Just when you thought Silly Season was over, the NTT Indycar Series grid for 2023 became both clearer and cloudier in the last week.
Devlin DeFrancesco will stay in the 29 car for Andretti Autosport in 2023. He has had a somewhat uneven season, but DeFrancesco has qualified well in several of recent races. He started ninth at Gateway
Formula 1 rumors have again risen around Colton Herta. Red Bull has made inquiries about his filling one of the Alpha Tauri seats which may soon be vacant. Herta is still shy of the required 40 points for an F1 super license. My guess is he is back in the 26 for one more year. Herta would likely be a reserve driver in F1 in 2023.
The Newest Hottest Driver
I thought it was a foregone conclusion that David Malukas would be back with dale Coyne Racing next year. The rookie has begun to get notice from other teams, and his second place at gateway two weeks ago really cranked up the free agent buzz.
There seems to be great interest from Chip Ganassi Racing, which could have as many as two openings in 2023, depending on the Alex Palou situation with McLaren, and whether Jimmie Johnson returns with Carvana.
This puzzle may not be resolved for awhile. My fear is that Malukas may end up the odd man out. That would be a huge mistake for the series.
Where Do Indy Lights Drivers Fit?
Linus Lundqvist will most likely win the Indy lights championship and have three Indycar races, including the Indianapolis 500, guaranteed. If Malukas moves to Ganassi, could Lundqvist move into the seat at Coyne?
Matthew Brabham and Hunter McElrea are also seeking Indycar rides. Ernie Francis, Jr. may also be looking to move up, at least for the 500.
Indycar in2023 will have the usual problem of too many drivers seeking too few seats. The grid is expected to expand next season, but the driver situation will only improve when the elusive third OEM appears.
There is nothing like an impending rain storm to liven up what began as a pretty dull race. The processional fuel saving start began to get intriguing when some cars began pitting around lap 51. The Coyne cars of Takuma Sato and David Malukas were among the early stoppers. Both had time leading. the race. As it turned out, Malukas was the eventual beneficiary of track position when the race resumed.
Forty laps of racing under the lights is nice for a sprint or midget feature. Indycar needs to seriously consider returning the non Indy ovals to night races. I don’t care if they can only be on Peacock. As I watched the Silver Crown cars Friday night under the lights, the feeling was bittersweet that Indycar would run in daylight the following day.
As Scott Mclaughlin mentioned after the race, the handling of the cars changes as the sun goes down and the track cools. This phenomenon is what makes night races more intriguing.
Outshining the Winner
The 2005 Indianapolis 500 saw Danica Patrick beco9me the first woman to lead the 500 . She eventually finished fourth. After the race race, and in the weeks following, if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t knwo Dan wheldon actually won the race.
Saturday night was a bit like that. Second place David Malukas seemed to be the center of attention, while winner Josef Newgarden was the second biggest story. I am okay with this. Malukas has matured steadily throughout the season. he has been quick on ovals, and his road course game has improved tremendously.
To see him hunt down and pass Mclaughlin and nearly catch Newgarden was one of the highlights of the season.
Speculation has begun about where Malukas will race next year. Some say he will replace Alex Palou at Ganassi. I’m sure he got a call from Mclaren after the race.
Points Race Gets Even Tighter
I thought this race would shake up the points race, but only a couple positions switched and there are four drivers still with a realistic shot at the title.
Will Power holds a three point lead over Newgarden. His lead is basically the bonus points he earned for Saturday’s race. Scott Dixon is only 14 points behind. He has come back from farther than that to win with two races left.
I watched the first few laps of the race last night and I was surprised at the sparse grandstand crowd. Weather may have made some decide to stay home, but I wonder if the NASCAR race in June may have affected attendance as well. When tracks force people to decide which major event to attend, Indycar seems to take the hit. The promoters need to do a better job promoting all their bug events equally.
I have said this before, but I think it is time for Ed Carpenter to become an Indy only only driver for a couple more years. Carpenter has had a dismal season. His average finish in five races this season was 19.2 with a best of 13th. His third car could be the avenue for Paretta Autosport to have a full time entry in 2023.
The pits at night take on a kind of state fair atmosphere. It definitely has a different vibe after dark.
I watched the restart from a spot in the infield. I have never been as close to cars during a race as I was when the race resumed. The sound and the vibrations were overwhelming. Cars zipped by like I was using fast forward on my remote. I may have to be at this spot for the start next year.
Thanks for following my coverage this past weekend. Later this week, i will examine the points chase in more depth.
