The path is set for Josh Pierson, now it is just about walking it.
Pierson recently joined the driver development program for Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), which will see the 16-year-old compete in INDY NXT by Firestone for the next two seasons with the goal of being on the grid in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2025.
“INDYCAR has always been my dream,” said Pierson. “I was looking for ways to secure the future. Talking to some of the teams, I didn't want to do it with necessarily one of the big team hitters like Penske or Chip Ganassi. Obviously, I'd love to drive for them, but I think coming in as a rookie, Ed Carpenter is a brilliant team.”
The wheels were already in motion for this union, with the Oregon native getting integrated into the team atop the ECR timing stand during the penultimate weekend at his home track of Portland International Raceway.
While youth often comes with inexperience, that isn’t the case with Pierson.
A decade-plus run in karting began at age 2, where he captured a number of wins and championships. At 13, he transitioned into junior formula cars, becoming the youngest driver on the grid in USF2000 in 2020. The following year he scored five podiums and ended up finishing fourth in the USF2000 title race. He set another benchmark back in January when he became the youngest driver – at 15 years old – to race in the Rolex 24 At Daytona – the crown jewel event of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
In March, Pierson became the youngest race winner in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) history after claiming an LMP2 class win at the 1000 Miles of Sebring. He also finished 10th at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans as the youngest starter in the history of the world’s most prestigious sports car event.
Ultimately, he ended up finishing third in the LMP2 championship standings for 2022 in WEC, collecting top rookie honors.
Considering Pierson’s resume, it’s all the more reason he isn’t concerned by any additional pressure of firming up a long-term plan to INDYCAR.
“You can look at it as it adds pressure because it puts a target on my back, or you can look at it in the sense that it takes pressure away because you know that you have a future secured if you do your part,” Pierson said. “For me, I'm not really concerned about the target on my back. I know that this year in particular is going to be a big learning year for me, and I don't expect to go knock everyone's socks off and win all the races.
“I know there's going to be a period of development, and that's part of the reason that there's two years in INDY NXT. And I think for me, in general, it was just something where there was no better way to do it, really. I also wanted to start building connections. I wanted to have that kind of connection and that way in, but I wanted to build a relationship that will last me for a long time.”
Pierson will run a partial campaign next year in INDY NXT, missing three rounds – Barber Motorsports Park, Detroit Grand Prix and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – due to conflicts with also competing full time with United Autosports in WEC, alongside Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist. However, Pierson is planning to run the full schedule in INDY NXT in 2024.
Part of that motivation goes beyond still having a silver license in WEC and returning for another shot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans but also because Pierson credits learning the nuances of carbon versus steel brakes and weight transfer, among other things, to vastly improving his skillset.
"I think it's important to continue the endurance racing,” Pierson said. “I think the endurance stuff will always be a career path, and as a driver, most of the top INDYCAR guys are doing both. When you look at Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, they're doing Daytona, they're doing the endurance races alongside the INDYCAR program. So definitely, I think it's important to stay in endurance racing.”
If there is one specialty of which Pierson seeks to gain a better understanding and soak up knowledge from driver/team owner Ed Carpenter’s, it is oval racing. Pierson has two oval starts under his belt, with a best finish of eighth (2021, Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park), which is why he is eager to learn from a three-time Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter and three-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner.
“Ed is really good at developing talent, and he's been doing it for a long time,” Pierson said. “Rinus VeeKay is a very, a very good driver that he's got, and Conor Daly, as well. So, in general, they're just almost like a perfect team to get my start with and to learn from.
“Ed doing the one-offs at the ovals; he's a very good oval driver. I think I struggled on the ovals in USF2000, so it'll be particularly interesting to learn from him and see what I can pick up on the oval side. It's a strong team to go with and one that I think is really going to help me in developing myself for the future.”