Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg became the latest accomplished international driver to experience the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, participating Monday in a driver evaluation session with Arrow McLaren SP at Barber Motorsports Park.
Hulkenberg, a 10-year Formula One veteran and the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans champion, tested alongside 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and three Indy Lights drivers. Hunter-Reay was driving the No. 20 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing. Kyle Kirkwood and Devlin DeFrancesco drove the No. 26 and No. 29 Hondas of Andretti Autosport, respectively, while David Malukas was in the No. 18 Honda of Dale Coyne Racing.
Hulkenberg drove the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Hulkenberg, like the others testing Monday, has not been confirmed to any ride for the 2022 season.
“First time in an Indy car, first time at Barber Motorsports Park, and overall I think it was a good and successful day," Hulkenberg said. "I definitely can confirm that these steering monsters are very physical cars and it took a while in the morning to feel comfortable, but in the afternoon the lap times and the performance started to come in and it was great fun. Big thanks to Arrow McLaren SP for this opportunity today and their very professional work on track.”
There are similarities between Hulkenberg and fellow F1 veteran Romain Grosjean, the latter parlaying a first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season with Dale Coyne Racing with RWR this year into a full-season ride with Andretti Autosport for 2022. Grosjean won a pole and earned three podium finishes in 13 starts, all but one of them on road courses and street circuits.
Hulkenberg and Grosjean competed against each other in the 2009 GP2 Series, which Hulkenberg won (Grosjean competed in only half the season, winning twice to Hulkenberg’s five wins).
Grosjean landed his first F1 ride in 2009; Hulkenberg arrived the next season. Hulkenberg and Grosjean each started 179 F1 races over 10 seasons, neither producing a win.
Both drove an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car for the first time at age 34.
Hulkenberg has long been highly regarded. He won the Formula BMW championship in 2005 and four years later became one of only five recent drivers to win the GP2 championship in his first try. The other drivers to do so are significant: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Charles Leclerc and George Russell. Hamilton and Rosberg have combined to win the past seven F1 titles, while Leclerc is Ferrari’s top-scoring driver this year and Russell will be Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate in 2022.
Hulkenberg also is the only F1 driver since 1991 to also win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, securing the prestigious victory with Porsche in 2015.
As for Arrow McLaren SP, it has helped Pato O’Ward finished fourth and third, respectively, in the past two NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships. O’Ward earned the first two series victories of his career this year (at Texas and Detroit) and won three NTT P1 Awards for pole. Rosenqvist finished 21st in this year’s standings, and the two drivers are confirmed to return to the team in 2022.
McLaren Racing’s Zak Brown told reporters last month at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca that the team will expand “for sure” to three full-time cars in 2023, and he indicated the additional entry could be fielded “at some point in ’22.”
Next year’s first event is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, to be held Feb. 25-27, 2022.