The eighteenth Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg began late this morning with a gala luncheon. Drivers from each of the series racing on the downtown streets were present. Mayor Ken Welch, who will serve as the race’s Grand Marshall, welcomed everyone. The race expects a record crowd for the three day long event.
The drivers each gave brief remarks.
I chatted with Takuma Sato, David Malukas, and Kyle Kirkwood.
Sato is enjoying his new team, Dale Coyne Racing.
“I love it. Right obviously you know some nervousness but it’s a lot of excitement in a new team new boys engineers and you know, I’m happily settling. So very, very good.”
About his rookie teammate, Sato said,
“…he’s obviously the one of the upcoming young drivers, is very bright and cheerful and he’s been quick to learn so I think we have a really good opportunity to work together.”
Sato is excited for this weekend, but thinks there are a lot of unknowns.
“Well, I would say you know, re are little unknown factors but yeah, that’s how it is and in particular for the first practice for the day.”
Sato’s teammate, David Malukas is eager to begin his Indycar career. He ha d a lot of praise for Sato, who was on his radio during the first test day at Sebring.
“Sebring was great. I mean, the first day was amazing, I think we ended up being like P two on the time. It’s like I was always surprised. Second day, we tried many different changes, because the whole goal we’re not winning Sebring. We didn’t want to chase the car to try to get ready for today. And we found some pluses somewhere like confusing, but in the end we were exactly right. After three months off, I was like really impressed with the car. I was like, What do I do? Takuma has been a big help. Oh, of course. I mean, he has so much expertise and he helped me so incredibly. Like he helped me so much the first day; he didn’t actually drive so like he had the headset on and he was talking to me telling me some information like what I should do. He’s awesome. He’s so friendly.”
Malukas is concerned about pit stops and driving on the alternate tires. About the red tires, he said,
“So I hear rumors. I heard some rumors that like actually sometimes the car’s slower with it because it’s so much grip and it’s so hard that they don’t want you to stand on it, I don’t know. Hopefully we could see like, I mean, there’s a big jump with it. Hopefully we can figure it out and hope like I still hold on to the wheel. Because I heard it gets even heavier.”
Pit stops are totally new to Malukas, but he thinks the walls and the limiter may help him.
“Oh, that’s still very new to me. We did some practice and man I’m not gonna lie I was pretty bad. Takuma did it like perfectly every time so that’s gonna be, I think, the hard part for me is getting it right. I’ve never done that my whole life. So we’ll see how it goes. I think now you know that I like an actual wall and there’s people everywhere. I think it’d be a bit easier because you know, at Sebring we’re trying to simulate a situation with tires, everything and it just wasn’t good. So we’ll see.”
Kyle Kirkwood is happy with how testing went last week and appreciates the help he has received from his A. J. Foyt Racing teammates, Dalton Kellett and Tatiana Calderon.
“Dalton has obviously a wealth of knowledge as well as engineering capabilities and Tatiana hsa a lot of experience. She n a lot of different cars, so there’s a lot of things that she’s been able to add to the team that are just like I’ve never really thought to do that.”
Kirkwood is uncertain how the alternate tires will perform.
“They changed this weekend. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I think from my knowledge, looking at the seat they’re gonna be quicker but they’re going to go away faster. I don’t know what made you know, I’ll let you know I’ve never driven on red tire so that’s what I was wondering. Yeah, anticipation. I’ll let you know after the first practice.”
This announcement confirms the final full time seat for 2022
Dale Coyne Racing announced Dec. 15 it has entered a partnership with HMD Motorsports and has signed 2021 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship runner-up David Malukas to drive its No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports entry for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Malukas, 20, is a Road to Indy graduate who hails from suburban Chicago, about 10 miles from the Dale Coyne Racing shop in Plainfield, Illinois. He claimed seven wins, seven poles and a series-leading 16 podiums in 20 races en route to finishing second in Indy Lights in 2021.
“I am very happy to join Dale Coyne Racing for my first season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” Malukas said. “It has been my dream since a little kid to get to this point, and I am thrilled to get it started with this team. After my first test with DCR, I felt right at home. They are like family already, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish. Bring on 2022!”
Before his 2021 season in Indy Lights and after the enforced hiatus of the 2020 Indy Lights season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malukas finished second in the 2020 Formula Regional Americas Championship powered by Honda with two wins, 15 podiums, one pole and top-five finishes in all 17 races. He made his Indy Lights debut in 2019, finishing sixth in the championship with six top-five results.
