IndyCar confirms 2014 Leaders Circle entrants

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IndyCar’s collective team payout structure, formerly called TEAM (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) and in more recent years, the Leaders Circle, was announced today. The release from IndyCar first, and then some more details on what it means:

INDYCAR announced today enhancements to the bonus structure and the 21 entrants that will be part of its Leaders Circle program for the 2014 IndyCar Series season.

The Leaders Circle program was established in 2002 to provide incentives to teams that participate full time in the IndyCar Series. Each Leaders Circle member is assured a minimum of $1 million for the 18-race season if the entrant successfully qualifies for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

“The Leaders Circle program is an important resource for full-time teams in the IndyCar Series,” said Derrick Walker, President of Competition and Operations, INDYCAR. “We are looking at ways to continue to grow this resource in the future and further reward our teams for their continued participation in the series.”

Twenty entrants were selected based on their standing in the 2013 IndyCar Series entrant points, including Bryan Herta Autosport (car number and driver TBA). The entry for the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car driven by Juan Pablo Montoya is also a new Leaders Circle member for 2014 through a partnership with Dragon Racing.

Additionally, all entrants will continue to compete for bonuses that will now be paid to the top-10 finishers at each IndyCar Series race aside from the races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis 500), Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. The race bonuses are: $30,000 for first place, $20,000 for second place, $15,000 for third, $10,000 for fourth, $9,000 for fifth, $8,000 for sixth, $7,000 for seventh, $5,000 for eighth, $4,000 for ninth and $2,000 for 10th at each race. At Pocono and Auto Club, the winning team will receive $40,000 with the remaining payouts remaining the same as other races.

Non-Leaders Circle entrants will compete for payouts awarded to the top-five finishers. In each race excluding the races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis 500), Pocono and Auto Club, the highest-finishing non-Leaders Circle entrant will receive $20,000. At Pocono and Auto Club, the highest finishing team will receive $30,000.

The next-placed Non-Leaders Circle entrants will receive $15,000, and $10,000, respectively. The fourth and fifth-placed Non-Leader Circle entrants will each receive $5,000 at all races excluding the Indianapolis 500.

The IndyCar Series driver champion and championship entrant again will share a $1 million bonus, with second through 10th in the standings sharing bonuses of $250,000, $90,000, $75,000, $60,000, $50,000, $40,000, $35,000, $25,000 and $15,000.

Contingency prizes will continue to be awarded at IndyCar Series events.

To add a bit of insight beyond the release from INDYCAR above, a few numbers to note as far as Leaders Circle changes over the last two years:

  • In 2012, the Leaders Circle had a 20-car cap, with 18 carrying over from 2011 and two new spots awarded to Ed Carpenter Racing and what was then Lotus Dragon Racing. Payouts in each race aside from the Indianapolis 500 that year saw the highest-finishing entrant receive $80,000, followed by $65,000, $53,000, $40,000 and $26,000 for fifth highest finisher among the Non-Leader’s Circle entries.
  • In 2013, the number of Leaders Circle entrants was increased to 22, while the per-race payouts to non-Leader Circle entrants decreased. The three spots outside the top-22 in entrant points were awarded Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Dragon Racing and HVM Racing (which became E.J. Viso’s car for Andretti Autosport, with HVM support). In each race aside from the Indianapolis 500 were awarded to the top three, with the highest-finishing entrant will receive $40,000, followed by $35,000 and $30,000.
  • So with those offered, the 2014 numbers for non-Leaders Circle entrants go down for a third consecutive year to $20,000, $15,000 and $10,000, except for the Pocono and Auto Club races where the top non-Leaders Circle entrant will get $30,000.
  • The absentees on the list of projected or expected full-time cars includes the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing No. 8 driven by Ryan Briscoe, Panther Racing’s No. 4 and the second Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, the No. 16. The No. 8 was not fielded full-time in 2013; Panther’s status for 2014 is TBD and RLL was not in the Leader Circle last year.
  • The note of Bryan Herta Autosport listed as Bryan Herta Autosport and not Barracuda Racing, without a car number listed, provides a very strong hint that Barracuda will not return to the team as title sponsor, or at the very least, will return in a minimized role.

Here’s the official chart of those who will receive the per-race number, per INDYCAR:

2014 INDYCAR SERIES LEADER CIRCLE ENTRANTS

Number Car name Driver Engine
2 Verizon Team Penske Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet
3 Team Penske Helio Castroneves Chevrolet
7 SMP Racing Mikhail Aleshin Honda
9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Scott Dixon Chevrolet
10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Tony Kanaan Chevrolet
11 Mistic KVSH Racing Sebastien Bourdais Chevrolet
12 Verizon Team Penske Will Power Chevrolet
14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Takuma Sato Honda
15 National Guard  Graham Rahal Honda
17 AFS KVAFS Racing Sebastian Saavedra Chevrolet
18 Dale Coyne Racing TBA Honda
19 Dale Coyne Racing Justin Wilson Honda
20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Ed Carpenter/Mike Conway Chevrolet
25 Snapple Marco Andretti Honda
27 United Fiber & Data James Hinchcliffe Honda
28 DHL Ryan Hunter-Reay Honda
34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Carlos Munoz Honda
67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Josef Newgarden Honda
77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Simon Pagenaud Honda
83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Charlie Kimball Chevrolet
TBA Bryan Herta Autosport TBA Honda

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”