David Malukas

David Malukas’ transition from Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES hit an impressive milestone Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he eyes a full-time ride in North America’s premier open-wheel series in 2022.

Malukas took part in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Combine test on the 2.58-mile version of the IMS road course as a reward for finishing second in the Indy Lights championship in 2021. Driving the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, Malukas called the experience one of the biggest accomplishments of his life, joking he would forever say he drove for Team Penske.

“To say that I had a private test day with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – you kind of just hit all the check boxes,” Malukas said. “Wow, I just did it all in one. It is a surreal experience.”

But the time sheet told a different story – that this was just the first of what will likely be many more accomplishments to come for Malukas in his career as a race car driver. He was the second-fastest of the three drivers at the one-day test, in between Kyle Kirkwood and Linus Lundqvist, who were in Andretti Autosport Hondas. All three drivers were within three-tenths of a second of each other.

It was also his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES test in as many weeks. Last Monday, Malukas, 20, tested at Barber Motorsports Park in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda. He was the fastest of five drivers testing that day, which included 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and former Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg.

Malukas has adapted well to the new car, but he insists the seamless transition is because of how well Indy Lights prepared him for the leap to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Chicago native Malukas said Indy Lights cars are so on edge all the time that the car prepares up-and-coming drivers to find the limits of a race car quickly. Because of that, he said he was able to understand how much he could extract from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES car right away and use the limit as his baseline.

The physical nature of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars – which lack power steering – is the biggest transition, he said, citing the sweeping Turns 11 and 14 of the IMS road course as the most challenging corners on his neck and upper body. It’s also going to take time to adjust to the heavy steering, impressive braking and more.

“Stepping in, it feels like a very similar car,” Malukas said. “It’s very similar some ways, but very different in others. It all around just requires more from the driver. In certain ways in Indy Lights, always needing to be on the edge and finding the absolute limit of the car, going into INDYCAR, the limit and how much these tires and car gives is huge. It really shows what Indy Lights does.”

Having the Barber Motorsports Park test in his back pocket, in which media reported he was three-tenths of a second quicker than second-place Hunter-Reay, was an additional benefit. Malukas said he was more comfortable in the car Monday knowing what to expect.

After two seasons in Indy Lights that resulted in seven wins, all which came in 2021, Malukas is ready to transition to the big show. He said Monday his odds of racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2022 were at “99.5 percent.”

While he had a strong 2021 Indy Lights season, which included 16 podium results en route to finishing second in the championship to Kirkwood, he said he isn’t banking on immediate success in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Instead, Malukas said he will treat his rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES campaign as he did his first Indy Lights season in 2019 by just having fun and embracing the position he’s in as a professional race car driver.

“I would love to light it up immediately,” he said. “That would be great. It would be fantastic. But the talent in INDYCAR is the best of the best, so going in I don’t want to set expectations for myself to be like, ‘Hey, we need to be the best and show off.’ If you don’t, I don’t think a lot of drivers say it, but it will get to you mentally.

“If you set your own goals like that and you don’t make them, it kind of sets you up for the next few years where you could end up reaching those levels, but you’re blocking yourself. I always set expectations very low. First year, have fun and enjoy the moment. I’m in INDYCAR. And then for the next year, from there we’ll see if I can up those expectations.”

But before he takes part in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, which could be the season-opener at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, Feb. 27, Malukas was continuing to embrace the opportunity of the Indy Lights Combine test, which was awarded to the top three finishers in the 2021 Indy Lights championship.

“It’s moments like these, where as a kid you’re like, ‘Man, I would dream to have moments like that,’ I kind of just did it,” he said. “It’s a big checkmark off the life bucket list. I honestly think if everything were to end today, life would be complete. I would be happy. We’ve made it.”