Earlier in his career, Malukas finished fourth in his rookie Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires championship in 2018 and competed in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2017 after picking up multiple wins as he climbed the karting ranks.
Malukas got his first taste of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car in October 2021 and topped the time sheets during a driver evaluation day with the team at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I’ve been following David in Indy Lights, and I was very pleased by what I saw,” team owner Dale Coyne said. “He had a remarkable season, and then he impressed everyone when we tested him back in October. It was his first time in an Indy car, and he was the fastest one at the test, even ahead of a veteran driver. And, on top of it all, he comes from right down the road in Chicago, so it’s a perfect fit for us to run David next season.
“We’re also excited about our new partnership with HMD Motorsports. We can’t wait to start building on this relationship, and we’re looking forward to a successful season together.”
HMD Motorsports has competed in the Road to Indy (RTI) since 2017, earning many race wins, podiums, pole positions and track records across all three RTI ladder programs. In 2021, HMD Motorsports turned its focus toward Indy Lights, where it claimed 10 wins, 33 podiums and the team championship title.
“Having the HMD Motorsports name in INDYCAR was a goal that we had set several years ago and is the first step in the overall plan for the future,” HMD Motorsports General Manager Mike Maurini said. “INDYCAR is experiencing major growth, and HMD is able to be involved at the right time for our drivers and partners.
“Tying the successful Indy Lights program, and business, to an INDYCAR effort gives the HMD name a ladder to the upper echelon of open wheel racing in North America. The goal is to continue to win in Indy Lights, expand and grow a commercial side of the business and advance drivers up into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”
The 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season starts with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Feb. 25-27 at St. Petersburg, Florida.
Indycar photo: Kyle Kirkwood on track by Chris Owens
The top three 2021 finishers in Indy Lights, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, and Linus Lundqvist, talked about their very cold test day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. The trio had the opportunity to test an Indycar on the IMS road course. It was the first time in an Indycar for Lundqvist. Kirkwood and Malukas tested at Barber. Kirkwood also had a test at Sebring.
Kirkwood and Lundqvist drove cars prepared by Andretti Autosport; Lundqvist drove the number 2 car of Team Penske.
Much of the post test discussion centered on the Indycar prospects for the drivers.
Kirkwood, the first driver to win the championship on all three levels of the Road to Indy, still has no ride for 2022, but he hinted that things are moving in a positive way.
“We have an idea, yeah. I think we have a direction. It’s not all said and done yet. As of today, which today is November 1st, I’ve been given permission to look elsewhere. I haven’t been able to have conversations. I don’t know exactly what I can and cannot say, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut on the direction “.
Malukas is strongly thought to have a ride with Dale Coyne Racing for 2022. In response to a question about how far along his deal is, he would only say, “We will do 99.9%”
As for Lundqvist, it appears he has very little going on at the moment. He replied to questions about his Indycar future,
“Unclear I would say. You never really know what’s going to happen. I would love to stay here in the U.S. to start off with. Obviously I would love to be in INDYCAR next year. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m looking to do Lights another year. You never really know because budget-wise it’s a very big question. We’ll see what we can do during the winter, after this test as well, what pops up. I’ll keep digging no matter what.”
Tire Heat Biggest Surprise
All three drivers seemed most impressed by how quickly the tires got warm. It caught a couple of them by surprise.
Lundqvist commented, “Actually the Firestone tire, the grip that they have just straight out of pit lane was a lot better than what I experienced in Indy Lights. Obviously it takes a little bit of time for the pressure to come up, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it. You just had to be a little bit careful. It was not too bad. Obviously I think it would have been even better when it was warmer. Within a lap or two the tires were in.”
Malukas agreed with Lundqvist, “Comparing to Indy Lights, it’s like night-and-day difference. With Indy Lights in this weather, it would have taken quite some time.”
Kirkwood noted, “One thing I did notice that was pretty big, especially compared to the Lights car, is the tires switch on so quickly even in the very cool conditions, which I was not expecting on the first few laps.”
Lundqvist concluded with a comment about how well Indy Lights prepares drivers for Indycar.
“What you learn in Indy Lights, you can definitely bring on here. The cars are very similar in some sense but quite different in others. I think what I learned in Indy Lights is that you’re able to drive a car just on the limit. That really rewards you in INDYCAR as well. It’s that you have so much more grip to play with. It’s not as much on a knife edge, I would say, as the Lights car is. You got so much more to play with here. I think you’re extracting a lot of lap times if you’re having a similar driver style in the Indy Lights car if you bring it to INDYCAR.”