The quirky Herta-style road behind Andretti’s new IndyCar prospect

Assuming it’s as good as it’s been on the Road to Indy so far, the time isn’t right for Louis Foster.

Andretti’s lead IndyCar driver, Colton Herta, looks like he could be trading the American series for a dryer that is Red Bull’s Formula 1 program, and in doing so, would vacate the kind of seat Foster dreams of one day. .

But Foster is a new kid at Andretti, confirmed today as part of their 2023 Indy Lights lineup, and he still needs at least another year. Based on how his career has played out so far, though, I wouldn’t expect him to need much more than that, and there’s a reasonable case, with apologies to Indy Lights champion-elect Linus Lundqvist, that Foster might be the best prospect in the game. I’m on my way to Indy right now.

Wins Foster's title at Portland

There are some easy parallels to draw between the paths followed by Herta and Foster. Both pioneered British F4 as their first step onto the European single-seater scene. Both successfully ventured into then-British F3 and the Euroformula Open, the latter a series that has proven surprisingly impactful for the future of IndyCar (see also: Alex Palou, 2014 EF Open ‘bronze medalist’). And now Foster has the Andretti Lights ticket that Herta turned into an IndyCar ride a few years ago.

But that similarity disappears once you look beyond the series-by-series CV. In a way, there’s a world apart between the clear single-seater destiny of Colton, the son of former CART/IRL race winner Bryan, and the fortuitous single-seater specialty of Louis, the son of former BTCC driver Nick.

The ‘accidental’ formula driver

Wins Foster's title at Portland

“You know, you look at the kids in European karting and their parents, obviously they’re all run by their parents, mostly by their parents, they were established [up] go to F1 or be a racing driver at the age of five or six,” says Foster.

“Racing was always a big part of my family, but for me it was just a weekend hobby, I never saw it as a career. Even up to the age of 13, he didn’t really think about being a full-time racing driver. I always thought: ‘I’ll have a little fun and then I’ll do what my dad did and start a business, let that be my life'”.

You can see that reflected in Foster’s karting resume: no major international series, just a few trophies at local club level. And it wasn’t F4 that he ended up going to: it was Ginetta Junior, BTCC’s one-make support series for karting graduates.

But you may also know the Ginetta series as the place where Lando Norris plied his trade before F4 and, coming within eight points of the title at his first opportunity, Foster ended up following Norris’ early trajectory.

“It was going to be a long-term thing,” Foster says of his Ginetta plan.

“[But] the first year went so well that we were ‘forced’ into F4 [pictured below] in a way, because I was too young to do anything else. I couldn’t get into a GT4 car because I was too young.

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“Again, single-seaters aren’t really part of my family, you know. My dad did all the tintop stuff. So single-seaters are something very new for us.

“And then from there I met people in the single-seater scene and then I progressed that way. So I would say that only at the end of 2018 is when we start to seriously consider it as a race. And for that, karting, I didn’t even get out of Cadets [class of karts for drivers aged 8-13]. I tried an X30 [full-sized kart] once, but my dad wouldn’t let me race anything faster than Cadets because he was scared.”

Foster’s European Single Seater Race

2019 – 3rd in British F4, 6 wins
2020 – 3rd in BRDC British F3, 3 wins
2020 – part-time at Euroformula Open, 1 win
2021 – 2nd in Euroformula Open, 1 win

Most of the drivers who walk the same steps as Foster on the European ladder harbor F1 aspirations for as long as they can afford it, and sometimes even longer than that. But Foster’s opinion was different.

He’s not immune to the allure of F1 – if the IndyCar story goes according to plan and a door somehow opens in F1 a few years from now, he’ll surely want to at least put his foot in the doorframe, but as he says, “we made the American decision, mentally, a long time ago.”

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Euroformula Louis Foster Open

“We looked at it and said, ‘well, we don’t have the money to go to F1, so that’s not an option.’

“And I would say probably at the end of British F3, we decided I do GT or LMP in Europe, or I race in America.

The American option appealed to Louis because the US itself did it, a very specific part of the US.

“I was always a little bit fascinated with the United States and living here, probably mostly because of the amount of media we get from it, whether it’s movies or TV shows,” he said, but it was also about moving out of his “very rural” origin in Hampshire to a big city like Los Angeles.

He enrolled at Loyola Marymount University there already during the EF Open campaign which was always intended to serve as a bridge between his European and American careers. Foster has since backed out of it: he says he just couldn’t make it work amid his ramping-up career as a pilot.

There is no time to lose

louis foster

Foster entered Road to Indy with the Exclusive Autosport team at the middle level: Indy Pro 2000. You better know him as ‘Pro Mazda’ or ‘Star Mazda’; Either way, his champions include current IndyCar drivers Conor Daly, Rinus Vee Kay and Kyle Kirkwood.

And Foster wanted his name on the trophy right away, to get the funding for a lights move as part of the much-loved sponsored progression system that exists for Road to Indy champions.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘I should be able to win it.’ She had a decent amount of experience in Europe.

