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McElrea planning for IMSA events in ’24 while pursuing IndyCar shot

Hunter McElrea has no ambitions of returning to Indy NXT after a finishing runner-up for the 2023 title, with eyes solely focused forward at opportunities in the IndyCar Series and IMSA next year.

Hunter McElrea, Andretti Autosport

The 23-year-old Los Angeles-born New Zealander is coming off his second season in IndyCar’s developmental category, earning two wins, six podiums and two poles en route to finishing behind champion Christian Rasmussen. McElrea contested both seasons with Andretti Global (then Andretti Autosport), which featured an additional two wins, seven podiums and three poles in finish fourth in the 2022 standings and claim top rookie honors.

While McElrea has no plans of returning for a third campaign in Indy NXT, things are also tricky moving forward due to the increased focus of testing going toward IndyCar’s hybrid program that is set to be unleashed for 2024.

“The first thing is trying to get a test sorted,” McElrea said. “It's good chats, but nothing really to say right now. The new hybrid thing, there's not really a schedule that anyone has in terms of testing, right? All the chats I've had, no one really knows when the test days are 'cause the hybrid thing has everything waiting. We'll see. I don't have anything to say whether the test is hopefully at the end of this year, what I'll be pushing for or sometime early next year, I'm not sure. I'd love to be on the grid full time, but it's looking pretty slim right now. But I think being on the grid in some way, try to get an audition next year and go in there and make a splash and try to get a job. So we'll see what happens.”

Hunter McElrea, Andretti Autosport

Hunter McElrea, Andretti Autosport

Photo by: Chris Jones / Penske Entertainment

The only driver to have competed in Indy NXT this past season that is confirmed for an IndyCar seat for 2024 is Kyffin Simpson, who will pilot a fifth entry for Chip Ganassi Racing. Simpson scored two podiums and one pole to finish 10th in the 2023 standings while missing one round due to a conflict on the European Le Mans Series schedule.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen just completed a test with Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park this past Monday, but is still not confirmed for a seat.

“We've seen it for so many years in this sport, money talks,” McElrea said. “I don't have any hard feelings or anything. At the end of the day, I look at this year and I honestly there's maybe one or two things, but I didn't make more really mistakes than anyone else or anything like that. It just wasn't really meant to be; the luck wasn't there and vice champion is what it was. Obviously, it wasn't the goal, but I can look back at this year and think I executed a good job and I was fighting for wins every weekend, winning races, on pole. I hope that I made it clear that I'm ready for the step.

“Team owners have told me that I deserve a shot. That's one thing at least, you know what I mean? Again, that's not going to get me a seat, but knowing that I've done what I think a good enough job is to get a seat. I kind of hold my head high there and I'm just working so hard to get some opportunity. I think I'll get a shot. I don't know when or how, but I think I will. And when I do get that shot, I think that I'll hopefully show that I can belong there.”

 

In many ways, McElrea is drawing inspiration from the Linus Lundqvist, the 2022 Indy NXT champion that was forced to sit on the sidelines until the 13th of 17 rounds in IndyCar. The outing came with Meyer Shank Racing on the Streets of Nashville and was enough to have two additional outings, impressing enough to earn a full-time seat in 2024 with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“To be honest, the Linus situation to me reaffirms that you are able to get to there without having 20 million bucks or whatever that number is, 'X' amount of millions to get there,” McElrea said. “Again, I'm not trying to take a dig at anyone. The scenario at the day is that if you have enough money, 10 million-plus, you are going to be in IndyCar. And I'm not in that position.

“Linus won the championship, sat on the couch for a year, got one shot, and then led to another couple others and now he's driving for the team that's dominating right now. So, that gives me hope. That is not necessarily what I'm modeling 'cause I don't want to be on the couch next year, but it shows that if you get a good opportunity in a good car, and I think the level that Indy NXT is right now - IndyCar's the toughest series in the world, no doubt - but the level that IndyCar's at, all of us - myself, Christian (Rasmussen), Louis (Foster), all of us that were consistently at the front, I think the level is there to go in and be competitive. Time will tell, but yeah, the Linus situation for sure gives hope.”

McElrea is also keen to bolster his experience with some endurance racing in IMSA, with the focus of doing something in the LMP2 category. “Next year, nothing's confirmed, but I'll probably dabble a little bit of IMSA stuff just to keep (fit),” he said.

“I want to do Daytona and that sort of stuff. Everyone wants to do Daytona and those really cool races. So, just to do that is going to be cool. I think also to keep race fit for when and if that opportunity hopefully arises, I think that's going to be good. The endurance races are something I'm looking at, and sorting out now and talking to some teams about. I'll probably drive one of those soon. IMSA is awesome and the cars are cool. It'd be an LMP2 car. An LMP2 car would almost align very close to the Indy NXT car and the speed. I'm expecting it to be a pretty similar; different in its own way, but very similar speed car to drive.”

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