Indy Lights: Kyffin Simpson switches to HMD as disillusion causes rift with TJ Speed

Indy Lights driver Kyffin Simpson’s relationship with TJ Speed Motorsports has come to a premature end, as the 17-year-old driver from the Cayman Islands has decided to switch teams and join HMD Motorsports for the remainder of the 2022 season.

By Jeroen Demmendaal

Simpson, a development driver for NTT IndyCar Series powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing and the reigning Formula Regional Americas champion, will be the sixth entry for the HMD Motorsports-Global Racing Group tandem that is currently leading the drivers’ championship in Indy Lights.

Simpson’s first race for HMD will be the upcoming oval race at Iowa Speedway over the July 22-23 weekend where he joins his new teammates Linus Lundqvist, Benjamin Pedersen, Danial Frost, Christian Bogle and Antonio Serravalle.

The future of TJ Speed in Indy Lights is up in the air as team owner and founder
Tim Neff is considering the sale of his Lights team. Neff told F1 Feeder Series that regardless of what happens to his Lights operation TJ Speed will continue in Formula Regional Americas and is actively exploring possibilities to expand into USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 in 2023.

I’m excited to join HMD at Iowa and for the remainder of the season

Kyffin Simpson

“They have a proven package with Linus leading the championship, as well as three
different drivers on the podium this season, and I’ve been impressed with their ability to field five competitive cars. It’s become clear they can field a sixth car at the same level – an opportunity I believe is too good to pass up at this stage in my development.”

We both agree that our performance this season hasn’t met expectations. I wish Tim and the team all the best for the future

Kyffin Simpson

“I’d like to thank Tim Neff and the whole TJ Speed Motorsports crew for everything they’ve helped me achieve in the last 18 months,” Simpson added. “We had an incredible run in FR Americas – an experience I’ll never forget.”

Increasingly disillusioned

The end of the relationship between Simpson and TJ Speed comes as driver and team have grown increasingly disillusioned with how the 2022 season has progressed. The combination had an incredibly successful run in Formula Regional Americas last year as Simpson scored seven wins and six more podiums on his way to the 2021 championship.

A decision to move up to Indy Lights was taken at an early stage already and the team set up an extensive testing programme for Simpson starting last fall. Former Indy Lights drivers Victor Franzoni and Toby Sowery were engaged in coaching and benchmarking roles and Simpson was getting up to speed well according to all involved. However, F1 Feeder Series understands that as the 2022 season wore on and an immediate improvement in results did not materialise, frustration increased among team, driver and backers.

Kyffin Simpson – Indy Lights Grand Prix at Road America | Credit: Penske Entertainment, Travis Hinkle

While this first season was always supposed to be a learning year, all involved were hoping the squad could develop into a challenger to the dominant Andretti Autosport and HMD outfits. So far, however, Simpson and TJ Speed have two fifth place finishes as their best result. That may not be a big surprise to outside observers as the level of competition in Indy Lights is considerably higher than in Formula Regional Americas, but driver and team clearly harboured bigger ambitions for their rookie season.

Differing expectations

As views continued to differ about what constitutes success and who is responsible for the meagre results, what was originally supposed to be a two-year project for Simpson and TJ Speed started to look increasingly shaky in recent weeks. When the HMD opportunity arose, Simpson and his backers pounced and worked hard to conclude a deal. Given his ambition levels, it wouldn’t be surprising if Simpson uses the remainder of this season to prepare for a proper Indy Lights title challenge with HMD in 2023.

The TJ Speed-Simpson break-up is an unsatisfying end to a combination that looked very promising on paper. Simpson is a great talent and a proven winner who still has plenty of room to grow as a driver at the tender age of 17. Neff knows what it takes to win and has decades of experience and success in both IndyCar and Indy Lights competition.

The formal backing of the Ganassi organisation for Simpson and the near limitless resources at the disposal of the Simpson family as a result of their business success, and it begs the question of how the combination managed not to gel properly in Indy Lights.

Potential sale

One possible and likely explanation is that TJ Speed had to start its first year in Indy Lights with two rookie drivers, instead of a more traditional pairing of a rookie and an experienced driver. Don’t be surprised if Simpson moves up the grid in the second half of 2022 because he can now compare data with mature drivers like Lundqvist, Pedersen and Frost.

As for the potential sale of TJ Speed’s Indy Lights operations, F1 Feeder Series has learned that there have been conversations with several interested parties in recent weeks and months. Those parties include a leading IndyCar Series team and a prominent Europe-based racing organisation.

It is highly unlikely at this point in time that TJ Speed will be back in Indy Lights in 2023 in its current form. The team is not expected to replace Simpson and looks to see out the remainder of the current season with a single car piloted by Irish rookie James Roe. Roe is currently thirteenth and last of the full time runners in the 2022 Lights standings.

Header photo credit: Penske Entertainment, Travis Hinkle

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