By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport announced Thursday morning that Indy Lights competitor Devlin DeFrancesco will pilot the No. 29 Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series next season.
The Italian-Canadian racer will replace veteran James Hinchcliffe, who scored a single podium at Nashville and finished 20th in the championship standings.
In just one season in Indy Lights, the 21-year-old scored two podiums en route to a sixth-place points finish. Despite not reaching the top step of the podium, the team highly touts DeFrancesco, including co-owner Michael Andretti.
“We’re thrilled to keep Devlin in the Andretti Autosport family as he makes his final jump up the Road to Indy ladder into INDYCAR,” said Andretti. “Devlin has been a great addition to our Indy Lights program and has showed a lot of growth and strength at the recent test days. I think he’ll continue to grow with INDYCAR and I’m really glad that we could again partner with George and the Steinbrenner Racing team for the No. 29.”
During last month’s test at Barber Motorsports Park, DeFrancesco ended up faster than Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood, who has yet to find a ride for 2022.
Andretti addressed the situation as to why Kirkwood hasn’t been able to secure a gig as the Floridian will have to find a new home for the time being.
“The thing with Devlin is not something that just happened overnight. This is something that we’ve been working on. It’s been like a three-year program. It’s just Devlin getting the seat was always in the plan before Kyle was even around,” Andretti explained.
“It’s not like we picked Devlin over Kyle; it was always going to be Devlin. From that standpoint, that’s why unfortunately at the moment we don’t have a spot for Kyle, but that’s not to say we won’t in the future. We’re definitely going to watch him, and I’m hoping he gets a full-time ride to get experience, and we’ll see how that goes. The goal is to get him back in our family one day again.”
Despite the difficult situation, Andretti is adamant DeFrancesco will adapt to the tough, rugged Indy cars much better.
“I think an INDYCAR is really going to suit his style. He’s a very aggressive style, which I think in Indy Lights probably was not as good for his driving style,” said Andretti. “You have to be very aggressive (in INDYCAR), and he is, and I think that’s why if you saw, he was actually quicker than Kyle in the last test on the same day. That says something because everybody rates Kyle.”
“For him to go out and go quicker than Kyle I thought was really great there at a very tough track, too. Barber is not an easy racetrack. I’m very excited about this, and I think Dev is going to turn a lot of heads this year.”
Already, DeFrancesco has noted that one of the biggest differences from an Indy Lights to an Indy car are definitely the carbon brakes.
“You can seem to attack the brake points much deeper and the car seems to stop a fair bit better,” said DeFrancesco. “As well with the tire, with the Firestone tire, you can combine much more on the entries, so I’d say that makes the car slightly more forgiving than the Indy Lights car.
“Physically, as well, it’s a big step up physically, so that was a bit of an eye opener. But the training that I’ve done definitely set me up quite well for jumping into the INDYCAR.”
DeFrancesco becomes the third confirmed driver that’ll compete for Rookie of the Year honors, joining Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard.
The newest member of the IndyCar paddock added that he’s incredibly grateful for Andretti and George Steinbrenner IV for giving him the opportunity of a lifetime after two seasons polishing his craft in the Road to Indy ladder.
“To now take that final step into INDYCAR with two of the world’s biggest names in sports – Andretti and Steinbrenner – is an incredible opportunity that I can’t wait to take full advantage of,” said DeFrancesco. “I have three very experienced teammates to learn from and that is what makes this opportunity even more exciting. To get to race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport and to contest the Indianapolis 500 is a dream come true and I’m so looking forward to getting started.”