Indy Lights champions development prize slashed
For profitable the 2014 Indy Lights championship, Gabby Chaves was awarded $1 million as a scholarship to safe a assured seat within the 2015 Indianapolis 500 and two different races on the IndyCar calendar. The development prize initiative was initially conceived by Mazda Motorsports, and was taken to a brand new stage in Indy Lights by IndyCar and Andersen Promotion, its then-new Indy Lights administrator for the Indy Lights sequence.
By 2021, the ultimate yr of Andersen Promotions’ management of Indy Lights, IndyCar contributed $500,000 to the scholarship and Andersen — together with companions resembling Mazda and Cooper Tires — lined the remainder of the prize, reaching $1.2 million for 2021 Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood.
Linus Lundqvist, the brand new champion of the Indy Lights sequence now owned and solely run by Penske Leisure, and a lot of these within the Lights paddock, had been stunned final weekend to study his scholarship fund to try to attain IndyCar subsequent season was slashed to $500,000.
The previous ensures of competing within the Indy 500 and two different races had been additionally dropped, leaving the gifted Swede with much less of an development prize than new Indy Professional 2000 champion Louis Foster, who obtained a bundle from Andersen Promotions value $614,425 to make the step as much as a season of Indy Lights. He duly signed with Andretti Autosport for 2023.
From a year-to-year foundation, the decreased Indy Lights commencement bundle represents a 58 p.c minimize in help for the brand new champion. As properly, with the value of one-off Indy 500 rides climbing to $800,000 or extra final Could, the $500,000 wouldn’t be sufficient by itself for Lundqvist or any future champion to take part in IndyCar’s marquee occasion. RACER understands that Lundqvist will be capable of defer his prize till 2024 if he’s unable to land an IndyCar journey for subsequent yr.
The step backwards comes at a clumsy time because the sequence is ready to go racing subsequent season with its largest discipline of entries in additional than a decade. The $1 million-plus scholarship and ensures of racing at Indy and different rounds has been a major draw thus far.
In accordance with these within the Indy Lights paddock who recounted a gathering with the brand new sequence management on the finish of October final yr through the Chris Griffis Memorial check, staff homeowners had been advised that whereas the precise contents of bundle was nonetheless to be decided, the $1.2 million champion’s development prize would both keep the identical or enhance in 2022.
In January, a memo was distributed to groups confirming the return of prize cash being paid to the highest 4 finishers at each race together with the $500,000 that might be dedicated to the upcoming champion’s IndyCar scholarship. Based mostly on the assembly from October, those that spoke with RACER stated there was an expectation — albeit undefined within the memo — for different the entitlements, probably within the type of a free IndyCar engine lease and/or a free Firestone tire lease, to enrich the money prize for the champion.
Within the type of free engines or tires, the entire scholarship would have exceeded $1.2 million, however as final weekend’s IndyCar and Indy Lights celebration on the IMS Museum confirmed, Lundqvist obtained $500,000, and a portray from famend IndyCar starter and artist Jim Swintal, as his development bundle.
Talking with Indy Lights director Levi Jones, he says the choice was made to take the tough equal of what was handed to the champion by the previous sequence promoter and provides it to its groups.
“My understanding is whereas it was beneath Andersen Promotions, IndyCar at all times contributed $500,000 to the championship scholarship,” Jones advised RACER. “And that’s nonetheless the identical. The staff that might obtain the scholarship is paid $500,000 from IndyCar.
Beneath the brand new prize construction, 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist (above) took dwelling lower than Indy Professional 2000 champion Louis Foster, and can nonetheless want to seek out extra finances for a one-off Indy 500 journey. Joe Skibinski/Penske Leisure
“The opposite facet of that, which I feel will get misplaced within the shuffle, can be the race purses. There have been no race purses earlier than we took the sequence again. So this yr, we had $735,000 paid out within the 14 races. In order that that variety of $735,000 and the $500,000 is the place that cash is at.”
Beneath the brand new plan, groups obtained $20,000 to win, $15,000 for second, $10,000 for third and $5000 for a fourth-place end. If drivers obtained a share of these winnings, these negotiations would have taken place with their respective groups beforehand.
Requested why the sequence didn’t comply with its equal-or-greater champion’s scholarship message to groups from October, Jones stated, “As a sequence, we’re at all times taking a look at the place we have to consider, the place issues are good, the place issues should be checked out. So, that’s the place we’re at on that.”
Andretti Autosport president JF Thormann, whose staff has been dedicated to Indy Lights longer than another entrant, has been the prime mover with the outfit’s Highway to Indy packages and is struggling to seek out the positives within the sequence’ new technique of rewarding its champions.
“I used to be very stunned by it,” Thormann stated. “We’ve been such advocates for Lights; we had been there with 4 vehicles when there have been solely seven complete within the sequence. Michael has been actually the largest supporter of the sequence and a agency believer in creating younger expertise. And now, abruptly, to among the champions that don’t have a lot, this new strategy makes it more difficult, I feel, to fit the champion into IndyCar.”
Andretti’s staff — like the opposite entrants — has used the opportunity of profitable the sizable development prize and three assured IndyCar races as a serious enticement to draw younger expertise and their mother and father/sponsors to fund their participation within the Lights sequence.
“It was once one among our largest promoting factors — the truth that we had an IndyCar staff and that profitable the championship would assist get you into IndyCar,” stated Thormann, whose staff produced three of the final 4 Lights champions.
“So yeah, there’ll be a brand new problem for us. It appears as if there are going to be extra individuals on the grid subsequent yr, though I don’t know in the event that they dedicated earlier than studying of this new prize system or not.”
Though the lack of $720,000 for the Indy Lights champion has created an unwelcome complication in delivering next-generation expertise to IndyCar, the redistribution of these funds to groups by prize cash has helped in a single regard.
RACER has realized that in choose situations, a number of groups are open to providing a slight drop within the $1-1.5 million wanted to do a full season of Indy Lights. Relying on the caliber of driver, this willingness to supply a modest low cost relies upon the projection of receiving elevated earnings from prize cash if quite a few races are gained.