Yesterday’s announcement from INDYCAR stating the 2014 Indy Lights car would be delayed, came as little surprise to those who follow the sport – particularly those who follow the Mazda Road to Indy.
Even the manufacturers and suppliers who were contacted last year about developing a new Indy Lights car weren’t surprised, having seen the selection announcement pushed back for six months. Some manufacturers may have even felt a bit of relief, following Thursday’s announcement. Certainly not relief about the delay of the Indy Lights car, but relief in that they finally had an answer, even if the only communication came in the form of a disconcerting press release.
One potential supplier told SPEED’s Marshall Pruett, “We’ve known as much about the direction the series is taking, or whose chassis or engine will be used as anybody on the street. The lack of professionalism has been alarming.”
It was reported that several potential builders only found out about the confirmed-delay through the World Wide Web.
The new-car initiative was announced in May, 2011. The push came from Tony George Jr. and the initiative was reportedly given the go-ahead by since-ousted INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. Since Bernard’s release, the communication ceased under new management. Tony George Jr. couldn’t be reached for comment at the time this story was published.
Despite a new Indy Lights TV package on NBC Sports Network for 2013, yesterday’s announcement casts serious doubts on the future of the Indy Lights Championship. Currently only six drivers have confirmed rides for 2013: Peter Dempsey, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach, Jack Hawksworth, Gabby Chaves, and Juan Pablo Garcia.
Even Pruett’s column suggested axing Indy Lights and developing a new-and-improved Pro Mazda machine to serve as segue to the new DW12 IndyCar for up-and-coming open-wheel drivers. Some have even suggested bringing the high-downforce Swift 016s (Atlantic cars) back. Others offered a simpler fix — dropping the Indy Lights overzealous price tag and badging the engine to allow for additional scholarship help for drivers looking to make the jump from Lights to IndyCar — a move that has become increasingly rare.
While new ideas are circulating among fans and followers of the sport, the thought process of INDYCAR officials is unknown. Is there something bigger behind the decision to delay new machinery for the top-rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder? While there is no doubt the IndyCar Series itself needs careful and precise coddling, it would be a grave mistake to abandon focus on junior development.
The current 2002 Dallara chassis and 3.5-liter, normally aspirated V8, engine is heavy and has been outdated for years. While the car still teaches drivers much about wheeling a low-downforce open-wheel machine around road courses, street courses, and ovals, the car’s required driving style is outdated for the upper echelons of open-wheel racing.
Knowing that race machinery is outdated, however, isn’t enough to prognosticate the future for Indy Lights. What is the proper move for Indy Lights and INDYCAR? What are your thoughts?
One thing is certain, the Series leadership needs to make a decision soon, as delay — and lack of communication — are only detrimental to the sport and its talented young drivers hoping for a career in open-wheel racing.