Indy Lights 2015 Silly Season Update, Round 1

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The level of intrigue surrounding Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is higher this year than ever.

Here’s a quick look at where things stand regarding the grid for 2015, as teams will run the new Dallara IL-15 chassis. There’s plenty of time for this to change, and we’ll produce another update closer to the start of the 2015 season when more things come into place.

CONFIRMED DRIVERS

Juncos Racing: The Pro Mazda championship-winning team makes a full-season Indy Lights commitment and return to the series for the first time since 2012. Pro Mazda champ Spencer Pigot moves up along with his 2014 teammate, Kyle Kaiser.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Ethan Ringel has been announced as the team’s first of multiple expected drivers. The timing was right for Ringel to return, given the new car should put the entire grid on a level playing field.

Belardi Auto Racing: The 2014 championship-winning Indy Lights team had the first driver signing of the offseason, with Puerto Rico’s Felix Serralles making a return to North America after several years in Europe.

REGISTERED TEAMS

Besides the above, these teams are all listed via the official Indy Lights website. Drivers are yet to be officially confirmed for any of the following squads.

8Star Motorsports: A star team in sports car racing the last two years across both Prototype and GT ranks led by Enzo Potolicchio, 8Star Motorsports has several open-wheel veterans on its staff, and it would make perfect sense for American rising star Sean Rayhall to drive here.

Bryan Herta Autosport: A longtime Indy Lights participant has scaled back to a partial-season effort the last few years. You’d figure BHA would want its IndyCar program sorted before announcing its Lights program, but it would be huge to have Herta involved full-time once more.

Conquest Racing: Eric Bachelart’s team may have an initial leg up on the new chassis, having run the car’s test program this fall. Bachelart hasn’t had a full-time open-wheel program since 2011, so his return would be welcomed.

Dragon Motor Racing: Not affiliated with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing, this is a new team founded by an investment group looking to see Australian talent progress, and is based out of Las Vegas.

Fan Force United: Has pressed on in Indy Lights since 2008, having started as Alliance Motorsports, and featuring a variety of drivers. Ran this past season with Scott Anderson.

McCormack Racing: Run by Jack and Michael McCormack, the pair have more than 40 years of racing experience, combined.

Team Moore Racing: Another Indy Lights veteran squad, Mark Moore’s team has always been good for one and oftentimes a second car in recent years.

EXPECTED TEAMS

Andretti Autosport: The team is yet to officially confirm its participation, but Michael Andretti told MotorSportsTalk the team expects to have a two-car Indy Lights program set for 2015, and continue Andretti Autosport’s longtime commitment to the Mazda Road to Indy.

CAR COUNT

The 10 official teams and one additional expected team would, if all 11 teams ran two cars, produce a car count of 22. At this point, a 22-car field would still be an optimistic projection.

But figure that with those 10 or 11 teams (11 if all show up, 10 if any one of the above fails to materialize), you can still safely figure anywhere from 16 to 18 cars could be the field, which would surpass our initial projections of 14 to 16 cars. Even an eight team grid could produce a number as high as 16 to 18.

A field of 14 to 16 would be a significant gain over the 8 to 12 cars witnessed this year, and 16 to 18 would be huge. Pushing 20, if not exceeding 20, would be spectacular.

Schmidt figures to run more than two cars; the team has traditionally run three or four full-time cars. Extra cars from SPM would help offset any single-car efforts. Jack Harvey would like to return to the team for a second season, and would be a title favorite if he returns.

Andretti’s team would seem to be a landing spot for Matthew Brabham for a second season, and Shelby Blackstock for a move up after two years with Andretti in Pro Mazda. Zach Veach, who has run the last two years in Indy Lights, is seeking an opportunity at the IndyCar level.

The other teams are wild cards on the driver front, at this early stage of the offseason. It remains to be seen whether Indy Lights driver holdovers – a Luiz Razia, Juan Piedrahita or Ryan Phinny for example – will be joined by any Pro Mazda and/or USF2000 graduates, or whether we’ll get an influx of talent from overseas to join the shores.

Figure a likely combination of both, and once testing occurs December 16-17 at Palm Beach International Raceway, we’re more likely to have further clues on who’ll be driving where in 2015.

Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

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“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”