Swanson Looking to Build on First Taste of Road to Indy
 August 27, 2020| 
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Swanson LOR Feature

Anyone who has ever watched a USAC race was not surprised in the slightest by the rapid pace of Kody Swanson’s learning curve last weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The five-time USAC Silver Crown champion jumped into the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires on one of his favorite stomping grounds, and made the combination of new and old work to perfection as he captured his first series victory in his first attempt.

RTI_LOS_R1_082020_D_6680 (1)Swanson became the all-time Silver Crown race win leader in 2019, with over 30 feature victories. He came up through the USAC ranks, via midgets and sprint cars – always with an eye toward his end goal: the Indianapolis 500. Swanson’s strategy took a different turn last week when he joined the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires for the Freedom 90, part of the Carb Night Classic at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Now, Swanson and Legacy Autosport, the team owned and operated by the family of Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, return to the track for the second of two back-to-back oval races, this Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis, Mo. Swanson and the Legacy team return to the track with support from a number of sources that make the weekend possible, including metalworking fluids giant Metalloid, Fatheadz Eyewear, Speedtown Comfort, Rosewood (Ohio) Machine & Tool, Wheeler Motorsports – and local companies Ackerman Toyota and Welsch Heating & Cooling.

RTI_LOS_082020_p_C_5628Swanson, who also raced in the Silver Crown event at Lucas Oil Raceway Friday night (won by his brother Tanner) and won the "Night Before the 500" sprint car race Saturday night, hopes to resurrect the path to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES employed by some of the most famous names in racing, including Foyt, Unser and Stewart. But moving from the 800hp Silver Crown car to the Tatuus PM-18 in three Thursday test sessions (plus an earlier test at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway in Wisconsin) would require all the skill he could muster. He proved himself quickly, posting the third-quickest time in the final test and putting the car on the outside of the front row in qualifying. Swanson battled with series veteran Sting Ray Robb through the early going, then passed pole sitter Manuel Sulaiman just passed the midway point to take a lead he would never relinquish.

With all the racing he did last weekend (including the Hoosier Hundred Silver Crown race at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds that ended with Swanson being tagged from behind and sent flipping) he’s had little time to process the outcome, even as preparations continue for the bigger oval this weekend.

"Last weekend came and went so quickly,” said Swanson. “It was such a busy weekend! I just put my focus toward trying to learn the new car and the new type of racing. Thursday was a tough day. We had three half-hour sessions, which went by really quickly, and there was not a lot of time between sessions to really process what all was happening, since I was starting from scratch.

RTI_LOS_p4_082020_A_5905"I’ve been to Lucas Oil Raceway many times but I had never quite seen it the way that I did from that Indy Pro 2000 seat, so it was a lot to try to take in and sort out. I was really glad to make the progress we did by Thursday night and to qualify well, and I felt like I continued to learn throughout the experience, just try to get a little bit better and more comfortable with the seat time. Even throughout the first half of the race I was trying to figure out how the car would respond – not just to the track or the conditions, but to me, as I changed my racing line or the way I used the pedals. I had to learn how that would affect the car, but to do it in a way that was conservative enough not to get me into trouble. A couple of times I probably got into trouble a little more than I would have wanted to, but luckily we were able to catch the car – or it was able to catch me! – and continue on to run the lap and learn a little bit more.”

Given the horsepower of a Silver Crown car, Swanson is used to high-speed racing. But the transition to a rear-engined car with downforce and aerodynamics was an entirely different proposition. While motorsports observers have hoped to see Swanson in the Indy Lights Championship Presented by Cooper Tires marquee event, the Freedom 100 ordinarily held on Carb Day ahead of the Indianapolis 500, Swanson knew that the manageability of the 270hp Tatuus PM-18 was a much more practical entry point.

RTI_LOS_R1_082020_C_7846"With Silver Crown cars, we're used to high amounts of horsepower and the physical speed of it, so that part's not a huge transition, but I know there are so many little things to get used to, like how you sit and what you're doing with the paddle-shifted transmission and how the steering reacts. These aren’t the big fear-based transition moments like speed. So I thought that getting some laps in an Indy Pro 2000 car would be a good way to get some of those early lessons without having to try to go 200 mph do it. I'm glad I now have more rear engine experience than I did and hopefully we can try to build on that this weekend.”

The Kingsburg, Calif., (near Fresno) native, who now lives in Indianapolis with wife Jordan and their two young sons, had the Road to Indy on his radar, always running in USAC’s Carb Night Classic alongside the first two rungs of the ladder, but was never able to make the move. With the help of Legacy Autosport, he feels as though he is finally beginning to break through.

7165ba5a-1787-4a3f-97d2-66eb9f766fce"To finally get some laps in a rear-engined car and to see how that transition would go was really encouraging, to have made that initial move and had some success with it. I know how the ladder system works, that it is a path to Indianapolis for someone like me. I think that to get started in the ladder system and the time it takes to move along and the funding required to really get started made it daunting to try and make the transition.

"This has all unfolded so quickly in such an odd year. I’ve had people talk to me about doing a one-off Freedom 100 ride before this year got so crazy, so I don’t know where that conversation would go from here. But I will take advantage of the schedule we have now that gives me back-to-back races to try to build on the experience. We had a great night last week and while there’s still pressure to perform this weekend, I’m just focusing on the opportunity to gain more experience at a new speed and a new type of racetrack and continue to move forward. It will be a bit different this weekend, with new lessons to learn, so hopefully I can keep building on that experience level to see where it might lead someday.”

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