The goal is unchanged for Road To Indy boss Dan Andersen, whose Andersen Promotions runs the three-tiered ladder system that feeds the NTT IndyCar Series with high-caliber talent. Facing last season’s cancellation of the IndyCar-owned Indy Lights series, which Andersen and his daughter Michelle Kish have run on behalf of IndyCar for nearly a decade, restoring the top step of the ladder was their highest priority.
Along with confirming a schedule with IndyCar, the second and ongoing priority to increase Indy Lights’ car count has also been an active initiative while administering the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 championships.
Recent news of Brian Belardi’s health challenges and the subsequent shuttering of his championship-winning Indy Lights team did little to ease fears related to the series’ return in 2021, but Andersen says there’s better news on the way.
“We’ll miss Brian for his passion. I enjoyed having him in the series, and I hope he comes back,” Andersen told RACER. “A lot of factors went into the decision, but there are in fact, a number of potential new players and there’s some great news on the way that should speak to next season being a good restarting of Indy Lights. I think we’re still going to have a better than average field.”
Reigning champion Andretti Autosport (Oliver Askew, 2019, photo above) is expected to have at least four cars on the grid, and HMD Motorsports is rumored to be expanding to four entries as well. Add in Exclusive Autosport and its two cars, and the other potentials Andersen is monitoring, and somewhere between 11 and 13 Indy Lights cars could launch the new season if everything goes according to plan.
“There are a lot of people looking at those Belardi cars and other cars,” Andersen added. “There are some teams looking to jump into the fray, and my friends at Andretti are doing everything they can to help motivate some other potential newcomers to come into the series. I think it’s all going to come out positive. Teams are very important to me, I’ve always been a team-centric promoter, but teams live and die based on drivers with available budgets.
“We’ve had more interest coming into 2021 from drivers wanting to jump into this series than we’ve (seen) in recent years. Having teams ready to accept them and run them is certainly important, but the more critical element is having enough driver interest to populate and it looks like we have that. Looks like we’ll have a good strong field – stronger, certainly, than 2019 and, with drivers with budgets, teams will rise to the challenge. New teams will slide in. Current teams will plant seeds and then expand. It hasn’t always been this way, but there’s a lot of positives happening.”
One negative, the loss of the traditional Freedom 100 race on Carb Day prior to the Indianapolis 500, led to an uncomfortable exchange between Andersen and NTT IndyCar Series and IMS owner Roger Penske. Andersen says that misunderstanding is in the rearview mirror.
“The decision to move forward with Indy Lights for 2021 was something that we all felt was good for the series, good for the Road To Indy, and good for American racing,” he added. “With IndyCar owning Indy Lights, we are in a different role than we are with the rest of Road To Indy, but we believe that the call and the efforts to put forth a proper schedule were all the right steps. Decisions were made as to what should be included and shouldn’t be included in the calendar of events, and I respect that.
“Some people were very unhappy about the loss of the Freedom, but we are totally ready to move ahead with the program with IndyCar as it was announced, and we expect to have a great year.”