Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is gearing up for an unprecedented 2022 season as new faces, higher car counts and an increased role as the developmental series of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES take open-wheel racing’s future stars to new heights.
It’s an exciting new era for Indy Lights as INDYCAR gains operational control of the series and looks to train successful athletes today to become superstars tomorrow. The series is set for a 14-race schedule in 11 key markets, all of which will happen within NTT INDYCAR SERIES weekends.
This will provide an inclusive atmosphere for the developmental series with a more integrated paddock area. It’s sure to foster the next generation of NTT INDYCAR SERIES talent, and likely the 10th driver to boast both an Indy Lights and INDYCAR SERIES championship.
The new era for the series should open with a wide-open championship race, as 2021 series champion Kyle Kirkwood and series runner-up David Malukas climbed to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year. Kirkwood’s jump was helped by the championship scholarship that also will be presented to the 2022 season champ, too.
Racing starts Feb. 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and ends Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Here’s a look at the teams and drivers who will compete for race wins and to capture the eyes of fans and NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owners in 2022 (teams listed alphabetically; confirmed teams and drivers as of Feb. 15):
Starting Lineup: Jacob Abel (No. 51)
2021 in Review: The 2021 racing season was one of the best, and busiest, ever for Jacob Abel and his family-owned race team Abel Motorsports. Abel competed in his third Indy Pro 2000 season, finishing sixth in the championship with two podium finishes. His best finish was third at Road America-1 and Mid-Ohio-1, and he only finished outside the top 10 twice: St. Petersburg-1 and IMS Road Course-2. Outside of Indy Pro 2000, Abel also competed periodically in Formula Regional Americas, Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, GT World Challenge America and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
New for ’22: With the move up to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires in 2022, Abel Motorsports has hired several team members from now defunct Indy Lights team Belardi Auto Racing. This includes new team manager John Brunner.
Keep an Eye on This: For the first time since he began open-wheel racing in 2017, Abel will focus on just one series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Will zeroing in on one discipline help him in his rookie season? Only time will tell, but not being spread too thin certainly can’t hurt.
Interesting Fact: In addition to being a full-time race car driver, Abel is a full-time college student at Butler University in Indianapolis as a sophomore marketing major.
Starting Lineup: Sting Ray Robb (No. 2), Hunter McElrea (No. 27), Christian Rasmussen (No. 28), Matthew Brabham (No. 83)
2021 in Review: Last year was another stellar season for Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with Kyle Kirkwood scoring a record-tying 10 wins and winning the championship. What’s more, the organization held four of the top seven spots in the championship with Kirkwood first, Danial Frost fifth, Devlin DeFrancesco sixth and Robert Megennis seventh. Meanwhile, the organization’s 2022 driver lineup had a solid 2021 season, as well. Sting Ray Robb finished eighth in the Indy Lights championship for Juncos Racing with a best finish of fifth at Mid-Ohio-3. Hunter McElrea, who boasts dual citizenship from the United States and New Zealand, finished third in the Indy Pro 2000 championship for Pabst Racing and scored three wins, at Barber-2, Mid-Ohio-2 and New Jersey-3. Meanwhile, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen is the defending Indy Pro 2000 champion, scoring the title with seven wins and 12 podium finishes for Jay Howard Driver Development. Rasmussen secured the scholarship that helps him rise to Indy Lights this season, and he’ll look to accomplish the same feat Kirkwood did in winning the USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights championships in three consecutive seasons. Matthew Brabham, who competed for the organization in Indy Lights in 2014, won his third consecutive championship in Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks in 2021 in addition to his titles in 2018 and 2019, with no championship taking place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New for ’22: What’s new for Andretti Autosport in 2022? Well, everything! For the first time since 2015, Andretti Autosport will not have a single driver return from the previous year. The team boasts an all-new four-car lineup after defending champion Kirkwood and DeFrancesco made their way to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and Frost and Megennis departed the organization.
Keep an Eye on This: Can Andretti Autosport win its fourth consecutive Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship? The team won the title in 2018 with Pato O’Ward, 2019 with Oliver Askew and 2021 with Kirkwood. There was no 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interesting Fact: As it stands, Brabham is the oldest driver in the field, turning 28 on Feb. 25 while in St. Petersburg. The next oldest full-time driver in the field is Ernie Francis Jr. at age 24.
