The path is set for Josh Pierson, it is now a matter of following it.
Josh Pierson recently joined the Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) driver development program, where the 16-year-old will compete in the INDY NXT by Firestone series over the next two seasons with the goal of appear on the starting grid of the NTT INDYCAR series in 2025.
« INDYCAR has always been my dream, » said Pierson. “I was looking for ways to secure the future. Talking to some teams, I didn’t necessarily want to do it with one of the big teams like Penske or Chip Ganassi. Obviously I’d love to drive for them, but I think coming in as a rookie, Ed Carpenter is a brilliant team. »
The wheels were already in motion for this union, with the Oregon native having been incorporated into the team atop the ECR timing stand on the penultimate weekend at his home circuit, the Portland International Raceways.
If youth often goes hand in hand with inexperience, this is not the case for Pierson.
A decade of karting started at the age of 2, where he won a number of victories and championships. At 13, he moved up to junior Formula 1, becoming the youngest driver on the USF2000 grid in 2020. The following year he took five podiums and finished fourth in the USF2000 title chase. He set another benchmark in January when he became the youngest driver – at 15 – to compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona – the crown jewel of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
In March, Pierson became the youngest winner in the history of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) after claiming victory in the LMP2 class at the 1000 Miles of Sebring. He also finished 10th in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, becoming the youngest starter in the history of the world’s most prestigious sports car event.
Ultimately, he finished third in the LMP2 championship standings for 2022 in the WEC, collecting top rookie honours.
Considering Pierson’s resume, it’s all the more reason why he’s not concerned with the added pressure of having a long term plan in place for INDYCAR.
“You can look at it as it adds the pressure because it puts a target on my back, or you can look at it as it takes the pressure off because you know you have a secure future if you do your part. Pierson said. « For me, I’m not really concerned about the target behind my back. I know this year in particular will be a learning year for me, and I don’t expect to knock everyone down and win every race.
« I know there’s going to be a period of development, and that’s part of the reason why it’s been two years in INDY NXT. And I think for me, in general, it was just something where there was no better way to do it, really. I also wanted to start making connections. I wanted to have that kind of connection and that way in, but I wanted to build a relationship that would last me a long time. »
Pierson will face a partial campaign next year in INDY NXT, missing three rounds – Barber Motorsports Park, Detroit Grand Prix and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – due to full-time competition disputes with United Autosports in the WEC, alongside WEC; Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist. However, Pierson plans to compete in the full INDY NXT schedule in 2024.
Part of that motivation goes beyond still having a silver WEC license and returning for another attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but also because Pierson feels that learning the nuances of brakes in carbon versus steel brakes and weight shifting, among other things, greatly improved his skills.
« I think it’s important to continue endurance racing, » Pierson said. “I think endurance racing will always be a career choice, and as a driver most of the top INDYCAR drivers do both. When you look at Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, they do Daytona, they do endurance racing along with the INDYCAR program. So definitely I think it’s important to stay in endurance racing. »
If there’s one specialty that Pierson is looking to better understand and imbibe from driver/team owner Ed Carpenter, it’s oval racing. Pierson has two oval starts under his belt, with a best result of eighth place (2021, Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park), which is why he is eager to learn from a triple Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter and three-time winner of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
« Ed is really good at developing talent, and he’s been doing it for a long time, » Pierson said. “Rinus VeeKay is a very, very good driver he has, and Conor Daly too. In general, this is the ideal team to start and learn from.
“Ed, who does the one-offs on the ovals, is a very good oval driver. I think I struggled on ovals in USF2000, so it will be especially interesting to learn from him and see what I can learn on the oval side. They’re a strong team and I think they’re really going to help me develop for the future. »