Road to Indy Finds Silver Lining to Coronavirus Shutdown04/01/2020
A lot has been made of how the NTT IndyCar Series, along with its drivers and teams, has been handling the coronavirus pandemic. Equally important, though, is the situation within the Road to Indy—the three-tier development ladder program sanctioned by IndyCar.
The unique system is the only one of its kind in the world, with a scholarship prize for its champions that can progress a driver from the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship to Indy Pro 2000 to Indy Lights and then, finally, to IndyCar.
Last week, IndyCar announced a revised schedule for the 2020 season, with the 104th Indianapolis 500 moving from May 24 to Aug. 23. In turn, the Road to Indy, which shares race weekends as the undercard to IndyCar, adjusted its schedule and will officially begin the year June 19-21 at Road America.
Dan Andersen, CEO of Andersen Promotions, operating company of the Road to Indy, and Jonny Baker, the development director for the series, have been keeping a pulse on the teams through these trying times.
“Some teams are hurting more than others,” Andersen told Autoweek. “We stay in touch with them. Johnny Baker talks to them virtually every week. I asked him to contact them all just two days ago and go around the entire field and check in and see how everybody’s doing. We stay in touch with them via email blasts to give them an update on things like testing.”
In order to make up losing events at both Barber Motorsports Park and Circuit of the Americas, all three feeder series will run tripleheaders at Road America (June 19-21) and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 7-9). That adjustment will help keep the schedule at 18 races for each series and will also help keep costs at a minimum for the teams.
“We’re balancing the interests of safety with the coronavirus with the reality of some of the teams and their revenue needs and their need to keep the racing parents at bay,” said Andersen. “It’s a juggling act, but yeah, we stay in touch with all of them. Most of them seem to be fine. They’re doing what they can. In certain states where there are lockdowns, they can’t even go into the shop. Other states, like down in Florida, it’s not so severe. So, it’s different for all of them. I’ve only heard of one or two that are a little bit stressed financially, but I don’t think there’s anything dire.”
Additionally, there will be an opportunity for everyone to knock off the postponement rust with a test at Mid-Ohio June 10-11.
To his credit, Baker is able to find some positivity through these incredibly difficult times. Young and talented drivers from all around the globe are usually pushing for either a junior formula seat in Europe or the chance to come to the United States and compete in the Road to Indy. For those drivers who maybe weren’t able to secure a ride when the season was expected to start at St. Petersburg earlier this month, this postponement could actually help them find a place on the grid.
“I actually think, if anything, you know, in looking slightly at the bigger picture, there’s some drivers that didn’t quite have that racing plans in place yet and they’re trying to look at what they want to do,” said Baker. “I kind of think racing in the States is going to be, arguably, more attractive because I think we’re going to have quite a bit of flexibility compared to Europe …
“Then, with the scholarships in place and everything defined, I’d really like to think that we’re going to be an attractive proposition. Of course, who knows what international travel sanctions are going to be in place. But again, I think if we’re going to end up making the decision that we can go racing, then you’d like to think that’s going to go hand in hand with de-escalation across the board, so people will be able to travel and et cetera, et cetera.”
Additionally, the situation could also have the potential of teams coming over from Europe to continue their racing.
“I think it could be something, let’s say we’re all sitting down in May and some teams are going, ‘Hey, where can we get a full season of racing in?’ and the Road to Indy is one of those options,” said Baker. “I’d love for our phones to ring. How can we solve that? We’ve got some chassis, we’ve got some used cars that I’m sure are around and we could make them active.
“Absolutely, we would want to see if those requests came in, then (those) would be amazing problems to solve. I’d like to say we can do it. I’ve got a feeling that we will be one of the more attractive series once we start getting into the summer here that is going to have a really, really attractive schedule.”
While the concept is nice in thought, Andersen stresses not everyone is in a strong position to make it happen.
“The capitalization cost is not for the faint of heart,” said Andersen. “I mean, if you’re a small mom and pop operation running Formula Ford in Great Britain, it’s a steep hill to climb to come over here and get set up in a shop and get capitalized. If you’re a Carlin, it’s a whole lot easier, and there are other people on that level that certainly should be considering it.”
Lastly, if there is one concern with the COVID-19 impact, it is the possibility of more uncertainty and delays. In the event of a worst-case scenario where no racing came about at all this year, the scholarships currently in place for Kyle Kirkwood (Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport), Braden Eves (Indy Pro 2000 with Exclusive Autosport) and Prescott Campbell (USF2000 with Exclusive Autosport) would be honored for 2021.
“Those scholarships are contracts with those drivers and those teams they’ve earned in the last year,” said Andersen. “I’ve executed contracts with the selected teams to run them this year.
“That’s a hypothetical that I don’t see happening, but absolute catastrophic worst-case disaster where racing didn’t resume at all this year, which is I think, highly unlikely, but if that were the case, those teams and drivers and contracts would be in place and they would have to use that money for next year.”
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