The smartest way for the new alliance between HMD Motorsports and the Global Racing Group to achieve their goal of reaching the NTT IndyCar Series is to operate their four-car Indy Lights program like it’s competing in the big championship. So far, with five wins from six Lights races, it’s fair to say the offseason combining of HMD and GRG, along with a significant structural reorganization overseen by general manager Mike Maurini, is on the right path to achieve its goals.
Among the biggest surprises of the Road to Indy season, Chicago’s David Malukas (pictured above) — son of HMD owner Henry Malukas — has been a revelation in his second year of Indy Lights. Earning two podiums from 18 starts in 2019, he’s taken three wins and five podiums in 2021 and holds the championship lead. In second, with two wins and four podiums, is Sweden’s Linus Lunqvist, the runaway 2020 Formula Regional Americas champion with GRG. Young Danish-American driver Benjamin Pedersen — son of GRG owners Christian and Helle Pedersen — has dealt with some adversity and sits P8, and California-based Russian pilot Nikita Lastochkin in P12 is learning as well during his rookie campaign.
Altogether, the HMD/GRG operation is on a charge to topple the defending back-to-back Lights champions at Andretti Autosport and, if the budget and opportunity presents itself, looks to climb the ladder and take on the IndyCar field.
“The team came together late last year,” Maurini told RACER. “Obviously when the 2020 Lights season got canceled, we switched over to the FR Americas program pretty last minute. Actually, within a day of the season getting canceled, we had purchased a car and then acquired another two within a week. We wanted to keep the drivers on track, all the crew employed, so that was that was the direction we went.
“By the time we made it to midseason, it was clear that Linus and David were the were the class of the field. I was working with Henry Malukas, Jonatan George was working with Christian Pedersen; we knew each other and it was a mutual connection to get the two together. It was two meetings at the track, an hour-long Zoom call, and the plan was created. HMD had all the equipment — still owns all the equipment, all the crew, all for cars, trucks, trailers, shop, all that stuff. And Christian brought in two drivers along with some branding. It’s all under one roof. It’s all one team.”
With Malukas and Lastochkin competing under the HMD banner, Petersen and Lundqvist under the GRG brand, and a strengthened budget in place, HMD/GRG started to expand its team’s staffing infrastructure. It’s here where a lot of new talent was infused within the program, which is bearing fruit with the 83-percent win rate.
“It all starts with prep in the shop where we’re trying to run it like the next level up,” Maurini said. “Each driver has their own race engineer and a data guy. There’s two driver coaches, one for every two drivers. Each car has a tire guy. Each car has two mechanics. A lot of teams try to get by with one of everyone where they can, but if you could see at the Detroit races coming up, we’ve got 22 hotel rooms booked for the team. It’s a full-on program.
“The equipment that we use, we’ve been expanding every month. There’s expansion in our future. We want to be in IndyCar, but we also want to expand our place on the Road to Indy. So whether we go up into IndyCar or down into Indy Pro 2000, we’re preparing for whatever the future holds.”
With a current 1-2 in the championship, Maurini hopes to have a HMD/GRG driver holding onto the big NTT IndyCar advancement prize by the end of the season. A leap to IndyCar in 2022 feels like it might be a bit early, but if the team can attract more championship-grade drivers to join the program, anything’s possible in 2023 and beyond.
“Obviously, if our driver wins the championship and they have $1.2 million to spend in IndyCar, it would hurt to let them go somewhere else,” he said. “If the opportunity presents itself, I can’t say we’d be ready right now; maybe it would be in the future. But the people that are calling now from Europe who see our success, that’s very positive for the future.”
Seven more events and 14 races are left to run in the 2021 Lights season. The goal — one that’s been on point — remains unchanged.
“When we started the season, we had the one goal: Beat Andretti,” Maurini said. “We felt like if you could beat those guys, you could win a championship. The benchmark has been Andretti. They’ve had the best drivers and their own kind of ladder for drivers to move all the way up with them in the future. We want to try and create our own opportunities with our drivers in that same way and have our drivers stay and move up with us.”