By Steve Wittich
With 80 days remaining before the 2020 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season officially gets started at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March, it’s a little early for us to be sending out a silly-season update.
However, the teams have been busy locking down drivers, so we thought it would be prudent to get you caught up with what has been going on.
Watch for updates for all three series over the next three days. First up is the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series.
The Indy Lights teams, along with Dan Andersen and Andersen Promotion staff, have been working hard to lower the budgets and increase the entries for the top rung of the Road To Indy.
The 2019 season had 22.8% more races contested by drivers over the first 17 races of the season (we used the first 17 race because the 2018 season had 17 races). TSO Ladder expects another notable increase in car count for the 2020 season. There is a high probability that at least a dozen drivers will start the season in St. Petersburg, and an outside chance that number could be as high as 15.
As far as teams go
Andretti Autosport’s J.F. Thorman has made it clear they are planning on entering four cars again in 2020 after dropping to a three-car program last year.
Belardi Auto Racing is expected to run a minimum of two cars, with three cars possible.
New entrant Exclusive Autosport is also expected to have a minimum of two cars, and team owner Michael Duncalfe did confirm that they could 100% run a third car.
HMD Motorsports, who had two tubs last year, purchased a third car in anticipation of expansion to field a trio of drivers.
Ricardo Juncos, the team owner at Juncos Racing, told TSO Ladder that a pair of cars and crew are ready to go and that he expects to be part of the series again in 2020.
Jay Howard Driver Development purchased a pair of IL-15s but is only expected to run an extensive test program next year in anticipation of entering the Indy Lights series in 2021.
One team that TSO Ladder does not expect back in the series is Carlin. The IL-15s that the Delray Beach, Fla. team were utilizing have been purchased by Exclusive Autosport and Jay Howard Driver Development.
As far as drivers go
The signed driver
At present, only David Malukas has been confirmed by a team. The 19-year-old, who had a pair of podiums last year will return with HMD Motorsports.
“We are very happy to have David back in 2020,” explained HMD Motorsports Team Manager John Cummiskey. “2019 was a great learning year for David, and he was able to gather podium results in Austin as well as on the oval in St. Louis. Returning for 2020 with renewed focus, energy and experience by his side, David will be a contender for the series title as we head towards Laguna Seca next September.”
The multitude of unsigned drivers
Yes, we have an idea of where a few of these drivers mentioned below are headed and what teams they are talking with, but until deals are signed, we aren’t comfortable putting any deals in jeopardy. Also, we expect a few other unexpected names to pop up.
It would be surprising to see Robert Megennis, a 19-year-old New Yorker and a freshman at Fordham University, anywhere but back with Andretti Autosport. Especially, with a post Sebring International Raceway test statement like this.
“I’ve never done a second year in the same car before, and now I’m able to really work on pinpointing every little mistake and get better,” said Megennis. “And [team manager] Don Lambert is awesome, as is the whole team. I’ve done a full year with them now and we can just work on improving everything. They understand what I need to go fast, so it’s all working great.”
Megennis, who won last year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, drove four different cars – the Van Diemen\Elan DP08 & Tatuus USF-17 in USF2000, the PM-18 in Indy Pro 2000 and the Dallara IL-15 in Indy Lights – in his first four seasons of Road To Indy action.
One name that has been absent from the timesheets at the last two official tests is Lucas Kohl, but TSO does expect to see him on the Indy Lights grid in March. The Brazilian made the difficult jump from USF2000 to Indy Lights with Belardi Auto Racing last year. The 21-year-old made progress throughout the season, and it will be interesting to see how he fares if he chooses to do a second season with the Brownsburg, Ind. based team.
Toby Sowery, who contested the full 2019 Indy Lights season, winning once and collecting eight podiums with HMD Motorsports, is eager to return to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The 23-year-old has been talking with several teams.
Reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Kyle Kirkwood sat out the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October but was behind the wheel of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport machine during testing at Sebring last week. The Floridian finished the recent test at Sebring with the second quickest time in his first outing in an IL-15.
Rasmus Lindh, runner-up to Kirkwood in both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 the past two seasons, tested with Andretti Autosport during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test before sampling the No. 2 from the HMD Motorsports stable at Sebring. The 18-year-old from Sweden turned in the quickest time during that test for the Brownsburg, Ind. based team.
Two-time Indy Pro 2000 winner Danial Frost tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and Sebring open test for Andretti Autosport. The 18-year-old from Singapore also took part in a private test for Exclusive Autosport at Palm Beach International Raceway, the team he drove for during the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 season.
Nikita Lastochkin and Exclusive Autosport made their Indy Lights debut together in impressive fashion at Sebring during the series open test last week. The Russian driver and Canadian team ended the first day with the third quickest time. TSO expects this pairing to make the jump from Indy Pro 2000, where Lastochkin made 44 starts, together in 2020.
Antonio Serravalle has contested 23 Indy Pro 2000 races with his family-run team over the past two seasons. The young Canadian was only a half-second off the top spot during the recent test at Sebring, impressing the HMD Motorsports team that provided him with a seat for the two-day test.
Another driver that impressed his team during the open test last week in Central Florida was third-generation driver Flinn Lazier. The Vail. Colo. native and winner of the 2019 SCCA run-offs in the Formula Atlantic class was testing with Belardi Auto Racing.
Andretti Autosport has introduced a pair of European trained drivers to the top level of the Road To Indy over the past two tests.
Egor Orudzhev, a Russian with an extensive racing background, including two wins and 22 podiums in three seasons of Formula Renault 3.5 Series action, tested with the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. TSO Ladder has also heard that the SMP racing driver, who has been concentrating on sports car racing the past two years, is exploring NTT IndyCar Series options.
Nineteen-year-old Tristian Charpentier was behind the wheel for the team that has produced the last two Indy Lights champions during the Sebring test. The Frenchman ended the test as one of four Andretti Autosport that were all within two-tenths of a second in second to the fifth spot on the timing screens.
Also, don’t rule out a return from a couple of former teammates and Indy Lights veterans. Aaron Telitz and Santi Urrutia are both rumored to be interested in, open to, and discussing with teams, another season of Indy Lights action
Urrutia, who has eight series wins to go along with a pair of second place, and third place championship finishes has been talking with several teams about a return to the United States. The Uruguayan spent 2019 in Europe and finished in third in the TCR Europe Touring Car championship, his fifth straight season of racing in which he finished top three in the championship he was contesting.
Telitz has three wins, including a dominant win on the Streets Of Exhibition Place in Toronto last year, in two and a half seasons of Indy Lights action.
Another familiar name to long-time Road To Indy fans that has been sniffing around the paddock again is Tatiana Calderón. The Colombian contested the 2010 and 2011 Indy Pro 2000 (Star Mazda at that time) with Juncos Racing before moving to Europe. Last season, the 26-year-old took part in the FIA Formula 2 Championship as well as completing duties as a test driver for the Alfa Romeo Racing Formula One Squad.
As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back with more Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires silly season coverage over the next few days