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Who to look out for on the IndyCar support bill in 2024

by Ida Wood

Photo: James Black

Indy Nxt’s booming grid and the lack of experienced drivers in the three rungs of the Road to Indy below it leave plenty of questions about who will be winning this year. Are there any sure-fire title contenders? 

The pipeline from America’s junior single-seater series up to IndyCar is looking healthy right now, with three of this year’s rookies coming direct from Indy Nxt and 2022 champion Linus Lundqvist landing a full-time ride after having to wait until late last season – and after doing some sportscar racing in the meantime – before he got his chance at the top level.

Indy Nxt will race on the Milwaukee Mile for the first time since 2015 and at Nashville Superspeedway for the first time since 2008 this season, and those oval races should feature pack racing with 20 full-time drivers signed up to race. That’s a figure never reached before by IndyCar’s primary feeder series since it was created as the USAC Mini-Indy Series in 1977.

USF Pro 2000 and USF2000’s sole road course round that doesn’t support IndyCar was at Sebring in 2023, and for ’24 it will be at NOLA Motorsports Park along with USF Juniors – which is new to the track, while the other two series last visited in 2015. Three USF Juniors rounds will support IndyCar.

Winning the USF Juniors title will award a driver $263,700 (a rise of $14,885 from 2023) to spend on a 2025 USF2000 seat. Becoming USF2000 champion earns a driver $458,400 (up from $440,125) to spend on stepping up to USFP2000, then the USFP2000 champion will receive $681,500 (a rise of $17,075 from last year) to fund a move up to Indy Nxt.

Remarkably there are few returnees in the series below Indy Nxt, with only three USFP2000 full-timers from 2023 staying there for 2024. The highest placed of those is Jace Denmark, who came seventh last year, and the other two were 13th and 19th in the points. There are seven other returnees, but four of those did two rounds in 2023 and the others just did one. Avery Towns (who also came 17th in USF2000) contested the last two rounds to come 24th in the standings and plans to race in USFP2000 part-time in 2024 for Exclusive Autosport but so far is only confirmed for this week’s season opener in St. Petersburg.

Photo: TGR NZ

Another last-minute signing is Liam Sceats at TJ Speed, also confirmed only for St. Pete. The Kiwi came third in New Zealand Formula Ford in 2022, was Formula Regional Japan runner-up and fourth in FRegional Oceania last year then runner-up in the latter series this year after winning the Lady Wigram Trophy and NZ Grand Prix [pictured above].

USF2000 has six of its 2023 full-timers returning, with three of those having been in the top 10 in the standings, and five rookies who did one or two rounds at the end of last season. It too has a late arrival to the grid, with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing waiting until this week to confirm Elliot Cox’s long anticipated second season. He came 12th in the standings last year.

USF Juniors meanwhile has Jack Jeffers returning for another title fight, along with two midfielders from last year, one driver who did two rounds and three who made cameos.

The drivers facing more competition for points in Indy Nxt

Nolan Siegel was rookie of the year in 2023 and the pressure is now on as not only is he the highest-placed returnee but he is also entering four IndyCar races alongside his Indy Nxt campaign. The latter takes priority, with his appearances at single-seaters’ top level coming on weekends where Indy Nxt isn’t on the support bill, and his HMD Motorsports team-mates will be leaning on his experience since he is one of only three in the 10-strong team who raced full-time in Indy Nxt last year.

Although he was a distant third in the standings, Siegel made an immediate impact as he led several laps and came second on his debut. He rose to second in the standings by matching that result, and after wins at Detroit and Road America was points leader seven races in. But his form then fell off, with one top-five finish in five races before returning to the podium at Portland. He fell out of title contention with one race to go, so has to at least take the fight to the Nashville finale this time.

Five points behind Siegel was Louis Foster, who remains at Andretti Global for his sophomore season. In every series the 20-year-old Brit has done full campaigns in he has made the top three of the standings, and his first title came in USFP2000 two years ago in what was his first experience of American racing.

Photo: John Cote

Now that he knows the tracks, his team and Indy Nxt’s technical challenges, Foster should improve on his 2023 tally of two wins and four poles. The first of those poles came on his debut in St. Pete, but he then had a messy race and finished two laps down. Having learned from that, he could start this season on top.

Josh Pierson recently turned 18 and may have only come 15th in Indy Nxt last year with a best result of sixth place, but he missed a third of the season as he was also racing in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship’s LMP2 class. The Ed Carpenter Racing junior will prioritise Indy Nxt for 2024, with IndyCar very much a possibility for 2025. Pierson has never won a race in single-seaters, but that fact will probably become redundant at some point this year with HMD.

Reigning USFP2000 champion Myles Rowe steps up with Force Indy’s backing at HMD and is a winning machine. He won six races in USF2000, then won three of his first four in USFP2000 and had five victories and four poles to his name after 13 races. He is the Indy Nxt rookie most likely to be a title contender in 2024.

Also stepping up after a title-winning 2023 is Callum Hedge. The Kiwi, yet another of HMD’s drivers, was FFord and Toyota 86 champion in his home country and last year was FRegional Oceania runner-up then became champion in FRegional Americas and Porsche Carrera Cup Australia. He turned down a Honda-backed seat in Super Formula by choosing to race in Indy Nxt.

