A majority of INDY NXT by Firestone teams and drivers gathered for the first major private test session of 2024 on Jan. 15-16 at Sebring (Florida) International Raceway, accelerating preparations for the season opener March 10 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Nineteen drivers turned laps on the short version of the rough-and-tumble circuit, which combines asphalt and concrete from former military runways. It’s an ideal simulation for the bumpy streets of St. Pete.
While a combination of rain and sun made it challenging to discern patterns, here are a few facts and trends from the test for the INDYCAR development series:
Foster Flying High
Louis Foster won two races and claimed four poles as a rookie last season with Andretti Global, finishing fourth in the standings. Nolan Siegel of HMD Motorsports was the only rookie to place ahead of him, five points ahead in third.
Foster enters 2024 as a favorite for the championship and career enhancements to advance to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that come with the title. He did nothing during the two-day test to dispel that notion.
The British driver was the only driver to place in the top three in all four sessions at Sebring, morning and afternoon both days. He led the morning session on Tuesday, was second on Monday afternoon, and third on Monday and Tuesday afternoon.
What made that distinction even more impressive was that conditions varied from very wet to dry, and Foster was the master of all in his Andretti Global machine. He looks to be a handful for his rivals this season.
Chadwick, Abel Find Consistency
While Foster was the only driver in the top three in all four sessions, veterans Jamie Chadwick and Jacob Abel also showed consistent speed.
Chadwick, who finished 12th in the standings last season, led Monday afternoon after ending up second Monday morning.
That continued the steady progression she showed during her rookie season in 2023 as she learned the car and North American circuits. All five of her top-10 finishes came in the final eight races of the year, and she looks to be a solid contender for her first series victory in 2024.
Abel was arguably the breakout star of 2023, ending up a close fifth in the standings with his family-owned Abel Motorsports team. He led Monday morning at Sebring and was second Tuesday afternoon to bookend his test with two strong sessions.
It feels like it’s only a matter of “when,” not “if,” Abel scores his long-awaited first career INDY NXT by Firestone victory this season.
Attractive Free Agents
It’s fair to say no one did a double-take when Michael d’Orlando topped the time sheets Tuesday afternoon in the final session with the quickest overall time of the test. After all, the former USF2000 champion won four races last season in USF Pro 2000 en route to finishing fourth in the standings.
But the interesting wrinkle surrounding d’Orlando is that he’s fast – and free.
D’Orlando has not announced his destination for the 2024 season yet, but you can bet his phone is lighting up with texts and calls if he hasn’t signed yet with a team. He turned laps with HMD Motorsports last fall during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and was in a Juncos Hollinger Racing car at Sebring.
Caio Collet also was a fast free agent at Sebring. Collet, an FIA Formula 3 race winner from Brazil, was second quickest Tuesday morning in an HMD car, which will attract even more interest in his driving services in 2024.
Variety is Spice of Series
While Linus Lundqvist dominated INDY NXT by Firestone in 2022 and Christian Rasmussen eased away from the field to win the title in the second half of last season, test results show this season could be tough to predict.
Sure, Foster, Chadwick and Abel were constants around the top of the time sheets. But unheralded drivers such as rookies Bryce Aron of Andretti Global and Collet and longtime series veteran Christian Bogle of HMD Motorsports also were among the top three in one of the four sessions.
Aron also was fourth in another session. He showed impressive pace in damp conditions, as both sessions in which he was in the top four took place in the wet.
Yuven Sundaramoorthy didn’t crack the top five in any session, but he was the quickest among series rookies who have been named to a ride for 2024.
Sundaramoorthy was sixth overall in the dry final session Tuesday afternoon in an Abel Motorsports car. Session leader d’Orlando was the only rookie ahead of him, but he hasn’t yet been announced by a team.