While Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Alex Palou are seeking a switch to Formula 1, Coyne’s rookie Malukas said the ability to make progress from the back of the field in IndyCar makes it unlike any other series.

“It’s so bad that I am so obsessed with IndyCar,” he said. “I don’t think I could ever drive anything ever again other than IndyCar. It is just so much fun, with the whole strategy.

“In any other series… if you don’t really qualify at the front you know it’s going to be a tough race to get up there, where with IndyCar… Will Power is a great example for this at Mid-Ohio – literally comes from dead last and puts it on the podium. We still haven’t managed to do that. I still need to learn how he does those magic tricks.

“But it is what makes IndyCar feel so special and you always have that clinging hope especially at the end. You’re like, ‘Still one more pit stop, something crazy can happen, we still have a chance to be up there.’ That’s kind of the strong connection that I have with the series.”

Rookie Malukas, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights championship, has a best finish of ninth this season, but has twice qualified in the top six, and said his father Henry Malukas is who inspired him to become a racer.

“When you’re a kid, you kind of just follow what’s been given, right?” said Malukas who is Chicago-born but whose heritage is Lithuanian. “Especially when I was a six-year-old and said I want to become a racer – that doesn’t just come out of the blue. That was influence from my father. He never did anything on the serious end, but he always loved it when he was a kid. Never really had the opportunity to do anything with him being in the Soviet Union.

“But when he came to America he obviously got himself a Corvette to go around Road America and do some club races with a couple of friends, and we both together went into go-karting. He was in DD2 and I was in Kid Karts and it was just like a nice father-and-son moment, and throughout the years we ended up just following that path. After a few years I was obsessed. I was glued to it, and I could never leave the racing world…

“Of course, we’re also doing it just to have fun, but there’s definitely some moments where it’s like more on the working end, but every step of the way it’s been amazing.”

Asked what are the areas he feels he needs to improve for 2023, Malukas replied: “There’s just so much to pit stops, and yes, they’re better, but there’s still a lot to gain and find there, and just anything strategy-wise.

“In Indy Lights I think it is a very good series to go up the ladder and prepare you for IndyCar, but the one thing it really doesn’t have is pitstops, having strategies and different fuel mappings and so much overtake to figure out how to use it all.

“I think it’s still going to be learning how to do that, and while I’m doing a fuel saving strategy and the guy behind me isn’t, how do I know when to defend and use an overtake to defend going to the next corner, when are they going to make a move. Just little things like that which is obviously just going to take time.”

Malukas believes learning how to race an IndyCar on ovals has been the toughest part of his rookie season, despite having had two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato “to really leach off and really help me and kind of carry me through.”

In terms of natural road courses, Malukas said his main concern is “understanding how the Firestone tires react” but believes the street courses are difficult because “everybody here is insane!”

“To be quick, you kind of just need to just get close to that wall as best you can,” he he said. “Luckily for IndyCar, they’re built like tanks so you can tap the walls.

“Through qualifying, I think every lap I scraped some sort of wall, but realistically that’s the only chance you have, because sadly I chose such a competitive series: everybody here is insane! So… you need to be scraping these walls or else you won’t get there.

“Yeah, that’s kind of been the tough part about street courses. Hit the walls but just enough so you’re quick and not too much on the damaging side.”

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