From ownership for the step immediately below IndyCar to the halo’s arrival, Craig Woollard brings the lowdown on what to keep an eye on in the United States’ main junior single-seater ladder in 2022
2021 provided some historic moments for the IndyCar support package, not least with Kyle Kirkwood completing his trio of title in fine style in Indy Lights. There are significant changes across the support paddocks for 2022, but also some narratives that will have a sense of familiarity to them as they get underway on the streets of St. Petersburg this weekend.
Lights will be operated by Penske Entertainment this year, moving it away from Andersen Promotions (and the Road to Indy itself), and that is the major change coming into this year in addition to changes of teams and, of course, drivers too.
There are also crucial changes in Indy Pro 2000 that will tear up last year’s form book, and USF2000 will feature plenty of experienced runners while the less experienced primarily look to the new USF Juniors series running Formula 4 machinery this year. How that changes the complexity of the competition will be interesting to see.
Lights and IP2000 are set to run on two ovals, with Lights both on the fast Gateway oval while Lights goes to Iowa Speedway and IP2000 goes to Indianapolis Raceway Park, where USF2000 will have its sole oval venture. Other calendar notabilities include the return of Toronto (IP2000 and USF2000), but Canada’s political situation in Canada could change its inclusion.
In addition, Lights will have a run-out at the interesting Nashville street circuit, but otherwise the calendars are largely as we have become accustomed to in recent years. IP2000 and USF2000 will conclude at Portland, while Lights will end on the same weekend as IndyCar at Laguna Seca. USF Juniors, meanwhile, will have a very different schedule featuring the likes of Ozarks International Raceway, Virginia International Raceway and Circuit of the Americas.
Here’s Formula Scout’s guide to the runners and riders of the IndyCar support package, as a feature to read and a podcast.
While there are many organisational changes within the immediate step below IndyCar, the rivalry between Andretti Autosport and HMD Motorsports (and its car co-entered with Global Racing Group) is likely to carry on in 2022. There is an added twist too with Dale Coyne Racing expanding its IndyCar partnership with HMD into Lights.
Andretti has the two most recent IP2000 champions on its books in the form of sophomore Sting Ray Robb, who showed strong speed at last year’s finale at Mid-Ohio in what was otherwise a challenging first season, and Christian Rasmussen – a driver who is going for the same ‘threepeat’ as Kirkwood, albeit not as a rookie each time even if he’s going for three titles in as many years. How he adapts at such a big team, after years at Jay Howard Driver Development, could be the difference between title success and coming up just short. He’ll be a threat though, he’s always capable of being there in the races.
Rasmussen’s rival over recent years Hunter McElrea also joins the team, as does Stadium Super Truck and former Formula E driver Matthew Brabham, the third-generation driver making a surprise return to the IndyCar ladder. McElrea will have a point to prove as he hasn’t previously been able to turn late-season momentum into a title run, while Brabham makes his first Lights start since 2015 and his first full season since 2014. His single-seater career has consisted of five races across IndyCar and Australia’s S5000 Championship since then, so it’s quite the culture shock from jumping over ramps. It’s a totally fresh line-up for the juggernaut outfit this year with a wide range of experiences, so the dynamic will be an interesting subplot.
It’s a five-car assault for the HMD stable across its partnership with Coyne and the co-entries with GRG. Under that banner is Benjamin Pedersen, who went winless as a rookie in 2021 but wasn’t too far away from making the top step of the podium. If he’s able to get some momentum early on, he may be in position to be capable of a title push. Manuel Sulaiman also runs with HMD, having done a part-season last year.
Christian Bogle switches from Carlin (where he was regularly bringing up the rear, some way off the pace) and Danial Frost comes over from Andretti – another driver capable of wins but failed to quite make the top step last year – in HMD’s other cars, as does a man almost certainly the main pick for the title: Linus Lundqvist. He is the highest-placed returning driver, the most recent race winner and is absolutely capable of being in control of a championship. He’ll be favourite for many.
The two main outfits comprise of the majority of the entries this season, but TJ Speed is one of two new team after buying the assets of former team Belardi Auto Racing.
Formula Regional Americas champion Kyffin Simpson (the Cayman Islands-based driver running under the flag of Barbados this year) sticks with the team for the switch, having also run in IP2000 with moderate success in the form of podiums. He’s joined by another IP2000 alumni, race-winner James Roe Jr. How this team develops through the year will be fun to observe, in particular against the other new outfits.
Force Indy ran with Myles Rowe in USF2000 last season but his time with the programme has concluded after just one season. Instead, the outfit, part of Penske Entertainment Corporation’s Race for Equality & Change, will step up to Lights for ’22 with Ernie Francis Jr.
Francis’s background prior to 2021 was in sportscars (as a seven-time Trans-Am champion) with a sprinkling of stock car racing mixed in. Regardless, his transition to single-seaters in FRegional Americas last year was fairly seamless, knocking in top fives in his first weekend in a single-seater and notching up a trio of wins. Of course, Lights with a one-car outfit against IndyCar organisations is a totally different proposition.
