The NTT IndyCar Series is making an alteration to its Leaders Circle program. RACER has learned a change to the prize money-based payout system has been implemented where each contract for 2023 comes with a $150,000 reduction.
With each Leaders Circle contract valued at $1.06 million in 2022, the new contracts on offer are worth $910,000 in guaranteed prize money, a 14-percent year-to-year loss.
RACER understands the inspiration behind trimming the 22 Leaders Circle payments is to reallocate the funds to the series’ marketing and promotions budget. The move takes $3.3 million from IndyCar’s teams and represents a budget loss of $600,000 for the four-car Andretti Autosport team, $450,000 for three-car teams like Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and $300,000 for two-car outfits like Dale Coyne Racing.
Within annual IndyCar budgets that range from approximately $6-8 million per entry, the $1.06 million given for entries that qualify for Leaders Circle contracts has been a significant sum to rely upon when searching for sponsors or paying drivers to complete the rest of the budget. Although the $150,000 cut in Leaders Circle payouts is a small amount in comparison to the $6-8 million required to run each car, the late timing of the change will require some teams to either renegotiate their existing deals or begin searches for an additional $150,000 to fill the financial void.
Devised in the 2000s after smaller teams complained about the majority of per-race prize money being earned by the same big teams that filled the podiums, IndyCar slashed its prize money payouts — barring the Indianapolis 500 — at each round and pooled the majority of its annual prize money fund into a single sum that was divided equally at approximately $1 million per contract and paid to its full-time entrants.
Modifications have been made to the Leaders Circle system over the years, with a decrease to 22 contracts made available, no matter how many full-time entries are on the grid. Limited to the top 22 in each season’s Entrants’ points contest, further restriction have been implemented where only the top three entries in a team’s stable are eligible for contracts; one exception was made with Andretti Autosport, which had its fourth entry grandfathered into Leaders Circle eligibility. For a four-car team like Chip Ganassi Racing, its lowest-placing entry — even if it makes it inside the top 22 cut — is ineligible for a contract.
In light of the fourth-car ineligibility, the three-car Leaders Circle restriction has been cited by some team owners as a reason for holding firm at three entries.
Asked to confirm the 14-percent Leaders Circle contract reduction and the use of those dollars to increase IndyCar’s marketing and promotions budget, a series representative declined to comment.