Nico Hulkenberg "has an interest" in testing an IndyCar
The current Aston Martin reserve driver has recently been in talks with Ed Carpenter
The ever-popular Nico Hulkenberg hasn't been a full-time F1 driver since 2019, when he was with Renault alongside current McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo. Since then he has made a return to F1 as a super-sub, standing in for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll at Racing Point when both of them fell ill with COVID-19 at different points in the season. He is now the official reserve driver for Aston Martin and, whilst it's keeping him in a good position in the F1 world, Hulkenberg has been open to options elsewhere. One of those options he's apparently interested in is IndyCar!
As early as 2019, when Hulkenberg knew his days at Renault were numbered, he paid a visit to Chip Ganassi Racing. He's also been in contact with Ed Carpenter of his eponymous racing team. "I’ve talked to Nico several times over the past year-and-a-half," Carpenter said to Motorsport.com. "I think he definitely has an interest in coming over and at least experiencing an IndyCar in a test. But getting that nailed down is not something that just happens out of desire."
Carpenter reckons that there's been a surge of interest in IndyCar amongst European drivers. "I’m sure he and others are even more interested having seen what Romain [Grosjean] has done and how much fun he’s having here. That’s got to open people’s eyes and have them asking themselves what all their options really are." The successes of European drivers in the sport such as Romain Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay as well as other ex-F1 drivers such as Takuma Sato have to have gone some way towards convincing Hulkenberg that moving to IndyCar could be a good career option. Indeed, Hulkenberg isn't the only ex-F1 name who's been rumoured to want to make the switch, as Red Bull Racing reserve driver Alex Albon has been linked with a potential move to Andretti Autosport's IndyCar team.
There's also potentially a sponsor interest involved in getting Hulkenberg on board. One of Ed Carpenter Racing's primary backers is the German car care company Sonax (Sonax U.S. is owned by Carpenter's stepfather Tony George). As Hulkenberg is a German driver, ECR's German sponsors may be keen to get one of their fellow countrymen in the car. "Our program is with Sonax U.S., not the main program in Germany, but potentially it could be interesting to them to have Nico here, yeah. For sure that was some of the thought behind the initial conversation. But I wouldn’t put a whole lot of substance to it.
"The amount of people we talk to over the course of a year remaining in contact and having an understanding of who’s available out there is just all part of the process that we or any team goes through."
One of the biggest hurdles that Hulkenberg might have to face if he was to start racing in IndyCar is whether he'd be comfortable with racing on ovals. Whilst his former F1 colleague Grosjean will be making his oval debut in August at the World Wide Technology Raceway, Carpenter isn't so sure that Hulkenberg would want to jump into racing on ovals so soon. "We haven’t gone into that type of detail," Carpenter said. "We were just getting to know one another and seeing if there’s any interest in our branch of the sport.
"My perception was that I don’t think he knows enough to be comfortable with ovals just yet. And anyway, I don’t think he’s at a point where he’d be prepared to say he wants to come over and race here. I think he’s curious about IndyCar to the extent where he’d want to test one because right now he probably has more questions than answers."
Currently, ECR runs one full-time driver (Rinus VeeKay in the #21 car) and the #20 car is shared between Conor Daly for the road and street courses and Carpenter himself for the ovals. Carpenter is hoping that eventually his team will be able to run two full-time drivers, with a third part-time car (likely for himself) used only for the ovals. If Hulkenberg wants to do IndyCar but isn't willing to race on ovals even after a rookie year of only doing road and street courses, that could potentially scupper his chances of a guaranteed future in American open-wheel racing.
Of course, like many things in motorsport, we'll just have to wait and see what comes of the talks between Hulkenberg and Carpenter. One thing is for sure though; if Hulkenberg was to take his racing career stateside, he wouldn't have a shortage of fans rallying behind him!