The third and final new team is Abel Motorsports, which has taken its driver Jacob Abel up the ladder and now reaches Lights. Abel is capable of picking up the pieces in some of the more chaotic races, but to fight at the front on a regular basis will be tough. He’s joined, for the first round at least, by Antonio Serravalle, who comes with a solid amount of experience.
Exclusive Autosport plans to enter Lights but has no announced drivers and is absent from St. Petersburg.
Indy Pro 2000
IP2000 is now the top of the Road to Indy, following the changes to Lights over the winter. Also among the changes is the introduction of the halo, as cockpit protection continues to improve in the junior ranks. The changes this will have brought on could throw much of the information from 2021 out of the window, and therefore this provides an opportunity for any team to steal a march.
Regardless, JHDD’s drivers should not be underestimated, and 2021 runner-up Braden Eves will go in as a likely title favourite in his third season. It’s an important year for the driver whose 2020 was just starting to pick up momentum when it was curtailed by injury, and he did rebound by winning on his return. Wyatt Brichacek will look to break into the top five regularly having not done so in ’21 and NASCAR Mexico champion Salvador de Alba makes the unusual switch to the series.
Exclusive Autosport also has a trio of drivers with a wide range of experience between them. Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award finalist Louis Foster studies in the United States and will now race there, looking to continue the form he showed in Euroformula having come up just shy of the title there. Matt Round-Garrido made a few starts in IP2000 back in 2019, but has raced in FRegional Americas and USF2000 since then, picking up two podiums in three seasons in the latter. The British drivers are joined by former rallycross racer Christian Brooks, who won three times at St. Petersburg in USF2000 and at nowhere else. So he could be one to watch there this weekend.
DEForce Racing has a sense of familiarity about its pair of drivers, and they should be able to get right in the mix as well this year. As a matter of fact, both raced with the outfit in USF2000 in 2021. Kiko Porto steps up as that series’ champion, so will look to try and carry that momentum forward, and perhaps go for two on the bounce. There’s every reason to believe he’ll be capable of good things this year. Nolan Siegel, meanwhile, had a relatively slow start to his USF2000 campaign last year but it really picked up momentum towards the end. He debuted in IP2000 last year at Gateway, so has a bit of experience already.
IndyCar returnee Juncos Hollinger Racing will run an experienced line-up of Reece Gold and Enaam Ahmed – the two drivers it concluded ’21 with, while Turn 3 Motorsport brings over Formula Ford Festival winner Jonathan Browne over from GB3 to partner rookie Josh Green – stepping up from USF2000.
Pabst Racing will run the experienced Colin Kaminsky alongside rookies Jordan Missig – who raced at last year’s finale – and Yuven Sundaramoorthy, a championship contender early in USF2000 last season. The final entry, confirmed on the eve of the season, is of Miller Vinatieri Motorsports’ Jack William Miller. Newman Wachs Racing announced it would enter, but no drivers have been confirmed to date.
The introduction of USF Juniors and a number of drivers returning for an extra campaign means that there isn’t a massive entry list (although still very healthy by Road to Indy standards) for USF2000, nor are there too many rookies. There aren’t too many changes otherwise, so the big question is whether last year’s series runner-up can be stopped or not.
Michael d’Orlando will be the one they’re all chasing, as he missed out on the top spot in ’21 to Porto. Whether he can finally get the job done in his fourth year could depend on how he shapes up against his team-mates, such is how well Cape Motorsports has done in the past. Team USA scholar Jackson Lee moves to the team for his second season, and is joined by rookies Jagger Jones – grandson of Parnelli and son of P. J. – and Nicky Hays who has had a year out of single-seaters.
DEForce has plenty of experience in its line-up, although Bijoy Garg and sophomores Dylan Christie and Thomas Nepveu took just two top-five finishes between them last year. They both came courtesy of Nepveu – including winning an absolute epic at Road America. All three will aim for better with a team capable of title success.
JHDD runs rookies Frederik Lund (whose main campaign is in Italian F4), Yeoroo Lee and Jorge Garciarce in St. Petersburg, while previously announced drivers Danny Dyszelski and Evagoras Papasavvas were left off the entry list for the first round due to being underage and injured.
Pabst has one of the more intriguing line-ups. After Force Indy defected to Lights, leaving him out in the cold, race-winner Myles Rowe crowdfunded his way back into the championship, interestingly with Penske Entertainment as his primary sponsor. He could be one to watch if he’s able to harness what was often good speed into more consistent results. He’s joined by Jace Denmark, back for a second season with the team. The pair set the pace in St. Petersburg practice.
Turn 3 Motorsport is another team to keep an eye on. Christian Weir’s half-season in ’21 included some flashes of potential, and 2019 BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 runner-up Spike Kohlbecker finished the year as USF200’s top rookie and will aim to achieve more as a sophomore.
Elsewhere, Legacy Autosport will run Simon Sikes – a driver always handy on the twisty road courses – once more, and Joe Dooling Autosports has Trey Burke on for a second season. Rookie Viktor Andersson rounds out the field with Velocity Racing Development after finishing in 20th in last year’s United States F4 championship.