how to run the second lane. That’s where it gets pretty interesting. Some of the deltas between the cars up front and the cars in the back are decently big. So I think you’re going to be in traffic starting about lap 10, 15. I think that’s going to be the crucial thing for all the ovals this year, especially Iowa.”

Abel had spent 70 laps at the front this year, with Foster leading 126 laps so far. Collet has been in first place for 59 laps, with Siegel leading all 45 laps of the St. Petersburg season opener and Chadwick doing the same in Road America’s 20-lapper.