The Mazda Road to Indy is officially under one promotional direction for all three rungs, now that Dan Andersen’s company, Andersen Promotions, will license and operate the Firestone Indy Lights Series starting in 2014. Andersen also owns and operates the Pro Mazda and USF2000 championships.
In a wide-ranging interview on ESPN 1070 the Fan’s “Trackside” radio show in Indianapolis Thursday night (Andersen’s interview starts with 58:25 remaining in the podcast), Andersen outlined some of the challenges he faces and goals he hopes to achieve with Indy Lights.
“We need to create interest back into Indy Lights as a great career path,” Andersen told show co-host Kevin Lee, also one of NBC Sports Network’s IndyCar pit reporters. “Drivers do not view Indy Lights as a good choice or a good value. My job is to get them to see it’s a terrific value compared to other worldwide options. I need to tell that story better than it’s been told.”
Indeed compared to the tangled web that leads to Formula One, where any path of GP2, GP3, World Series by Renault, Auto GP, Formula 3 (a shadow of its former self in some areas), you name it, IndyCar’s path is direct through the Road to Indy ladder. And, as Andersen attests, it has worked with the increased number of Lights graduates making it to IndyCar within the last several years.
“What you look at the front row, all out of Indy Lights, it is working,” Andersen said of the front row at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Ed Carpenter, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti are three of 18 drivers in this year’s 500 who have competed in Indy Lights either in its current incarnation (2002-present) or previous (1986-2001). Indy Lights champions who have raced in IndyCar this year include Tristan Vautier (2012), Josef Newgarden (2011), JR Hildebrand (2009), Townsend Bell (2001), Scott Dixon (2000), Oriol Servia (1999) and Tony Kanaan (1997).
Some of the tasks Andersen and his staff will need to tackle beyond the car count and interest level is signing off on new deals with tire and engine manufacturers for the future. Andersen said he hopes to have an announcement on a tire partner within a few weeks, while RFPs have been sent out to possible engine manufacturers, with at least “four or five” rumored in consideration. Partners in both aspects need to activate the series and its participants, Andersen said.
Andersen confirmed there won’t be a new car for 2014, instead slating that for 2015, but said there seems to be increased interest from prospective teams. He’s optimistic of a field of 14-16 cars for 2014, with that number topping 20 when a new car introduced.
The last bit of news he hit, and we’ll expand on this when we have further details, is that some USF2000 and Pro Mazda programming will appear later this year on the NBC Sports Network. Cameras were set up for their opening rounds and while no TV deal had been in place, highlight shows will be shown later this year. It ensures some of the young talent within these championships will get noticed.