INDY NXT by Firestone at Road America

More drivers competed in last week’s INDY NXT by Firestone test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course than competed full time in the recently completed season, another sign of growth for INDYCAR’s development series, series director Levi Jones said.

The series isn’t done growing, he predicted.

“I think right now we have 23 cars that could run on track,” Jones said during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at IMS. “(Advanced Engine Research) is our engine partner, and they’re in a really good spot with engines. We could potentially have enough supply to run 27.”

INDY NXT by Firestone averaged 17.9 starters in 2023, the most for the development series since 2009, a span of 14 seasons. That was four to five more entries per race than in 2022.

This year, 25 drivers competed in at least one race, eight more than in 2022.

Jones, who was named to his position two years ago this month, noted the strong competition the series realized this year. The average number of lead changes increased 25 percent, and on-track passes for position increased 113 percent, from 651 to 1,226. The average margin of victory was reduced from 3.13 seconds to 2.59 seconds.

Also, the series broke track records at four venues: Barber Motorsports Park, Road America, Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“You look at those facts at the end of the year, and you’re like, ‘OK, there’s some fruit in the work, right?’” Jones said. “And that’s a testament to everybody involved. To be able to lean on everybody at INDYCAR … the help from everybody on staff has been great.

“And then on the team side, they’re excited about (the series). There are drivers from all over the world that are looking at this option as a viable option to be a professional race car driver. That’s what excites me about it: To be a professional race car driver and (know there is) a path (to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES) laid out.”

Thirteen of the 21 drivers at the Griffis test are considered rookies, most of which were U.S.-born. But there also were drivers from Brazil, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Denmark. Others have German and Indian heritage.

Louis Foster, who finished fourth in the series last year, paced the competitive field in an Andretti Global machine. Second was another INDY NXT by Firestone veteran, Jacob Abel of Abel Motorsports, Myles Rowe, who won this year’s USF Pro 2000 championship, was third for HMD Motorsports.

After a hugely successful 2023 INDY NXT by Firestone season, the 2024 season will continue to build momentum as a proving ground for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES by adding another oval to the schedule at the famed Milwaukee Mile.

Jones said the series’ objective again will be focused on preparing competitors to graduate to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The two series should go “hand in hand,” he said.

“INDY NXT (should) be a series that gets someone ready, not only drivers but crew people, engineers, all of that, right?” he said. “Just continuing to make this series that learning route for what you can do in INDYCAR.

“These drivers that are here for a few years, (they should) learn the tracks that we run, the way things are done, the culture that everybody has created here, (and) transition right from an INDY NXT program to an INDYCAR program and have a shot at being a champion. I think if you look at my first two years here with Linus (Lundqvist) being a champion and with the timing being right for him getting an opportunity to be a full-time (NTT INDYCAR SERIES) driver next year. (He’s) an incredible talent, a great person. Then with Christian (Rasmussen) winning this year and having some opportunities this year just shows that with the right timing and prepare yourself you can have a shot at it.”