The Verizon IndyCar Series and Andersen Promotions have unveiled a five-year plan for Indy Lights designed to increase car counts, reduce costs, and strengthen the alignment between the organizations.
In development for many months by Dan Andersen, IndyCar’s Jason Penix, and IndyCar competition president Jay Frye, the first step in the plan involves bringing the annual budgets for Indy Lights down to something consistently below $1 million.
A reduction in tire costs and engine lease pricing will provide some relief, and with the extension of the 2015-spec Dallara IL15 chassis until at least 2022, Andersen says teams should be able to lower the asking price for a full-season entry to the $850-900K range.
“Now that we have the IL15 guaranteed for three more years, at a minimum, our teams know they don’t have to get as much to recoup the car costs because it can be amortized over a longer period,” he told RACER.
“And we’ve taken $100 per set off the Cooper tires, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but our teams use a lot of tires every year, and AER has come down on the engine lease number, plus locked it in for 4500 miles, which is more than anyone will do during the season. Every little bit helps, but it’s the amortization that I think will have the greatest effect.”
With the news of Mazda’s upcoming withdrawal as title sponsor of the Road To Indy, IndyCar and Andersen have confirmed the $1 million advancement prize will continue uninterrupted, and will actually see an increase to $1.1 million for the 2019 series champion to take to IndyCar. News on advancement prizes for USF2000 and Pro Mazda will be released at a later date.
“We want all our teams to see the security we’re providing, and even with the change in corporate objectives for Mazda, which has been an amazing partner for so many years with us in open-wheel racing,” Andersen said. “We’ll actually have more money for next year’s champ to use for the Indy 500 and two more [IndyCar] races in 2020.”
Increased in prize money, post-season award funds, and valuable decreases in new-car purchase costs were also outlined in the five-year plan.
Looking to the future, IndyCar and Indy Lights will try to find a new solution for 2023 that would see a common chassis used in both categories. An identical solution was proposed years ago by Dallara – before Indy Lights was handed off to Andersen Promotions – and if it were to happen, Lights teams could convert their cars upward to compete in IndyCar, and IndyCar teams would have the same option to convert down in Lights.
Andersen put this exact concept in motion in 2017 when he commissioned the new Tatuus USF-17 USF2000 chassis that serves double-duty in Pro Mazda under the PM18 moniker.
“We’ve spoken about aligning them so that we have the same chassis that could do both series,” Frye said. “It seems possible, but the engines would be much different, obviously. You want to make sure the younger drivers are in a Lights car that are similar to what they’ll drive in IndyCar.
“And you have to like the business possibilities where a Lights team could use its car to do the Indy 500, for example, and then use it to go full-time when they’re ready. Teams in both series could sell or lease cars to each other, sell the parts that are common between the cars, and in general, make it easier for IndyCar teams to compete in Lights, and get Lights teams into IndyCar without making a big separate car purchase. It’s too soon to say we can do it, but it’s what we are going to look into.”
Andersen confirmed the engines in all three tiers of the MRTI will remain in place for 2019, if not longer.
“Everything stays the same there with AER supplying motors for Indy Lights and Elite Engines supplying our Pro Mazda and USF200 engines,” he said. “We’re already talking with some new possible title sponsors – some automotive, some not – and while we aren’t wanting to change anything on the engine front, it wouldn’t happen for a while, if it happens at all, based on who comes in as a new sponsor for the entire ladder.”
Among the final notes of interest, an effort is in place to make Indy Lights races available to the world via live streaming which would see a shift from NBCSN’s cable channel to the unrestricted NBC Gold online platform in the next year or two. And that would coincide with another concept to use IndyCar’s Leader circle program, where full-season entrants are guaranteed a sizable amount of prize money, being applied to full-time Indy Light entrants who commit to the series.
A shift in testing incentives for IndyCar teams is also in motion where team would receive two additional test days if Indy Lights drivers are used. For teams that run dual IndyCar and Indy Lights programs, one extra day would be granted, and unlike the previous rule that required Lights drivers to spend half the day in the car before the regular IndyCar driver took over, the new plan requires the Lights drivers to complete all of the testing miles.
Altogether, and including the new IndyCar licensing guidelines that should lead more drivers to the Lights series, both organizations are headed in a direction that should create a solid foundation well into the next decade.
“Now we have a plan, have a path, and have a good start for next year,” Frye said.