Home Featured What you should know about IndyCar’s new driver and his case for a seat

What you should know about IndyCar’s new driver and his case for a seat

by Ida Wood

Photo: Travis Hinkle

Chip Ganassi is no stranger to running IndyCar rookies, but in 2024 has two new full-timers with lots to learn

In the quickly organised press conference following the announcement Chip Ganassi Racing had signed Kyffin Simpson for the 2024 IndyCar season, every journalist was too polite to ask what Simpson had done on track to prove he merited the seat.

Although he has been Ganassi’s development driver since 2022, he has spent two years in Indy Nxt and has nothing more to show for it than the two podiums he claimed this season en route to 10th in the standings. Most of his success has been in LMP2 prototype sportscars, in which he has claimed a win in the European Le Mans Series and an overall podium in IMSA.

Simpson also only has one day of experience in an Indy car, conducting a test with Ganassi at Sebring this January, and has no idea when he will test again. He may be going in underprepared as it stands, but based on his Indy Nxt results the expectations are also low for now.

“I can’t wait to get back in the car. Driving that car at Sebring was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and I just can’t wait to get back in the car and with a great team as well,” said the 18-year-old.

“I think it’s helped me in a lot of ways, doing all these different [LMP2] series. Racing sportscars I think has helped a lot with my fuel-saving and pitstops, because obviously we don’t do that in Indy Nxt. You’re just pushing flatout for 35 laps or however long the race is. So I think doing all that this year was very helpful, but also just general racecraft and being in close races with other drivers has been very helpful and just doing lots of racing this year.”

“I think it’s been very helpful being able to work with the team [at Ganassi this year], learn the team, learn how they do things, and also just learn all the engineers and mechanics and just meeting them has been very helpful. So I think that’ll be something that helps me a lot going into this next year, and I think that it’ll be very exciting to work with them even closer than I have previously.”

Photo: James Black

“I don’t really have any expectations set for myself right now. It’d be great to be able to win rookie of the year, but I don’t have anything specifically set for myself right now.”

His rivals for that honour will be Ganassi team-mate and 2022 Indy Nxt champion Linus Lundqvist, Meyer Shank Racing’s reigning IMSA champion Tom Blomqvist and potentially one of Simpson’s race-winning Indy Nxt rivals at Andretti Autosport – although the team’s fourth full-time entry is yet to be confirmed – and Juri Vips as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Simpson says he does “not feel too much pressure” being with IndyCar’s reigning champion team since he knows he will have a good car underneath him, and his primary ambition for 2024 is to learn from his four team-mates. Two are IndyCar champions, and one is the 2023 IndyCar rookie of the year. Then there’s Lundqvist, who may only have three IndyCar starts to his name but has already taken two fastest laps. That is more than Simpson has from three years on IndyCar’s support bill.

But Simpson is not intimidated by the next step in his career, and enthused by the greater technical freedom in IndyCar. Particularly as “there’s more you can do with the dampers” that lead to the Dallara IR18 having suprerior drivability over the Dallara IL-15 chassis used in Indy Nxt.

“I don’t know what my biggest strength will be in this car, as I’ve not done too many laps in it,” said Simpson. “I feel like I’ve progressed a lot since [I last drove it]. So I’m not sure what it’ll be when I get into it the next time. But I feel like I’m usually quite good with tyre management, so I hope that that shows to be a strength in this car as well, because I’ve heard it’s something that’s quite difficult.”

One of the key questions that may get asked over the winter and once Simpson debuts is if he’s truly ready for IndyCar. Although he has won on the continental stage in sportscars, he has not won above the fourth tier of single-seaters and scored little over half of the points that his title-winning team-mate managed to get in Indy Nxt this year.

Simpson with Ganassi’s Indycar team manager on a timing stand

“I feel like I’m ready. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress this year, and I feel like making that next step, I’ll be able to make good progress in IndyCar as well,” reassurred Simpson. And Mike [Hull, CGR’s managing director] and Chip [Ganassi] also have faith in me. So that helps a lot and helps me believe that I really can do this.”

Formula Scout probed Simpson about how much IndyCar work, or shadowing of Ganassi’s IndyCar squad, did his development driver role actually include in 2023.

“It’s been great working with them and I’ve been able to spend quite a lot of time with them,” he replied. “I was able to go to the Texas race this year and I spent the whole [Indianapolis] 500 with them. But even more than that, I tend to always try to spend as much time as I can on race weekends with them, even if I’m there racing in my own series. So I try to get over to the timing stand for the races usually and if I can, qualifying as well. So I think all of that’s been very helpful.

“There was no guarantee that I would be in an IndyCar seat this year [when signing as a junior], but I was always hoping that I could be. So it was just kind of something that I tried to make happen. And here we are.”

Simpson revealed to Formula Scout “we don’t really know when I’ll be able to test next” in an Indy car.

“Obviously this year has been very busy with the season, and they’ve been very busy chasing the championships. So they don’t usually like to test too much during the year. Also, they’ve been very busy with the hybrid tests, getting ready for next year. So I’m sure I’ll get more seat time in the Indy car, but with the one day I have, they were very happy with it. So hopefully next time I get in an Indy car, I can do the same, if not better.”

He has at least done some simulator work with Ganassi through this year and has “a bit more planned during the off-season”.

“It’s been great working with a couple of different engineers [in the sim] and I think that it’s been very helpful and helping me get ready for next year,” Simpson added, before confirming that he is set to race under a Cayman Islands licence next year.

The Caribbean’s rising racing talents
Name Country 2023 CV
Kyffin Simpson Cayman Islands 10th in Indy Nxt, 3rd in ALMS 2021 FRegional Americas champion
Zane Maloney Barbados currently 10th in F2 2nd in 2022 FIA F3, 4th in 2021 FREC
Alex Powell Jamaica Karting: CotF champion (OK), 2nd in World Cup (KZ2) 2nd in 🇪🇺 champ. (OK), 5th in 🇪🇺 champ. (KZ2)

Finally, the tricky question. If it was not for his existing development driver role with Ganassi that opened the door for IndyCar talks, would Simpson have felt confident enough to pitch for a seat at the top level with other teams with the results he has had on the support bill?

“I think, uh, if I hadn’t been with Chip Ganassi Racing, I probably would have been looking for an IndyCar seat this year. But I think that definitely being with Chip Ganassi Racing has helped me be able to find a seat, for sure,” was the reply.

Simpson does not know who his engineer or crew chief will be for 2024, and neither he or Lundqvist know if they will be inheriting the chassis of team’s recent departee Marcus Ericsson or be getting a brand new tub from Dallara.

But he revealed to Formula Scout that Ganassi’s engine supplier Honda Performance Development – which had him in its GT3 academy programme in 2021 and provided a scholarship for him to race in single-seaters’ top level last year in Super Formula (which he turned down) after winning the Formula Regional Americas title – have “been great and helping me out, getting me a [new] engine for next year” to run in his car for 2024.