Q: Roger Penske has cut the funding for the Indy Lights champion. He has stopped the series from getting a new chassis that is long overdue. There seems to be very little advertising for the series. There is no third engine manufacturer. So is Roger doing a good job for the series, or is he pinching pennies and hurting the series? He seems to be all-in on IMS but what about IndyCar in general?
MP: To be fair, having weathered a rough introduction to owning the series and speedway — COVID was a bear to deal with in 2020 and 2021 — we shouldn’t downplay his stabilizing effect in keeping the series afloat during COVID, nor should we ignore some of the extensions that have been signed. There are positives, on record, as a result of Penske Entertainment’s purchases.
And then we have the actions and decisions, many of which you’ve cited, that speak to heavy financial conservatism, cost cutting and a general lack of investment in a series that’s getting beaten up on a regular basis by its domestic and international rivals as they grow, expand into new places, introduce new technologies and welcome new fans.
I’m excited about the expected move to hybrid engines in 2024, and the switch to synthetic fuel next year, but beyond that, what I observe on a regular basis is the big energy surrounding other series that visits IndyCar on fleeting occasions.
I keep waiting for the big “Here’s how Penske Entertainment is taking IndyCar to the next level” plan. It can’t be one thing like going to hybrid engines; I’m looking for a mission statement, a call to action, something that spells out where IndyCar is headed through the end of the decade and how those plans will return the series to the place of national prominence it once held.
Q: Excellent news that Rasmus Lindh is back in Indy Lights for 2023. Is Malukas Sr. discounting heavily, or subsidizing, or what? Maybe he is not so popular with other Lights team owners.
With the shortage of engineers and mechanics in 2021-22 can an eight-car team be an indication this shortage is easing?
MP: A sponsor, GarageXYZ, was announced as the primary on Lindh’s car, so I’d have to assume it’s real money being paid to the HMD team. Also, according to a press release, the company is a “photography-based NFT project and DAO concept,” which makes about 19-percent sense to me, but that’s OK, I’ve never claimed to be all that smart.
Lots of crew exist on the open-wheel ladder, plus, there’s a growing number of IndyCar veterans who are looking at Indy Lights as a good place to work with a more relaxed schedule and decent pay available for teams in search of high-level talent that can coach up the next-generation. It’s the need for high-level IndyCar talent where the shortage continues to exist.
Q: With the Coyne/HMD and Andretti juggernauts forming the base of the Indy Lights car count, how are we looking for average or max field sizes with the addition of JHR and some of the other smaller teams both existing and new? Any more new additions on the horizon?
MP: We have five full-time teams for 2023 with Abel Motorsports, Andretti Autosport, Cape Motorsports, HMD Motorsports, and Juncos Hollinger Racing. It will be six if/when Legacy Autosport announces its drivers. Abel (2), Andretti (4), Cape (2), HMD (8), and Juncos (2) should give us 18 as the standard for each round, but — and there’s always a “but” with Indy Lights — we can count on a few drivers failing to make it to the finish line, so there will be some changes along the way as a few teams scramble to find funded kids to step into those vacant seats.
Q: Do the big IndyCar teams have separate oval and road cars, or do they have to change them over for different tracks?
MP: Most, but not all, have dedicated superspeedway cars that are used for the Indy 500. Elsewhere, it’s normal for all teams to interchange their road/street cars for the other four oval events.
Q: We lost a really good person this week. “Murph,” as we knew him, was a friend to all and the hardest working hospitality professional in IndyCar. Maybe with the exception of his wife Mary Lin. Know any good stories you can share?
MP: I wasn’t fortunate to know them, Bernie. My career didn’t intersect with having them look after hospitality for the IndyCar/Indy Lights/Atlantic teams I worked for, and since I moved over to the media side, I make an effort to spend as little time in hospitality units/suites as possible. Here’s a fun video, though, from back in the day featuring the Murphys.