The Force Indy team will evaluate Ernie Francis Jr in an Indy Lights car on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course at the upcoming Chris Griffis Memorial Test.
If the five-time Trans Am series champion and relative newcomer to open-wheel racing performs as expected, the 23-year-old from Florida is primed to land a full-time opportunity with the team led by Rod Reid that serves as the springboard for Penske Entertainment’s Race For Equality & Change program.
Announced in 2020 by NTT IndyCar Series and IMS owner Roger Penske and launched in 2021 with Myles Rowe behind the wheel of the No. 99 Force Indy USF2000 entry. Facing experienced multi-car teams, Rowe and Force Indy won one race, earned six top 10s, and placed 13th in the championship as Rowe returned to the sport after a budget-driven layoff of nearly four years.
“I am pleased with the progress we made in our first season and excited about continuing our mission of fostering diversity and inclusion in motorsports,” Reid said. “As we evaluate our plans for 2022, I am considering moving up the Road to Indy ladder. As such, we are coordinating a test date in an Indy Lights car, and we will be evaluating Ernie Francis Jr. as the driver.”
Driving for the new Future Star Racing Formula Regional Americas team, Francis Jr won his first open-wheel race in June at Mid-Ohio and scored back-to-back victories at the most recent FRA round at Virginia International Raceway. On his first attempt to race something other than 800hp Trans Am cars, Francis Jr currently holds third in the championship with one event left to run.
And on his oval debut last summer in the new SRX series, Francis Jr won a race and placed second in the standings behind IndyCar and NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. With his talents on display across multiple racing series, calls to Penske intensified, which led to the upcoming Indy Lights test which will be run by a veteran team on behalf of Force Indy.
⚡️NEWS FLASH⚡️ @erniefrancisjr is now a #FRAmericas 3-time race winner after a stellar drive @VIRnow. He made it two in a row fending off Championship-leader @Kyffin_Simpson & #VarunChoksey who came home 2nd & 3rd, respectively. Read more: https://t.co/6LAncaMTa6 pic.twitter.com/ovPGM3yYOM
— FR Americas (@FR_Americas) September 27, 2021
In addition to grooming next-generation African American driving talent, Reid and Force Indy also spent its debut season developing a diverse mechanical and communications team to support the effort.
Although Reid said no final decisions have been made, there’s a strong possibility Force Indy will focus solely on Indy Lights. In anticipation of the move away from USF2000 to compete on top step of the open-wheel training ladder, Rowe’s time with the team has come to an end. Reid has assisted the college student in the process of finding a new team to continue his upward growth. A full budget will be needed wherever he might land.
“We have also arranged an off-season test for Myles Rowe with another team in the USF2000 Series,” Reid added. The Chris Griffis test is scheduled for October 30-31.