INDY NXT by Firestone St. Petersburg

It’s officially January 2024, which means in less than 70 days, the first green flag of the INDY NXT by Firestone season will fly at the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

This upcoming season could be one for the ages, with several key storylines surrounding it.

Can HMD win its third straight championship with a sophomore driver? Can Andretti Global return to INDY NXT by Firestone prominence (2018, 2019, 2021 championships) with a star-studded lineup? Can Myles Rowe continue his ascension through the ranks? Can the pair of female drivers (Jamie Chadwick, Lindsay Brewer) contend for podium finishes? Can Jacob Abel pick up his maiden win?

Here’s the 2024 INDY NXT by Firestone primer:

Schedule: Fourteen races on 12 tracks await, all airing exclusively on Peacock.

The season will kick off on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 10 before taking a bit of a break before the second round April 28 at Barber Motorsports Park. A pair of races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course May 10-11 comes next.

June will be the busiest month of the season with stops June 2 at Detroit, June 9 at Road America and a July 22-23 doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. July will feature two races in a six-day span, July 7 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and July 13 at Iowa Speedway.

After a short pause, the season heats back up with the final four races coming in a five-week span. Half of those races will come with the first visits to ovals of 2024 on Aug. 17 at World Wide Technology Raceway and the return to the Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 31. A trip to the Pacific Northwest to Portland International Raceway on Aug. 25 is sandwiched between the pair of oval races. The season finale will take place Sept. 15 on the streets of Nashville.

New Events: The final two races of the season will be new events and can shake up this championship race. The Milwaukee Mile will host both the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and INDY NXT by Firestone races for the first time since 2015 with the INDY NXT by Firestone race falling on Aug. 31. Then, two weeks later, while racing returns to Nashville for the third consecutive year, this time the action will include part of downtown, and the race will be the season finale on Sept. 15.

Strong Returning Field: Like the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the field is stacked in INDYCAR’s development series. INDY NXT by Firestone returns four drivers who won races last year – Louis Foster, Nolan Siegel, Reece Gold and Danial Frost – and there figures to be several other drivers, including returnee Jacob Abel, in title contention.

While the top two in points from last season (Christian Rasmussen, Hunter McElrea) depart, behind them were Siegel and Foster, who were separated by just five points after finishing third and fourth in the standings, respectively. Siegel, who drives for HMD Motorsports, returns the same group that produced five top-two finishes, including wins at Detroit and Road America. Foster, who returns to Andretti Global, scored two victories, two runner-up results and two more third-place finishes. Abel, also returning to his team at Abel Motorsports, had eight top-five finishes, highlighted by a pair of runner-up results at Road America and Iowa.

New Drivers in Spotlight: Myles Rowe (HMD Motorsports with Force Indy) will be an interesting story to watch. Driving for Pabst Racing with Force Indy, Rowe won the USF Pro 2000 championship in 2023 with five victories a year after finishing second in USF 2000 – again with five wins – in 2022. Now, he graduates to INDY NXT by Firestone as he tries to become the first full-time African American driver in the INDYCAR SERIES since 2002.

During the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test held in October on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Rowe was up to speed quickly, posting the third-fastest lap.

Also of interest will be the pair of female drivers racing full time this season, Jamie Chadwick (Andretti Global) and Lindsay Brewer (Juncos Hollinger Racing). English driver Chadwick, now a sophomore, improved as her rookie season went along.

As the first female driver in the series in over a decade, Chadwick didn’t score a top-10 finish through the first six events of the season driving the DHL-sponsored entry of Andretti Global. Unfamiliarity with the car and the circuits didn’t help. Most of her rivals had raced on the circuits or at least were familiar with them through other series.

Once Chadwick found her comfort level, she improved, scoring five top-10 finishes in her final eight starts. Her average finish also jumped up from 13.5 to 10.38 during that span.

American driver Brewer started karting at age 11 and climbed through the U.S. karting ranks before embracing the challenge of open-wheel racing in 2021. Her competitive resume includes races in the Skip Barber Formula Race Series, Indy Pro 2000, the F1600 Championship Series and USF Pro 2000.

Rookie Class Has Stories: Rowe isn’t the only rookie in his 2024 class with a nice story.

Take Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Abel Motorsports) as a prime example. He just completed his degree in computer science at the University of Wisconsin. This season will mark the first of his entire career without being a student. He has a remarkable story on his path to an INDY NXT by Firestone seat.

So does Jonathan Browne (HMD Motorsports), who also has used college as a path to this series. At one point, Browne was a full-time college student in Ireland while also racing full time in the United States. That hard work and sacrifice has led him to being an INDY NXT rookie in 2024.

Browne’s HMD teammate Niels Koolen started karting as a teenager. He’s only raced in cars the last two years. Now, he’s one step from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Callum Hedge (HMD Motorsports) is the latest Kiwi to embark on the INDYCAR path. He’ll join Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin and Marcus Armstrong as Kiwis racing in either the NTT INDYCAR SERIES or INDY NXT by Firestone.

Hedge is coming off a Porsche Carrera Cup Cup Australia championship and a title in Formula Regional Americas Championship in 2023, including 13 wins in 18 starts in Formula RA.

Jack William Miller, son of former INDYCAR SERIES driver Jack Miller, moves up with the Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team. Brewer is the first American woman to race in the series since Leilani Munter in 2007. Bryce Aron moves to a big team – Andretti Global – with a big opportunity. These are just who’s announced. There are likely more to come as the days get closer to St. Pete.

Building Off Strong 2023 Season: INDY NXT by Firestone saw increased numbers across the board in 2023.

The rise of car counts was the most eye-opening. The series averaged 17.9 starters per event, the highest total since 2009, a span of 14 seasons. There were seven different race winners and six different pole winners. Fourteen different drivers finished on the podium. That’s double the amount of the latter from a season ago, when there were just seven. Also, 17 different drivers scored a top-five finish after just 10 did so in 2022.

Race winners were series champion Rasmussen, runner-up McElrea, Frost, Matteo Nannini, Gold, Siegel and Foster. With more drivers mixing it up, the number of on-track passes increased to 1,226 in 14 races, 651 more (113 percent increase) than 2022. The average number of lead changes per event increased 25 percent, from nine to 12. Finally, the average margin of victory was tighter in 2023 by just over a half-second (3.13 seconds vs. 2.59 seconds).