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Introducing the IndyCar junior race winner still too young to join GB3

Nikita Johnson has been climbing the IndyCar junior ladder and is set to cross the Atlantic to compete in the GB3 Championship this season… but only when he is old enough to join!

Nikita Johnson,  VRD Racing

One of the hottest new talents in this year’s GB3 Championship won’t even be contesting the first two race weekends, but he’s a race winner already this season on the IndyCar support bill.

That’s because St Petersburg starlet Nikita Johnson is only 15 years old. The age rules in the US are less restrictive – he’s now in his third year on the IndyCar open-wheel ladder, and he took his first victory in an F4 car at the tender age of 12, in the YACademy series. “That seems a long time ago now…” he muses.

Johnson is the product of the junior programme of Velocity Racing Development, the Georgia team based at the state’s Atlanta Motorsport Park and set up by expat East Midlander Dan Mitchell, who moved from Fortec Motorsport and the European scene to the States in 2017. He’s now bringing North American talents in the opposite direction across the Atlantic as a tie-up with the long-established Arden team. “I engineer Nikita and Noah [Ping],” says Mitchell. “It’s VRD-engineered and VRD-managed. We use Arden mechanics and logistics.”

“I met Dan in 2017,” recalls Johnson, whose first steps in cars came on dirt tracks in Legends. “After that I started with a different team and did one test [in open-wheelers] but since then my whole career has been with him.”

“Nikita was our first academy driver when he was 11 – the first product of what we’ve launched,” adds Mitchell, who now has Johnson’s 11-year-old brother Kai on his books. “I took the philosophy I learnt here and implemented it in the US. I got strong-armed into it and it’s the best thing I ever did. I coach the drivers like when I was an F3 engineer. There’s no difference in driver talent [in the US] – it’s just the way they do it.

“GB3 has always been a passion of mine, and I’m proud it’s doing so well because I believe in ‘F3’ in Britain. GB3 is the best championship in the world for value for money.”

Johnson rose to acclaim by winning an F4 race aged 12

Johnson rose to acclaim by winning an F4 race aged 12

Photo by: USF2000

As you might expect, Johnson – his mother named him Nikita after her favourite Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey player – got into racing at a young age. “My dad did a little bit of motorcycle racing,” he says, “so there was always this passion for motorsports. My mum thought it was crazy and I wouldn’t do it, but when I was five I got into a kart and it just took off.”

He joined the IndyCar open-wheel ladder aged just 13 in 2022 in USF Juniors, and since then has won at three levels, adding success in USF2000 last season and now a home victory in St Pete this month in USF Pro 2000. The Tatuus used in that series is not dissimilar to the Italian constructor’s GB3 machine and, once he is 16 in late May and old enough to make his GB3 debut the following weekend at Spa, there are no date clashes. As Johnson rises up the ladder, his focus is on Formula 1 rather than moving up the US equivalent to Indy NXT. “In the future, depending on how it goes, I want to stay in Europe,” he states.

To that end, Johnson has taken an important step in becoming part of the stable at Infinity Sports Management, which is run by ex-karters Harry Soden and Gary Catt, and guided George Russell and Logan Sargeant through the ranks. One of Infinity’s first clients was Harry Tincknell, with whom Mitchell shared a house when the latter-day sportscar star was a British F3 rookie with Fortec in 2011.

“It’s full-send and we’ll try to win as much as possible. I’ve just got to prove what I can do and what this team can do” Nikita Johnson

“After the success we had last year, the phone was ringing too much,” explains Mitchell. “I trust Harry [Soden] with my life. He’s someone we trust, and he can get drivers to F1, with or without funding.”

The personable Johnson, who after winter tests in the GB3 car at Monza, Red Bull Ring, Barcelona and Motorland Aragon has been vying towards the top of the times in the official tests, doesn’t get involved with the off-track stuff. “It’s been going pretty fast,” he says of his weapon. “We’ve been in the top three. They’ve given me a very good race car, and I just have to go and drive it.

“It’s full-send and we’ll try to win as much as possible,” he promises of what is an impossible GB3 title quest given his absence from the early races. “I’ve just got to prove what I can do and what this team can do. Every time I win, everybody at the team wins.”

CV

Age 15
2024 2nd in USF Pro 2000 with VRD (1 win); GB3 with VRD/Arden
2023 2nd in USF2000 with VRD (1 win); two rounds in USF Pro 2000 (2 wins)
2022 3rd in USF Juniors with VRD (3 wins); three rounds in USF2000
2020/21 wins in Legends and F4 YACademy

The American must wait until the third round in June to make his GB3 Championship debut due to his age

The American must wait until the third round in June to make his GB3 Championship debut due to his age

Photo by: BRDC British F3

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