Sunday, May 26, 2024

Matt Brabham impresses in Indy NXT return at Iowa

Matt Brabham was just coming off testing an LMP2 car in Spain when Juncos Hollinger Racing called to look for someone to drive the #75 car in Saturday’s Indy NXT race at Iowa Speedway. Despite starting at the back of the field and not having raced in the series all year, Brabham quickly showed why he was one of the top drivers in 2022 as he sliced his way from eleventh to fourth.

The opportunity arose after JHR released Matteo Nannini prior to Iowa in what was stated as a “team decision”. Despite dominating and winning Indianapolis in just his third NXT start, Nannini had struggled otherwise as he failed to score a top ten in any of the other races. Brabham returned to the United States from his European test on Wednesday and arrived at Iowa the following day. He started at the back after struggling in practice and being more conservative in qualifying, but quickly worked his way up on race day. JHR colleague Rasmus Lindh beat him for the final spot on the podium by slightly over a second.

“So much fun passing and making our way up into contention for the podium after the final restart,” wrote Brabham. “Had a great time being back in an open wheel on a short oval. Some of the best racing out there for sure.”

Brabham finished third in the 2022 Indy NXT (then Indy Lights) standings with two wins in his first season back since 2015, but departed Andretti Autosport as sponsorship dried up and the team overturned their lineup for 2023. He eventually committed to the Trans-Am Series, where he had impressed in select starts over recent years, and currently sits second in the TA standings behind team-mate Chris Dyson with victories at Sebring and Indianapolis. In April, he returned to the Stadium Super Trucks—a series he has compared to Trans-Am vehicle-wise despite being a different discipline—and swept the season opener in Long Beach, adding to a loaded trophy case that includes three SST titles; Jacob Abel, who finished second in the Iowa NXT race, also has stadium truck experience.

While a strong showing, Brabham’s deal with JHR is only for one race. Unless JHR retains him for the next round in Nashville in early August, he will likely run the SST races there that weekend, where he won in 2022. Brabham told The Checkered Flag in March 2022 that the trucks provide another source of income as it is “hard to make a living and pay the bills” in Indy NXT due to the latter’s nature as a developmental series. It is impractical for him to race both series in the same weekend as NXT has too many obligations, though he ironically pulled it off at Nashville last year as there were large enough gaps between NXT and SST sessions and inclement weather cancelled NXT’s qualifying session that otherwise would have run too close to SST Race #1.

In spite of his closed-wheel racing achievements, the 29-year-old has been open about wanting to return to the NTT IndyCar Series after making his first and only start at the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Since then, he has remained involved to some degree by driving the two-seater IndyCar for guests at race weekends.