A driver with no US racing experience managed to win the IP2000 title, but it required a steep learning curve
On this week’s Formula Scout Podcast, Indy Pro 2000 champion Louis Foster joins to talk about the challenges of his first year racing in America, and how he overcame them to win the title. Listen to the episode on Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or below, and read on for some of the highlights!
Foster made the podium on debut, and led the championship after three races, but his first win did not come until the seventh race of the season.
“If I’m honest, the thing that hindered me for the first three, four weekends was getting used to the Cooper tyres,” said Foster.
“They’re quite a hard compound, whereas the last few years I’ve been driving on Pirellis and Michelins. So having to get my head around those was a bit of a learning curve. But once that was done, I mean, it’s not too different to Europe to be honest.”
Foster describes IP2000’s tyres as being “quite a stiff compound” too, which required adapting his driving.
“So qualifying, I was used to last year and the year before, I’d chuck on a new set of tires and I’m pushing 110% almost and really maximising it. Whereas the Coopers, they didn’t have much of a peak, so I was overdriving quite a lot at the start of the season and asking too much of the tyre. And then once I toned that back a little bit, we kind of figured it out and then we were away for the rest of the year.”
Of the 11 full-time drivers in IP2000 this year, seven were classified as rookies and Foster was counted among those. His Exclusive team-mate Wyatt Brichacek was going into his second season, and Foster could also count on considerable experience from his renowned engineer John Hayes.
“We were suggested him. When we first went out to do our tests at the end of last year in America, obviously we didn’t really know anyone, and it’s very difficult to understand the scene of motorsport in America when you’re coming from Europe.
“So we were recommended John by someone that we knew in American motorsport through IndyCar, and John was a very, very good engineer, we clicked on really well and he knew his stuff. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we ended up winning the championship, was John.
“Exclusive, they’re amazing as well. Had my main mechanic Derrick [Barnes], who worked really, really hard all season to make sure that the car was in top shape.”
The first big unknown for Foster this year was street circuits, with St. Petersburg starting off the season and the extra-bumpy Toronto appearing later on.
“St. Petersburg is a very, very fun track to start off the season with. It’s also a very good track to start off street circuits, because it’s quite a nice welcome to street circuits, it’s not too aggressive, it’s pretty smooth and it’s quite, won’t say easy, but compared to Toronto an easy track.
“But Toronto, it’s very, very bumpy, there’s a lot of surface changes, you’ll be going into the corner and its Tarmac, and then mid-corner you’ll hit a batch of concrete and all of a sudden you understeer. It’s definitely a challenge you got to work with, but I really, really enjoyed the street circuits. This year was my first year driving on them and I think a lot of street circuit driving is mental. I think there’s a lot of massive gain you can have with your mentality at street circuits.
“I think a lot of people tend to be quite scared of the walls. But if you kind of block that out a little bit, and you kind of ignore that the walls are there almost in a way, then you really can kind of get to the limits. But if you’re always driving in fear of the walls, you’re never gonna go fast enough.”
That approach led to a third and a second in St. Pete, and two lights-to-flag wins in Toronto. The other totally new challenge was ovals, with the short Indianapolis Raceway Park and Gateway featuring on the calendar.
“[The ovals] were fun, definitely something new and different to what I’m used to. First one was IRP, which is a very short oval, it’s about 20 seconds or so, and a strange oval as well because it’s progressively banked, which means that it’s the steepest by the wall,” Foster beams.
“What that means is that the racing line is to stay at the wall the entire time. So unlike most ovals, where they start at the top and then kind of come down to the apron on the apex, and then go back up again, this one you stay at the wall the entire time. So you’re driving about a half a car length from the wall the entire lap, for the entire race. So it’s quite scary.
“Small mistakes are very scary because you haven’t got much room to fix something, until you hit it. But that was good fun, I managed to win that race, which was very surprising and probably my favourite one of the year, being my first time ever on an oval.
“[Gateway] didn’t go particularly well. I did finish fourth, but we had a small issue with the set-up of the car and everyone knows on ovals that if the set-up is slightly off, it’s very, very detrimental and you can’t do anything about it. I had a bit of understeer, and it just got worse and worse through the race, so I couldn’t really do anything about it. I just kinda had to sit there and suffer unfortunately. That’s one of the negatives of ovals when the set-up’s not quite right, you can’t really do too much to fix it. But I really enjoyed the ovals this year, it was a good learning curve.”
The fourth place at Gateway interrupted a consistent run of podiums for Foster, who finished first or second in almost every race from picking up his first win on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course to the season finale at Portland.
The Toronto success in particular, which was the only time a driver won all races in a weekend this year, showed how well Exclusive and Foster had come to terms with the new car and the challenges of running on the IndyCar support bill.
“It was definitely always a concern in my mind throughout the weekends how the grip would change, and especially the percentage-wise of grip from the front to rear,” Foster explains.
“If there’s more overall grip, you’re going to have more rear grip proportionately to the front because the rear tyres are bigger.