“The only problem was that it is my first year of racing in the United States. It is very new to me.

“Not only that, but also ovals and street racing, I hadn’t done either of those before. Learning cars and tires. [Cooper rubber, which Foster hadn’t raced in Europe].

“Those are real issues that I had to deal with. [most of] the other drivers this year did not. They already knew the tires, they already knew the tracks, they already had experience on ovals and street circuits.

foster toronto

“The goal is the same every year, which is to win the championship and we have always been very, very close. [in Europe] but yes, this year was definitely a little more difficult, because there was a big cash prize at the end. Whereas previously there has not been.

“There are some prizes for certain things [in Europe]but a big, substantial prize that changes the race, there really isn’t anyone else that does it like Road to Indy does.

“So yeah, it was definitely a feeling of ‘I need to win the championship and this has to be my year.'”

And, spoilers, it was.

The adaptation can be clearly traced through his results card for the season: he stayed there in the title race for the first few rounds, winning for the first time in race seven and then taking six more wins in the last 11 races. For running. him away with the title and the money.

Foster Lucas Oil Raceway Oval

But what was perhaps more impressive is that there were immediate results on both street tracks and ovals, two massive IndyCar mainstays that I had no European experience on.

“I guess it’s really about taking your time,” Foster said of the two rounds of street racing he found on the schedule, which yielded four podium finishes and two pole wins from four starts.

“I spent both Toronto and St. Pete, in our only practice session, the first 15 minutes driving 2 mph, just sightseeing basically.

“And then somehow you have a switch, or at least I have, in my head: Once I’ve driven a little bit and figured it out, a switch flips in your head and your driving and ‘okay, we’re pushing now’. And then it just clicks.

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“I prefer street courses because there is no margin for error. I think when drivers have that safety net of a curb and some grass and gravel, they tend to push a little harder. And when they don’t have that safety net, they don’t push as hard.

“For me, I just ignore the walls a little bit.”

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As for the oval baptism: first start, first victory, chase and overtake two fellow contenders for the title on the IRP short track.

“It was a bit of a relief to know that we can do this; that was the biggest challenge for me, and i agreed with them. [ovals]They were OK.

“I broke it a little bit myself. I was like, ‘well, they’re just fast southpaws really.’

“You can overcomplicate it in your head, but when it comes down to it, it’s really just a bunch of quick left hands that you keep doing continuously with a bit of a lean. The banking is the part that makes it very, very incomplete, it’s not really the speed.

“The first oval we did wasn’t a big incline, so it was a nice easy entry.”

A ‘dream’ now in sight

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Andretti’s three-year streak of Lights titles is about to be snapped courtesy of Lundqvist, but he remains clearly a powerhouse in the series. He has won five races this season in the series, two with rookie Hunter McElrea, who has already confirmed he will stay in 2023.

But Foster seems well aware that if he’s going to make a flawless case for an IndyCar ride, he has to take on McElrea and others immediately.

“This is my fifth year competing with single-seaters. So every year we always have the same ‘I want to win’ mentality.

“And we’ve always done well, [although] obviously this year is the first we won.

“We are with the best team on the grid. My teammate is going to be very, very strong – Hunter [pictured below]he is currently third in the standings this year, he will definitely be my target to beat, but I will also learn a lot from him.

“But yeah, I think the goal is always to win.”

Hunter Mcelrea Indy Lights in Mid Ohio By Chris Owens Reference image without watermark M63673

The prestige of racing for Andretti, “one of the biggest names in motorsports, definitely the biggest name in America,” is also not lost on Foster. “I am happy that someone has looked at my performance and my hard work and my efforts and left. [yeah, we want him] – is confirmation that what I am doing is the right thing to do.”

He doesn’t hide the fact that he also sees himself representing Andretti in IndyCar.

“Dream scenario, I race for them in Lights, win the championship and then race for them in IndyCar. That to me is the alignment of the stars.

“[But] compared to me watching Formula 1 when I was at Ginetta Juniors, for me to get to a Formula 1 seat it would have been 75,000 stars aligned, but right now to get to Andretti in IndyCar, not that many need to align. And then that’s it, job done, at which point I achieved my goal of getting there and then it’s time to set more goals of winning championships in IndyCar.

“So of course the stars have to align especially in the driver market. I also need to do the work at Lights and they must want to have me in IndyCar.

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“But as long as he does a decent job next year, wins the championship or has a very, very competitive season, especially against Hunter, then I think we have a very good chance.”

Herta’s potential move to AlphaTauri really throws a wrench in the works in terms of what would be available to Foster should he impress enough next year to be in contention for ’24.

But the simple way to look at it is, as The Race understands through paddock sources, all of Andretti’s seats (certainly depending on whether Herta leaves and what deal her replacement gets) could be available next year either by expiry. or by mechanisms in contracts. that allow drivers and teams to separate earlier.

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