- The Team Penske boss has looked elsewhere for his driving talent through the years.
- Andretti, a staunch supporter of the feeder system, has mined it for several of his drivers.
- Penske getting on board with Indy NXT, according to Andretti.
In the long, smashingly successful open-wheel history of Team Penske, only four of Roger Penske’s 24 drivers have competed in Indy Lights or a differently labeled version of the development series.
And Michael Andretti indicated that finally, with “a little bit of coaxing,” Penske is seeing the value of the freshly rebranded Indy NXT program.
“I think finally IndyCar is seeing how important Indy NXT is to their future. It took me a little bit of coaxing with Roger to get him behind it. Since he started to look into it and see the interest and see what it's all about, I think he's really gotten behind it big-time,” the chairman and CEO of Andretti Autosport said.
“I think he does now get it and sees how important it is for the future growth of IndyCar to have a good support series like Indy NXT,” said Andretti, who fields a three-driver team in the Indy NXT Series. “So I think things are really bright for Indy NXT now for the future, because I think Roger is—definitely the light went off in his head that he sees that he needs to get behind this and support it.”
Spokesmen for Team Penske and Penske Entertainment declined Autoweek’s invitations to respond. Penske Entertainment runs the Indy NXT series.
Although Penske never plucked anyone directly from Indy Lights for his IndyCar team, two of his drivers have won championships there. Current Team Penske headliner Josef Newgarden is the most recent, with his 2011 title. Paul Tracy won the 1990 championship when the development ladder was called the CART American Racing Series. The late André Ribeiro participated in the development series, and he did so in 1994, when it was known as CART Firestone/PPG/Dayton Indy Lights.
Helio Castroneves also had a two-year stint in Indy Lights in 1996 and 1997. He later joined Penske in CART in 2000.
IndyCar assumed operations of Indy Lights earlier this year, according to an October statement by Andersen Promotions, which had marketed the series since 2014, with IndyCar Series sanctioning.
Andersen Promotions said it has “rebranded the opening steps of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Moving forward, the collective branding for the driver development program will be known as the USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires. USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires will now become an official step on the ladder alongside USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires and USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires (formerly Indy Pro 2000). The decision came as INDYCAR . . . reassesses its overall branding with dual management of the ladder steps between INDYCAR and Andersen Promotions and, for 2023, different tire partners.”
Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, said, “Although we are rebranding the Road to Indy, our goals remain the same—to develop drivers, teams, and crew to advance to Indy Lights and ultimately the NTT IndyCar Series.”
The 2023 Indy NXT by Firestone’s 14-race schedule will begin March 5 in the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. All races will be streamed on NBC’s Peacock platform
2023 Indy NXT by Firestone schedule
- March 5, Streets of St. Petersburg
- April 30, Barber Motorsports Park
- May 12, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course Race 1
- May 13, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course Race 2
- June 3, Streets of Detroit Race 1
- June 4, Streets of Detroit Race 2
- June 18, Road America
- July 2, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
- July 22, Iowa Speedway
- Aug. 6, Streets of Nashville
- Aug. 27, World Wide Technology Raceway
- Sept. 3, Portland International Raceway
- Sept. 9, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 1
- Sept. 10, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 2