It’s been an interesting off-season for Indy Lights, to say the least. A change of operational control, a revised calendar, a new points system, an upgraded prize money structure, the arrival of several new teams and the disappearance of two existing ones. It all adds up to the biggest reset of the series in recent years. In this season preview, F1 Feeder Series takes you through the 2022 field!
By Jeroen Demmendaal
To address the never-ending discussion of car counts first: while initial optimism of as much as 20 cars on the grid hasn’t quite played out as planned, Indy Lights is still looking at some growth when the first drivers hit the track in St Petersburg this weekend.
Last year started off with 13 full-time entries, which whittled down to eleven with the disappearance of Alex Peroni and Antonio Serravalle during the season. Now that Juncos has (at least temporarily) shelved its Lights operation and Carlin will not return, we expect the 2022 grid will exist of 14 cars to begin with, while additional entries may come later in the season (more on that later on).
There’s more on the line as well for drivers in 2022, as new series operators Penske Entertainment have launched a new prize money plan on top of the usual scholarship package for the top-3 in the championship. Winning a Lights race now lands a driver USD 20,000, while the numbers two through four will receive USD 15,000, USD 10,000 and USD 5,000 respectively. Not bad!
Then there’s the new schedule, which has a decided Nineties and early Noughties feel about it. With 14 races at 11 different circuits, drivers will have only one shot at victory in most rases. Only the Indianapolis road course, the Streets of Detroit and Laguna Seca will host two races within the same weekend, as has been the case at all venues in recent years. Iowa makes a welcome return, while Indy Lights also makes a first appearance on the Streets of Nashville.
As a final step towards bringing the series more in line with IndyCar, Indy Lights has overhauled its points system and will from 2022 use the IndyCar scoring system. That means victories are now worth 50 points instead of the usual 30 (for road and street courses) or 45 (for ovals) markers, and there will be more points for those finishing lower down the order as well.
The title favourites, part one
With the stage set, who can we expect to fight for the championship? The most obvious place to start is the four-car armada of Andretti Autosport. The defending driver champions start with a completely new line-up, with two rookies and two returning drivers.
Graduating from Indy Pro 2000, Christian Rasmussen and Hunter McElrea are the fresh faces at Andretti. The Danish driver is going for three championships in a row, while McElrea finds himself with a championship-winning team again after a few character-building years with Pabst in Pro. As could be expected, both have found themselves among the front runners in pre-season testing and both should be major players in the championship battle this year.
The third Andretti car is filled by Sting Ray Robb, starting his sophomore year after an unsatisfying rookie campaign with Juncos. Traditionally somewhat of a slow burner (he won the Indy Pro 2000 title on his fourth try), the young man from Idaho has looked a lot more competitive in pre-season and seems to like his new surroundings. Don’t be surprised if he wins his first Lights race this year.
Finally, there’s the surprising but welcome return of Matthew Brabham. The USF2000 champion of 2012 and the Indy Pro 2000 (then Pro Mazda) winner of 2013, his career ran out of steam in 2015 due to funding issues. Now he is back for one final shot at the Lights title and maybe an IndyCar career. The big question will be: how rusty is Matty Brabs after several years driving stadium trucks?
The title favourites, part two
Yes, Andretti got the drivers title with Kyle Kirkwood last year, but the team championship was won by HMD Motorsports and their Global Racing Group partners. This year, they’re expanding from four to five cars and there’s a formal partnership with Dale Coyne Racing. A battle of the giants is coming, and we’re here for it!
Leading the line for the HMD/GRG tandem is Linus Lundqvist. That the Swede can deliver the goods on track is obvious, but financing has been his Achilles heel. If he can convince his Swedish backers to fund him for the full year, last year’s third-place finisher is HMD/GRG’s immediate title favourite.
Joining Lundqvist as expected front runners are Benjamin Pedersen and Danial Frost. Both sophomores, the Danish-American and Singaporean finished fourth and fifth in their rookie season. Especially Pedersen had a strong second half of the season, with a string of podiums, and should regularly challenge for wins in his second Lights season with the team part-owned by his father.
Frost has jumped ship from Andretti and, like Robb, seems to enjoy his new environment. His one-lap speed is the stuff of legends when everything falls into place; what he needs is consistency. If he continues to develop like he has in recent years, he should be a contender for wins as well.
Cars three and four are filled by slightly lesser safe bets. Manuel Sulaiman has shown good pace in Indy Pro 2000 and already switched to Lights late last year, but he basically starts his rookie year now. That means the Mexican will likely need some time to get going. Christian Bogle brings his own car into the HMD fold, after spending his rookie year with the now defunct Carlin team. Being able to utilise the HMD organization and engineering side should massively benefit his development.
Check out our Road to Indy preview podcast down below, starring Kyle Kirkwood and Rob Howden. Text continues below the podcast
Plenty of fresh blood
While Andretti and HMD are likely to dominate proceedings up front, there are several new teams in the field to keep track of in 2022. The most promising of the lot is TJ Speed Motorsports, the squad run by veteran engineer Tim Neff that won the Formula Regional Americas last year with Kyffin Simpson, the 17-year-old boy wonder from the Cayman Islands.
Simpson now graduates to Indy Lights, while a second TJ Speed car is fielded for Irishman James Roe. Both drivers spent some time in Indy Pro 2000 last year (Simpson is a busy bee), and Roe ended the season on a high with a win at Mid-Ohio. It would be unfair to expect too much from TJ Speed in its first year of Lights, but especially Simpson might be capable of grabbing a podium here and there.
Another team moving up with two cars is Abel Motorsports. It graduates from Indy Pro 2000, where Jacob Abel’s one-man band had a good season in 2021. As with TJ Speed, no one expects Abel to immediately challenge for silverware in Lights, but their pre-season pace has been encouraging and Abel could definitely spring a surprise or two. The second car will be driven (at least in St. Pete) by Antonio Serravalle, who spent most of last season running in the back of the field with a private effort and has done very little testing this winter.
A new one-car team is the much-discussed move up by Force Indy from USF2000. The team has signed up Ernie Francis Jr. as its driver, who finished third in Formula Regional Americas in 2021. The trouble is that due to supply delays, the team missed several test sessions during the off-season and faces tough odds. As a result, Force Indy and Francis Jr are likely to trail the competition at first and it would be a big achievement if the Haitian-American manages to cement a place in the top-10.
Compared to other newbies though, Force Indy has it easy. Last November, Exclusive Autosport also said it would move up to Indy Lights (its second attempt), but once again the Canadian team is struggling to get there. Its initial plans were scuppered by the pandemic and the scrapping of the 2020 Lights season, and in recent weeks it has said it’s been waiting in vain for parts to be delivered.
Oddly enough, while Exclusive has consistently referred to supply delays from Dallara, F1 Feeder Series has not heard any such noises from other teams. Informally, it’s well-known that Artem Petrov was scheduled to drive the first car, but F1 Feeder Series has learned that Petrov has been hedging his bets and considering other options, including sportscar opportunities.
Either way, while the supply issues around components seem to have been solved now, Exclusive will not be on the Lights grid in Florida. Instead, it is expected that the team will make its entry into the series later in the season. Whether the second car that was announced in November will appear at all this season, is anyone’s guess.
Following the transfer of operational control from Andersen Promotions to INDYCAR, Indy Lights broadcasts are now a part of the NBC Peacock subscriber package in the US. In Europe, Indy Lights will be broadcast via INDYCAR.com and the INDYCAR mobile app.
Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography