Growing grids are a major problem for IndyCar

By | March 29, 2024

Thanks to Roger Penske and the Penske Entertainment organization for the size and stability that underpins the massive IndyCar grid. After weathering the financial ravages of COVID, Penske’s series emerged from the pandemic with 25 full-time entries in 2022, saw the number increase to 27 in 2023 and remained at 27 this year – a modern record for consecutive seasons.

On current trajectory, this number could reach 29 or more by 2025, which is both a boon and a headache to manage for a series looking for ways to handle the expansion.

The relatively cheap cost of entry compared to other top-level racing series – which is changing and increasing with the introduction of hybrid powerplants mid-season – has been a major source of interest for competitors looking to join a major Northern American Championship.

With an average operating budget of $6 to $8 million per season through 2023, competing in IndyCar has cost a fraction of what it takes to race in the NASCAR Cup Series. of having a relatively low prize to compete in his series for drivers and teams who have given up hope of reaching F1.

Although the average budget will increase to $8 million to $10 million per car by 2024, so far this has not led to a drop in registrations, or stifled interest for those who want to pay to drive or buy a new car. put together a team. .

Building on the 27 existing cars from the ten long-serving teams, the series faces the strong possibility of another surge in 2025 as three other teams – including two newcomers – are actively working to join IndyCar full-time Close. .

The first of these is the Abel Motorsports Indy NXT program, which made a one-off IndyCar appearance at the Indianapolis 500 last May with a chassis from driver RC Enerson. The team founded by Kentucky construction magnate Bill Abel has purchased its own Dallara DW12 and the necessary pit equipment to field a car at each race. In 2023 and again in May, Abel will use Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine to power the No. 50. It’s unclear if continuing to use Chevy engines after Indy is an option.

The Pratt & Miller Motorsports team, which powers Chevrolet’s factory IMSA GTD Pro activities, is making its first foray into IndyCar, but has not purchased a car nor does it have an engine lease. And then there’s the multidisciplinary PREMA Racing team from Italy, which is at the forefront of IndyCar’s potential growth.

Looking at IndyCar’s two engine manufacturers and their efforts to share the burden of supplying the seasonal field, Chevy has 12 engine leases this year and Honda 15, which would indicate that Team Chevy is the brand with the best chance of success. supporting any new teams next year. To get to 29 or 30 cars, Chevy would have to get closer to Honda’s leasing number.

To that end, multiple sources tell RACER that PREMA – which has a robust European junior open-wheel and sports car operation and has expanded into the US through the Iron Lynx Lamborghini IMSA GTP program – has secured a pair of engine leases from Chevy and is expected to announcing a two-car IndyCar effort in the coming weeks.

From its Michigan-based shop, PREMA is said to plan to launch its U.S. open-wheel initiative in 2025, with a focus on hiring an IndyCar veteran to lead the team and mentor a second driver coming through PREMA’s championship-winning European team has emerged. ladder that reaches all the way to Formula 2. It is also known that PREMA has met with multiple IndyCar teams to explore the possibility of forming a technical alliance. A call to PREMA to discuss the various topics was not answered before publication.

Although Team Chevy declined to discuss supporting an expanded IndyCar grid, Honda Racing Corporation U.S. Vice President Kelvin Fu was willing to raise the issue.

“I think it’s good that there is so much interest in the paddock,” Fu told RACER. “I know it’s something IndyCar has been working on for a long time. But I think we did as much as we could. Every time someone asks, we’ve tried, and we’re at 15 full-time and for the Indy 500 we’re at 18 [leases], which is a lot. I think that’s as far as we can go.

“A big part of it is delivery costs: resources, getting people here and supporting the series. I don’t know if there’s anything else that we could actually do more than what we’ve already done.

Accommodating growing networks in a finite amount of space comes with its own challenges. Michael Levitt/Lumen

In turn, the series welcomes the idea of ​​expanding its field, but there are some challenges to consider as the grid expands beyond 27 cars. At some IndyCar locations, available pit lane space cannot hold more than 27 competitors, and sufficient paddock space to accommodate additional transporters is by no means guaranteed at every track. Figuring out how to embrace the new team’s interest has been an ongoing focus of the series.

“That’s a complicated subject,” IndyCar president Jay Frye told RACER. “In 2017, when we developed the five-year plan, one of the goals was to bring in new owners and teams. In that respect, the plan certainly worked. And it’s not just new teams and it’s not just about quantity, it’s about the quality of the teams and entities that want to race with us – which is great.

“So, how are we going to handle this going forward? Some of it is somewhat self-governing, considering the constraints the engine manufacturers face. Obviously Honda and Chevrolet are both doing a phenomenal job, but they are certainly getting close to being leveraged with the number of teams they can support.”

RACER understands that the series has been proactive in holding meetings and phone calls with the range of newcomers and will continue to do so until solutions are hopefully found.

“That’s an ongoing conversation,” Frye added. “And these new entities that want to come in, how do they do that? Are they purchasing current entities? It is a very nice problem that we have and that we are actively trying to solve.”

The story originally appeared on Racer

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