INDYCAR to run Indy Lights starting in 2022, top 3 takeaways

LONG BEACH, Calif — As part of today’s Penske Entertainment Corp. Year in Review News Conference in Long Beach, California, PEC President and CEO Mark Miles announced that INDYCAR and Andersen Promotions Owner and CEO Dan Andersen have agreed that INDYCAR will become the sanctioning body and promoter of the Indy Lights series after the 2021 season.

Indy Lights is the final step on the successful Road to Indy ladder system that develops drivers and teams to compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Cooper Tires will continue as a trusted partner for the Road to Indy and provide tires for all three developmental series.

Over its 35-year history, Indy Lights has provided an excellent pipeline for open-wheel’s future stars. Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden are former Indy Lights champions who have gone on to become INDYCAR SERIES champions. Currently, 20 drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES are Indy Lights graduates, including rising stars and 2021 race winners Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and Rinus VeeKay. 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew found success in each of Andersen Promotions’ Road to Indy programs (Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000, and USF2000) and is among the eight former champions who have joined the bold and daring athletes of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

Andersen Promotions will continue stewardship of Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000.

“It has been our pleasure and honor to oversee the promotion and organization of Indy Lights for these past eight seasons,” Andersen said. “We are proud of the results demonstrated by the quick success of our many recent graduates. The Road to Indy works as a training program, and we will continue to develop young drivers and move them up to Indy Lights and, ultimately, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”

In recent years, there have been many inspiring and successful stories of growing Indy Lights teams that have groomed drivers and crew members for the elite level of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. This season, Juncos Hollinger Racing joins Carlin, Andretti Autosport and Arrow McLaren SP as INDYCAR SERIES teams that have competed in Indy Lights.

“It is about strengthening the pipeline to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” Miles said. “We want to grow Indy Lights into an even stronger link and final step for drivers, teams and sponsor partners leading to the most audacious and competitive open-wheel series on the planet.”

Will More INDYCAR Teams Now Join? INDYCAR Feels Like They Can Grow The Series Better

As far as INDYCAR teams rejoining or even joining the series for the first time, where does that stand? Right now, only Andretti Autosport, Carlin and Juncos Hollinger Racing are in both series. Will more come into the fray in the future now?

“Yeah, we haven’t really gotten into that conversation in any depth with INDYCAR teams that have not been in Lights, but obviously that will follow,” Miles said on Friday. “We needed to get it decided and announced to start that conversation. But we have a long list of ways we think we can help from international distribution of the media where because of the relationships we have from INDYCAR we can get more exposure for Lights.

“Lots of little things. If it’s the last leg getting to INDYCAR, then why do the paddocks really need to be separate, and would it be cool for those teams to really feel more integrated into the INDYCAR scene in the paddock where we have room to do it.”

Miles notes that they’ll offer the same media services for Indy Lights as they do INDYCAR. They’ll keep the same race director in Kyle Novak too. 

“I think that’s not just symbolic,” Miles continued. “It will help with the racing experience and the relationships for young drivers coming up. There’s probably 10 ideas so far that we’ll get to.”

It’s all part of a bigger plan for the top step of the Road To Indy in which Miles feels like it was more viable to move it in house under their tutelage. They feel like Anderson Promotions did well with what they had but they feel like they have the resources to do better which in turn strengthens the NTT IndyCar Series as a whole to have a better pipeline. 

“We’ve agreed with Dan Andersen and Andersen Promotions that we will at INDYCAR promote the Lights series going forward. We are doing that because we now think frankly with Roger’s ownership of INDYCAR and the progress we’ve made, the people we’ve put together, the relationships that we have with the promoters, we can do even more than Dan has been able to do to make that as the top of the Road to Indy that much more compelling and that much stronger of a pipeline, even stronger than it’s been.

“Everybody understands I think now it’s quite clear what the importance of that Road to Indy with right now the three rungs in the ladder up to INDYCAR, its importance is phenomenal, and its success is phenomenal. You just need to look at our grid and the drivers that are out there and read the stats to understand that.

“For many years, Dan Andersen has been integral to the success of Indy Lights. His leadership since his group took over promotion in 2014 was crucial. However, with the Penske acquisition of INDYCAR, we have an opportunity to bring the series in-house, which we think can provide greater opportunity for the growth of the top level of the ladder series.”

Will Cooper Tires Stay? 

Miles also said that Cooper Tires will remain the tire provider for the series even though Firestone is in INDYCAR. This has worked for the series and there’s no reason to change it now or at least for 2022. 

“And of course we’ve got to finalize the schedule and we’ve got to finalize one other thing, which I’m pretty sure I can say today, and that is that at least for next year, Cooper Tires will continue to be the tire for Lights, and therefore the whole of the Road to Indy.

“We have an enormously important relationship with Firestone, but they appreciate this result. It means we can seamlessly provide quality tires for Lights going into next year, and there is that continuity with the first two rungs of the ladder, so that’s important, as well.”

Freedom 100 Is Likely Gone Forever Now

Another topic brought up by this announcement was the Freedom 100. What’s the status of this race after a two year absence? The honest answer? It doesn’t look good. It seems now that we may never see this race again. 

“No. At this point that’s not back on the — as an option on the table,” Miles said of the past race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We just think that race at that time, it has been thrilling in the past. We all saw it. But it’s a very special thing to put those up-and-coming drivers on that track at those speeds on basically the day before or two days before the 500. As we thought through all those things, knowing that we would not thrill some of our fans, we just felt like it was the most appropriate conclusion.”

Last October, it was announced that the race wouldn’t be on the 2020 schedule. It was the first time since 2003 that the Freedom 100 wasn’t on the schedule with the ’03 inaugural race being  won by Ed Carpenter.

In fact, that was the first and only time that the race wasn’t conducted on Indy 500 race weekend. That race was on Bump Day with the Saturday scheduled date that year being rained out early. They completed the race on Bump Day that Sunday, a week before the ‘500.

From 2004 on, the race was always held on Memorial Day weekend. The 2004 race was held the day before the ‘500 with 2005 on, the race always being held on Carb Day. Rain fell during Carb Day practice in 2008 and prompted the Freedom 100 to be moved to Saturday. Every other year since 2005, the race was held on Carb Day itself.

Now, it’s no more. It’s a shame too.

The Freedom 100 was a highlight of the year. The last several finishes have been photo finishes with some of the closest finishes in IMS history occurring here.

Oliver Askew beat Ryan Norman by just .0067-seconds in 2019. Colton Herta beat Pato O’Ward by .028-seconds in 2018. There were 20 lead changes in that 40 lap race. The 2017 race was won by Matheus Leist by just .776 seconds over Aaron Telitz. How can we forget the 2016 race that saw Dean Stoneman win by only .002-seconds over Ed Jones. 2015’s race ended under caution, but in 2014, Gabby Chaves beat Matthew Brabham by only .005-seconds. The most thrilling though occurred in 2013 when four cars crossed the yard of bricks inches from one another. Peter Dempsey won a thriller by only .0026-seconds. Chaves, Sage Karam, Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach were 2-3-4-5 that day.

Now, that race is gone.

Indy Lights is shifting away from ovals. Out of their entire schedule this season, only one race (World Wide Technology Raceway) is on an oval. 10 events, 20 races, one oval.

One may wonder then how do these drivers coming through the ranks get superspeedway experience if they don’t ever run on them prior? That’s a question no one can answer unfortunately. 

The full 2022 Indy Lights schedule and remaining details will be released at a later date.

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