The NTT IndyCar Series has a new team on the grid this season by the name of HMD Motorsports. While still running a highly successful Indy Lights program, which includes locking out two-thirds of the podium in both races held so far this season, the team is taking its first steps towards the dream of competing for wins in IndyCar as well. HMD has sensible management at the helm for the transition, ensuring the step up to the premiere series is done in a way that works best for the team.
HMD Motorsports is still very much an Indy Lights team at its core, but it is dipping its toes into the top-level series this season by way of a partnership with Dale Coyne Racing. The entry is driven by rookie David Malukas, who himself advanced up to IndyCar this season from Indy Lights, and is getting his own crash course in what it means to race against the best of the best. While Malukas uses his veteran team-mate Takuma Sato to help him get up to speed, HMD is using Dale Coyne’s established operation to learn the ins and outs.
Mike Maurini is HMD Motorsports’ general manager, and keeps track of all things related to the operation of the team. Anything from budgeting, to marketing strategies, to online presence passes by his desk, and he is always keeping an eye out for the next opportunity. Having known the team’s owner Henry Malukas for nearly 15 years, and being a manager on his team for the past four, Maurini is deeply in tune with the direction of the team and is more than a little responsible for its success.
Sitting down recently with Motorsport Monday, Maurini talked about how HMD’s latest ambitious endeavor is playing out four races into the season. One of the first things he pointed out about the partnership with Dale Coyne was how much of a good fit the deal is for everyone involved, with both sides benefitting from the arrangement.
“We’re learning a lot on the HMD side for the IndyCar program,” said Maurini. “What to do, what not to do, the people you need to talk to, what you can say, what you can’t say. A lot of learning with the people from Firestone and Honda. You can’t jump in with both feet, because you’d spend 20-30 million dollars.
“One of the good things is that Dale [Coyne] comes to pit lane for our qualifying and practice sessions. He’s invested in our program as well, and his name is on all of our cars. It’s a small decal, but it’s there. It goes both ways, and that’s what people fail to see. A lot of people think David [Malukas] is racing in IndyCar because HMD is paying and is family owned. At the end of the day, there are more partners behind the scenes than most people know.”
There is indeed the tendency for fans to link David Malukas’ advancement into IndyCar this year to the arrangement his father’s team has with Dale Coyne, but that’s far from the whole story. Malukas finished second in the Indy Lights championship in 2021, and was well on his way to an IndyCar seat before the partnership even came about. As Maurini went on to explain, HMD Motorsports benefits more as a business from having a reputation for advancing a talented driver into a seat in the top series than any benefits outright favoritism could bring.
“David was going to race IndyCar this year no matter what, whether the HMD name was there or not. As the conversations went on with a few teams – and there were high level conversations with some big programs – at the end of the day the best fit was with Coyne. There was involvement that I could have, involvement that Luke the driver coach could have, and that Henry [Malukas] himself could have. We got naming rights on the car. If there was another program, maybe you wouldn’t have the opportunity to have [naming rights] on the side of the car.
“With Dale Coyne, it’s a program where David needed a good team-mate. I think he gets that in Sato. Hopefully in the future David can be that experienced guy that we’re bringing somebody up from the Indy Lights program to race with him in IndyCar. We have five Indy Lights drivers. A few of our drivers will be doing IndyCar tests this year. Some of our drivers will do IndyCar tests with Coyne, and that will come towards the end of the season with the new driver evaluations at the end of the year.
“Everybody thinks HMD Motorsports is solely relied around David Malukas, but it’s absolutely not. David’s not [in Indy Lights], and we have five drivers still. We finished second and third in St. Pete. It’s not revolving around David. Actually, the best thing to happen is that David’s not here this year. It opened a seat. Henry is putting more money in than our customers to start, but last year we made money and this year it’s a business again. It’s profitable and that’s the way it has to be.
“The transition for David moving up was definitely going to happen. HMD moving up is probably a little bit early, but that’s why we didn’t jump in with two feet. At the end of the day, our Indy Lights program is our bread and butter. We have to win here, before we even think about there.”
HMD Motorsports’ owner Henry Malukas found his success by starting a profitable logistics company, HMD Trucking, in the Chicago area two decades ago. And while motorsports is a passion of his, he is not keen on the idea of squandering all his resources in the pursuit of racing as others have done over the years. That’s where Maurini’s role comes in.
The fact that the program is run well and is profitable is a huge source of pride for the experienced manager, who oversees all aspects of the team’s operations. Maurini’s job is to run a team that can get wins regularly, while still making sure that the team recoups the substantial costs of operation. It’s a delicate balance, but currently HMD has found the formula to be successful both on the track and behind the scenes.
It is for that reason that this year’s partnership with Dale Coyne Racing took the form that it did. There is nothing trivial about starting a new IndyCar team, even with the bevy of racing knowledge that the team has behind it, and there is significant risk to diving in full force. By joining an established team and taking the time to learn from others’ past mistakes, HMD is able to minimize the chances of upsetting its successful formula. The team is also able to keep the profitable Indy Lights program running without robbing it of resources to fund the new endeavor.
“Right now, [HMD’s presence in] IndyCar is a naming partnership with Dale Coyne,” explained Maurini. “The plan in the future – the dream – is to own an IndyCar team for Henry Malukas and HMD Motorsports. That’s the ultimate dream. Whether that’s going to be financially possible or resource possible, time will tell. Right now, [Indy Lights] is priority. It operates as a business and needs to make money.
“The goal is to have HMD Motorsports in IndyCar and Indy Lights, and if HMD was able to go have something in IMSA or something else, that would also be an option. As long as Indy Lights breaks even or makes money, our goal is to stay for 10 years or 15 years, whatever we can do. As long as Indy Lights exists, we want to be involved.”
There are other teams in the paddock that have a completely different approach to joining IndyCar, including the other new team for 2022, Juncos Hollinger Racing. JHR also has a successful history in the Road to Indy series, but chose to essentially migrate its personnel to convert its Indy Lights program into an IndyCar operation. While making sure to state his respect for the approach, Maurini explained how that path into the top series is wholly different than his team’s approach.
“I know Ricardo [Juncos, team owner] pretty well. He’s got a good business partner, he’s got an awesome shop, but right now Callum [Ilott] has no team-mate. I think Callum is a good driver and I think he can be successful, but can you imagine if he was partnered with Scott Dixon or Tony Kanaan, somebody who has years of experience and could say ‘when you go to Texas, this is going to happen.’
“We walk by their timing stand and they have really nice stuff. And that’s where we want to be, but it’s just a matter of timing. They shut down their Indy Lights program to go IndyCar racing. We’re kind of going IndyCar racing with an expanded Indy Lights program. IndyCar is completely different. The good engineers in Indy Lights can go to IndyCar and can probably do a good job after a year or two of learning. [In Indy Lights] we have five cars, and we have 35 people. They have two cars and have 35 people.
“Juncos will be successful, it’s just that they jumped in with two feet. Our shop is 7000 square feet, small to try to keep expenses down. We run five cars out of that shop, and we park one trailer outside. It’s not a palace by any means, but it gets the job done. If somebody goes to the Andretti shop or the Juncos shop, they may be impressed with the looks. But we’re a strong believer that looks don’t win races. We care about people and on-track performance.”