One could have wondered what the future held of Indy Lights this past summer. The top step of the Road to Indy platform saw their 2020 season scrapped due to the pandemic. The other two steps of the ladder below them in the USF 2000 and Indy Pro 2000 categories each raced this year though.
So, with no Indy Lights and a dwindling car count, what was their future?
Roger Penske had made it a goal to improve the series. While the racing series was well run and had some of the best competition of each race weekend, they just struggled to gain any traction in recruiting new teams. That was the biggest reason to why they were shelved this past year.
There was likely going to be no more than 10 full time cars for the season with a more realistic number being 7-8. How many of those cars would have actually shown up to race during COVID?
So, everyone thought it was best to just sit this past season out and plan for a larger turn out in 2021.
By all accounts, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Kyle Kirkwood will be back with Andretti Autosport next season. The youngster was supposed to race for them in 2020 but with a pandemic and the series stopping racing, he had to look for other work. But, the two sides made it viable to return with a deal for next season.
Kirkwood, has 21 wins, 24 podiums and 11 poles in two years in the RTI program. He won the championship in both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 on his way to an Indy Lights ride for this past year. That will transfer over to 2021 now.
Also, HMD Motorsports has partnered with Global Racing Group to go from two cars to four for 2021. No other drivers were announced yet, but they’ll operate out of the Brownsburg shop of HMD.
That’s five cars already.
Yes, Belardi won’t be on the grid in 2021, but all signs are teams are interested in their fleet. Andretti has typically ran 3-4 full time cars and by all accounts will do so again with at least three teammates for Kirkwood.
That could push this to 8-9 cars not counting what Juncos or Exclusive Autosport do as well as what Sting Ray Robb and Rasmus Lindh do with their scholarships to the series for 2021 either. I’m also hearing some more new teams could be coming to the mix to push this full time field north of 10 and well into the double digit category.
Penske, wants to make this a viable series for other NTT IndyCar Series owners to start programs in. He’s on his way to eventually making this happen for potentially 2022.
They’ve got 20 races among 10 race weekend’s on tap for next season beginning with the season opener on the streets of St. Pete on March 6 and 7. They’ll do a doubleheader on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next on May 14/15.
For the first time since 2012, the series will return to The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich., for a double-header round, and will cap off the year with a West Coast swing at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Ore., and the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., the following weekend.
Indy Lights will return to NBC Sports Gold with all races airing live and on demand in the U.S. Internationally, all practice, qualifying and race events will be live streamed on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indylights.com, as well as dedicated broadcast channels on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One. Additional coverage of all on-track sessions can also be found on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.
Next season will see an increased champion’s scholarship award to $1,289,425 for entry into at least three NTT INDYCAR SERIES events for 2022 including the Indianapolis 500, and the addition of an Indy car test at the conclusion of the season for each of the top-three finishers in the championship.
The Cooper tire-shod Dallara IL-15 with a 450-horsepower AER powerplant will see the addition of a Dallara-designed and installed Titanium Halo in 2021 for increased safety. The package has produced incredible competition with a strong parity across the board showcasing racecraft. With similarities to an Indy car, the equipment package provides the appropriate training for drivers to take the next step including a six-speed, paddle-shift transmission, a 50-horsepower “push-to-pass” feature, “drive-by-wire” throttle control and advanced engine management electronics.
INDYCAR sees how beneficial the series is too. Since the start of the system in 2010, 37 Indy Lights drivers have made at least one INDYCAR start. An astounding 23 of the 33 drivers in this past year’s Indy 500 was an Indy Light graduate including eight of those 23 being past Lights champions.
“From top to bottom, the entire team recognizes the role and commitment Indy Lights has played in bringing new talent to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment said last month. “We are firmly committed to ensuring its continued success.”