Will new or returning names make a USF Pro 2000 impact?

The Jace Denmark and Pabst Racing partnership heads into a fourth year, after two in USF2000 which resulted in three wins and one in USFP2000 which had high points of a Sebring pole and a second place at Mid-Ohio. Denmark was seven points off the top five in the standings and while he had title ambitions for 2024 he may not have expected to have been the favourite.

Velocity Racing Development’s Nikita Johnson became USF2000’s youngest ever winner in round one of 2023 but never won again and his seven other podiums and two poles left him 103 points – but only one place – behind the champion.

Photo: Gavin Baker Photography

In the title-deciding weekend the 15-year-old doubled up in USFP2000 and took a win and a second place to follow up the win and third place he’d claimed on his series debut a week prior. That put him 17th in the standings, ahead of two full-timers.

Christian Brooks has a similar story in that he only did two USFP2000 rounds and claimed a win. Not only that, he led the championship after the opening race. He ended his mostly absent year 22nd in the standings, and it felt all too familiar. In 2021 he made one USFP2000 outing, taking two fifth places, and in 2022 picked up car damage from a crash in the season’s first qualifying session which meant he missed that weekend’s races. Budget issues then ruled him out the rest of the year.

The former rallycross star was a winner in Formula 4 and USF2000, and has proven what he can do in USFP2000, so a full-time campaign with Pabst should give him the opportunity to truly shine.

A driver with a USF2000 career going even further back is Braden Eves. The 2019 USF2000 champion won on his third USFP2000 start and was in the thick of the 2020 title fight until he broke his neck in a crash. He ended his half-season 11th in the standings. His 2021 comeback started with two wins in three races, and he lost the title in the final race. At the time, Eves was backed by IndyCar team Meyer Shank Racing.

He couldn’t find an Indy Nxt seat so stayed in USFP2000 for 2022 and continued to win but dropped to fifth in the standings. Eves spent last year doing some karting, and makes his latest series comeback with Exclusive Autosport.

United States F4 champion and USF2000 race-winner Lochie Hughes should impress with Turn 3 Motorsport, and while he beat Mac Clark in the latter series last year it will probably be Clark who performs better in USFP2000 with DEForce Racing. The 19-year-old Canadian has won a USF Juniors title and three USF2000 races with the team, and last year took pole on his USFP2000 debut and converted it into two podiums and two fastest laps. He also has experience of this level from a race-winning FRegional Americas campaign.

Photo: Gavin Baker Photography

Are there any standout talents in USF2000?

Evagoras Papasavvas could finish no higher than 12th in his first nine USF2000 races, but he came back in 2023 and kicked things off with a podium. Five more followed, including a win at Mid-Ohio, and he was in contention to be series runner-up. His ending place of fourth was fair though, and he should grow further in his third year at Jay Howard Driver Development.

The only other returning race-winner is 2022 USF Juniors runner-up Sam Corry, who moves from VRD to Pabst for his second go at USF2000. His 2024 team-mate Max Garcia came ninth in last year’s USF2000 standings, and missed round one due to not yet being 14 years old. The single-seater rookie went on to take two podiums, and learned a lot to apply for this year.

Making a surprise step down the ladder is 19-year-old Canadian Nico Christodoulou. The 2019-20 NACAM F4 runner-up and US F4 race-winner was in FRegional Americas two years ago and has since done two GB3 seasons in which he has claimed three podiums. He made a USF2000 cameo with VRD in Toronto last year and won, and has come back for more success.

Nicolas Giaffone took three wins to come fifth in the Brazilian F4 championship in 2022, and raised his game last year when he joined DEForce in USF Juniors. The Brazilian romped to the title with six wins and five poles, earning the scholarship to step up to USF2000 with the team.

Bottom rung attracts top talents

USF Juniors shares its car with the YACademy Winter Series, whose 2024 champion was Jack Jeffers. Since the Exclusive Autosport driver came third in USF Juniors last year too with three wins, it’s fair to say he’s the series’ clear title favourite.

Andretti junior Sebastian Wheldon, son of the late IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon, won the F4-spec Skip Barber Formula Race Series in 2023 and that success earned him a $100,000 scholarship to spend on a USF Juniors seat. He has signed with VRD, and their relationship started with Wheldon becoming YACademy WS runner-up.

Photo: YACademy WS

In Ayden Ingratta‘s sole USF Juniors outing, the new protege of Fernando Alonso managed to take a pole, a fastest lap but also make contact with another driver one corner into his first race and finished a lapped 14th place with a 30-second penalty for blocking. More of the chaos or more of the speed now the Canadian is down for a full season with JHDD? Let’s find out.

Vinicius Tessaro heads north with DEForce for his next career step after two years in Brazilian F4. Four second places were the highlight of his rookie year, then in 2023 he became champion with six wins, three other podium finishes and three poles.

Experienced F4 winners Augusto Soto-Schirripa and Liam McNeilly will undoubtedly shine too, but it will be more interesting to see the progress of Brazil’s Joao Vergara who was the 2023 runner-up in Lucas Oil School of Racing’s wingless Formula Car Race Series. He recently got some experience of downforce in the YACademy WS with Exclusive Autosport and took a podium en route to fifth in the standings.