“We definitely took educated guesses a lot of the time. The big one was Toronto, because IP2000 hadn’t been there for two years, so there was no rubber at all on the track. So once IndyCar hopped in, we went instantly a second faster, and they could put some proper rubber down. It was definitely something that we were keeping a close eye on throughout the year.
“We always had the race pace, and even if you look back and watch you can see it in round one, two, three, and before I got my first win. We always had that race pace, but the qualifying pace wasn’t there at the start because of the tyres, I needed to get used to them.
“The drivers I was driving against this year had three, four years of experience on those tyres, so they knew them quite well. Whereas I got thrown in at the deep end. But once we figured that out, I learned about the tyres in qualifying and understanding that I’m overdriving the car, then I just pulled it back two or three percent and then we started qualifying further up front, and then that’s why it all suddenly looked like we found a bunch of pace.
“When realistically we didn’t find loads of pace, I just drove to the tyres more. And then once I started on pole, I could then win the races a lot more easier than from fifth, for example.”
IP2000’s pole margins in 2022
St. Petersburg 0.0360s, Barber Motorsports Park 0.1657s, Barber race two 0.0069s, Indianapolis Motor Speedway 0.0175s, Indianapolis Raceway Park 0.0350s, Road America 0.4907s, Road America race two 0.1295s, Mid-Ohio 0.0898s, Mid-Ohio race two 0.1403s, Toronto 0.0836s, Toronto race two 0.2280s, Gateway 0.0554s, Portland 0.1364s
Foster won seven times, and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s championship runner-up Reece Gold claimed four wins including the final two races at Portland from pole. The average margin that pole was taken by across the season was 0.1242 seconds, with Foster claiming five of those. Gold’s team-mate Enaam Ahmed, a driver with FIA F3, Euroformula and past IP2000 experience, came third in the standings despite failing to win a race or claim a pole position.
The top two will do battle again next year in Indy Nxt, with Nolan Siegel and Josh Green also graduating from race-winning IP2000 campaigns to drive for HMD Motorsports on the next level of the ladder. There are three new tracks for those drivers to learn, and precious little test time to understand the Dallara IL-15 and its new tyres compounds as “a slight issue with tyre supply” with Indy Nxt’s switch from Cooper to Firestone tyres for 2023 has led to “very little” testing taking place.
“So far I’ve done the Chris Griffis test [at IMS], and then I did two days at Sebring,” says Foster. “We had a day at Barber, but I had tonsillitis for that. That was two days before the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award shootout, and then I still had tonsillitis during that so I got double screwed, but life goes on.
“We have two more days in the car before St. Pete, one at Homestead-Miami in January and then another test some time after that. But that will be on the brand-new Firestone tyre, which I’m very much looking forward to trying out and seeing how it goes. The amount of proper testing days everyone is going to get, realistically, is two days.”
The AMABA shootout at Silverstone included testing a MotorSport Vision Formula 2 car, a Ligier LMP3 prototype sportscar and an Aston Martin Vantage GT3, and off-track physical tests, and Foster actually “wasn’t feeling well enough to drive” on one day due to his tonsillitis. The fact that he was struggling “quite a lot with my health” was taken into consideration in the assessment of his performances, and Foster said it was still “a childhood dream to be able to compete in an award like that” for a second time after also reaching the shootout stage in 2021. However he missed out on victory again.
Laps led in 2022
1 Foster 192 2 Gold 144 3 Seigel 59 4 de Alba 55 5 Eves 30 6 Green 27 7 Porto 25 8 Jonathan Browne 7 9 Miller 2 10 Colin Kaminsky 1
“I went into it with quite a lot more confidence already knowing what I had done from the previous year, so it wasn’t all new to me, but I just got let down by my tonsils, which I’m very much considering chopping out at this point!”
Having won an “extremely competitive” series, it was still a great year for Foster, and he thinks more British drivers will follow him over the pond to race in IP2000, which is being rebranded to USF Pro 2000.
“There’s just a very, very good ladder system here, which unfortunately there isn’t really in Europe. The USF championships really promote ability of drivers, and they support drivers who are quick through scholarship money. And that’s what enabled me to do what I’m doing next year. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
“If you’re a driver that’s looking at F3 and thinking ‘how am I gonna find that money?’, it’s hard! [USF] does really, really offer a good programme, and at the end of it you’ve got IndyCar, which is a great championship.”
2022 Indy Pro 2000 standings
|3||Enaam Ahmed||Juncos||2x 2nd||4x 2nd||0||338|
|5||Braden Eves||JHDD||2x 2nd||1x 2nd||0||304|
|6||Josh Green||Turn 3||1||2||0||298|
|7||Kiko Porto||DEForce||1||1x 2nd||0||290|
|8||Salvador de Alba||JHDD||2||1||2||289|
|9||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri||1x 2nd||2||1||251|
|10||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Pabst Racing||1x 2nd||1x 3rd||0||244|