The biggest team in Indy Lights has no intention of shuttering its four-car program. Andretti Autosport president J-F Thormann, the driving force behind the company’ longstanding presence on the Road to Indy, says contingency plans are being developed to keep its Indy Lights operation busy until the series returns in 2021.
“Fortunately for us, we’re going to be running six IndyCars, and so we’re always in need of good help,” Thormann told RACER. “A lot of our Indy Lights guys were already slated to do some of the IndyCar races with James Hinchcliffe, so we can keep them busy there, and we’re working with the Lights drivers that were signed up for this year. We’re trying to see if perhaps they can drop back into either the Indy Pro 2000 series, or Formula Regional Americas (formerly known as the F3 Americas Championship).”
As the cancellation of the 2020 Indy Lights season was formalized over the weekend, Thormann went to work Monday morning to find short-term options that fit Andretti Autosport’s needs.
“We would either look to potentially lease some equipment, or do a collaboration with a team in those series, allowing our engineers, and maybe some mechanics to join forces,” he said. “And then the rest of it, at this time, is hoping we’re able to test our Indy Lights cars, have an in-season, but off-season testing program with drivers, to be ready for next year. But more than anything, they want to stay fresh in racing, and so we’ll probably drop back into a different category to make sure it isn’t just testing they’re doing. And a lot of that depends on them being able to retain their sponsorships.”
With its four entries representing nearly half the 2020 Indy Lights grid, Andretti’s vote of confidence for the series, along with its intent to return next year, should ease some concerns about its health and viability. Speaking with two other team owners this week, Belardi Auto Racing’s Brian Belardi and Exclusive Autosport’s Michael Duncalfe have identical plans in motion to use the lower rungs of the Road To Indy to stay busy until Lights returns.
One rumor that continues to circulate involves the NTT IndyCar Series taking a new interest in Indy Lights, and helping to forge links between teams in both paddocks. With Indy Lights having been owned by Champ Car and the Indy Racing League in the past, and operated, as it does today, as an independently-run organization by Andersen Promotions, the big series that benefits from top Indy Lights talent has wavered in its embrace of the series since its formation in 1986.
As Lights has hovered in single-digit entries in recent years, the need for IndyCar to return and reinvest in its version of college ball is evident, and if Roger Penske’s leadership team is willing to step forward and get IndyCar owners involved in Lights, Thormann would welcome the company.
“When you look at the IndyCar grid, the amount of guys that have come through Indy Lights is the biggest example,” he said. “And then, when you look at Andretti in particular, the amount of guys that have made it to IndyCar, whether it’s to do one race or full championships, dating back to the Raphael Matos, and Charlie Kimball, and J.R. Hildebrand, and, more recently, Oliver Askew, and Pato O’Ward, and Colton Herta, and Stefan Wilson. It’s something that we really believe in.
“Michael [Andretti]’s very bullish on that championship. He thinks it’s a great training ground. We need to get back up to that 15-plus car grid. The eight, nine, 10 cars, and four of them being Andretti’s, that’s not ideal. The big one is if IndyCar really gets behind it, and figures ways to incentivize other teams, I mean, how perfect would that be?”