Starting Lineup: Ernie Francis Jr. (No. 99)
2021 in Review: Force Indy had a strong start to its inaugural open-wheel season in 2021, making its racing debut in USF2000. The African American-led team with African American driver Myles Rowe finished 13th in the championship and scored one win at New Jersey-2. The team has been a lifetime of work in the making for team principal Rod Reid, who runs NXG Youth Motorsports, a karting and educational school that has introduced more than 2,300 students from under-represented communities, ages 11 to 15, to the educational benefits of the sport. With his win last fall, Rowe became the first Black driver to win an INDYCAR-sanctioned race. While Force Indy was learning open-wheel racing, so too was Haitian American Francis, a seven-time Trans Am Series champion who made his open-wheel debut in Formula Regional Americas. He scored three wins, at Mid-Ohio-3 and Virginia International Raceway 2-3, and finished third in the championship. He also rose to prominence on a national stage in Tony Stewart’s Superstar Racing Experience (SRX), where he finished second in the championship to 1996-97 INDYCAR SERIES champion Stewart and scored a win at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
New for ’22: Reid’s goal, shared by Roger Penske as the “Race for Equality & Change” initiative, is to enter a driver in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in the near future. A major step in that direction means elevating the team from USF2000 to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this season, with new driver Francis.
Keep an Eye on This: The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship awards a scholarship that guarantees the season champion three starts in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. If Francis and Force Indy prove to be title contenders, Reid and Penske’s goal of having a driver of color qualify for the Indianapolis 500 could be just one year away.
Interesting Fact: Force Indy runs No. 99 on its cars as a tribute to Dewey “Rajo Jack” Gatson, an African American racing pioneer who raced with that number and yearned to compete in the Indianapolis 500 but never got a chance.
Starting Lineup: Christian Bogle (No. 7), Benjamin Pedersen (No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports), Linus Lundqvist (No. 26), Danial Frost (No. 68)
2021 in Review: While Andretti Autosport driver Kyle Kirkwood won the 2021 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, HMD Motorsports won the team title in the series. David Malukas won seven races and finished just 13 points behind Kirkwood in the championship. Meanwhile, the only other driver to win a race last season was Malukas’ teammate Linus Lundqvist, who raced under the Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports banner. Lundqvist scored three wins and finished third in the championship. Right in his tire tracks was another HMD Motorsports driver: Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fourth in the championship for Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports. Rounding out the top five in the championship was 2022 HMD newcomer Danial Frost, who scored four podium finishes for Andretti Autosport. Christian Bogle finished 11th in the standings for Carlin with a best finish of seventh at Belle Isle-2.
New for ’22: The HMD Motorsports lineup features two new drivers in Frost and Bogle, both of whom are looking for their first Indy Lights wins. Frost is looking for his first win since winning the Indy Pro 2000 season opener in 2020 at Road America. Bogle last visited Victory Lane in 2019 in the Formula 4 United States Championship season finale at Circuit of The Americas.
Keep an Eye on This: HMD Motorsports boasts the top three returning drivers from the 2021 championship in Lundqvist, Pedersen and Frost. Does that mean HMD Motorsports is the early favorite to win the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship?
Interesting Fact: Danial Frost is the first person from Singapore to compete in an INDYCAR-sanctioned race.
TJ SPEED MOTORSPORTS
Starting Lineup: James Roe (No. 12), Kyffin Simpson (No. 21)
2021 in Review: Last year was a dream racing season for Kyffin Simpson, who blazed through Formula Regional Americas with seven wins, including the first five races of the season, and winning the championship by 96 points. Simpson, who was raised in the Cayman Islands, won with TJ Speed Motorsports in its first year as a race team. Irishman James Roe was a competitor of Simpson’s in Formula Regional Americas, finishing seventh in the championship for Global Racing Group. He also competed in Indy Pro 2000 for Turn 2 Motorsport, scoring one win at the season finale at Mid-Ohio-4 and finishing seventh in the championship.
New for ’22: This is a rookie team with two rookie drivers competing in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this season. Longtime open-wheel engineer Tim Neff, who formerly worked with Belardi Auto Racing, Juncos Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and other teams, purchased Belardi’s assets at the end of 2020 with the goal of forming an Indy Lights team.
Keep an Eye on This: This might be a new role for Neff as team owner, but he knows how to win championships. Neff won three Indy Lights titles as an engineer and partner at Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2004, 2006 and 2007. He’s also a three-time world champion jet ski racer. Can he parlay that knowledge into a title in TJ Speed Motorsports’ first season?
Interesting Fact: Kyffin Simpson is the youngest full-time Indy Lights driver at just 17, though he won’t be able to break the record for youngest Indy Lights winner, set by Colton Herta in 2017 at age 16.