So today, Curt Cavin broke the news on Twitter, and the press release from IndyCar followed not too long after, that the new chassis that we’d been expecting in 2014 will have to wait a little while longer. The current chassis and engine spec was originally laid out in 2002 when the series was reincarnated as the Menard’s Infinity Pro Series after the CART version of Indy Lights terminated at the end of the 2001 season. The series at the time was designed to provide a platform to develop drivers for the Indy Racing League and as such raced exclusively on ovals. Like the IRL chassis of the time, the Indy Lights chassis from Dallara was designed as an oval-only racer and was pressed into road racing service beginning in 2005. Only three of the fourteen races were held on street or road courses. Over the years since, the pendulum has swung the other direction and last year only four of the races were on ovals; two thirds of the races were held on twisty courses for which the 2002-spec chassis was not designed and ill-suited.
The increasingly dated platform was the impetus for the league to propose a new chassis and engine for 2014, and bids were requested from various chassis manufacturers in similar fashion to what was done when the league moved from the old Dallara IR03 to the new Dallara DW12. Bids were solicited from Swift, Dallara, Mygale, Dyson, and DeltaWing. Several of the initial renderings look very exciting and interesting, even if many of us thought it was a foregone conclusion that Dallara would get the nod. Initially, the decision was to be announced sometime in September, then in October, no we meant early next year, …oh nevermind. Forget it. Despite the admittedly strong manufacturer interest in bringing a new chassis in the penultimate step to IndyCar racing, INDYCAR announced today that plans for new equipment were to be put on hold indefinitely.
In the press released below, the stated reason for the delay was that they wanted to wait and make the series stronger first. So, rather than moving forward to a more cost-effective and relevant chassis and engine package that would have brought new manufacturer, sponsor, and fan interest and money to the series, they’ve elected to remain with the costly chassis to purchase and repair, an engine that is unbadged and unsupported, and a platform that was designed exclusively for oval tracks that make up less than half of the current schedule.
This news unleashed a torrent of vitriol on Twitter, and I’ll fully admit to being a part of the venting. With car counts declining significantly over the past few seasons, many were questioning whether this might be the beginning of the end of the Indy Lights Series, and if Pro Mazda could be modified to bridge the gap between USF2000 and IndyCar. That, I think, is a bit of a stretch, but I do agree with the notion that Indy Lights is on the ropes. I doubt that we’ll see it fold, but doing the same thing season after season isn’t going to result in any positive changes, either. Unfortunately, this is precisely in keeping with the culture of stagnation that seems to have a grip on IndyCar. The DW12 was very late in coming, we still don’t have aero kits as promised, and now we hear that Indy Lights will have to continue with equipment that’s over a decade old in design. Frankly, I think it’s shows a continued failure to consider the revenue side of the equation. If you keep things the same, things will never improve. Period. Read the release for yourself and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Official Release: FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS TO DELAY INTRODUCTION OF NEXT-GENERATION CAR
INDIANAPOLIS (Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013) – Firestone Indy Lights announced today that the introduction of its next-generation car will be delayed until after the 2014 season.
“While we have generated quite a bit of interest from a variety of manufacturers, we feel it’s best to delay the introduction of the next-generation chassis and engine,” said Tony George Jr., director, Firestone Indy Lights. “We want our teams, drivers and manufacturers to be competitive and successful, and if that means taking a step back to create a stronger series to support the economics of this long-term capital investment as well as a formula that we believe will allow our drivers to transition between Pro Mazda and the IZOD IndyCar Series, then we’re willing to make sure the introduction is timed properly.”
Series officials, citing the desired attributes of a contemporary chassis with enhanced aerodynamics and technology, announced last May that a request for proposal had been distributed to potential manufacturers and development firms for both engine and chassis. All Firestone Indy Lights competitors currently run a Dallara chassis and 3.5-liter, normally aspirated V8 engine.
“We continue to spend a considerable amount of time conducting due diligence, taking into account the needs of our teams, drivers, manufacturers and other key constituents to make our series stronger,” George said. “This ongoing process has proven just how much people believe in Firestone Indy Lights and the entire Mazda Road to Indy driver development system.”
INDYCAR continues to make investments to grow Firestone Indy Lights while providing further value to all participants throughout the Mazda Road to Indy system that also includes the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
This season Firestone Indy Lights has an improved TV package, with all races televised on NBC Sports Network. The television schedule features enhanced time windows, serving as lead-in programming to IZOD IndyCar Series broadcasts where the schedules allow, showcasing the series to a larger audience. The Freedom 100 on May 24 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be televised live.
Additionally, INDYCAR recently re-launched the Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy website as part of indycar.com, serving as the go-to resource for news and features on the next generation of the sport’s stars.
The Firestone Indy Lights champion, claiming a Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to apply to an IZOD IndyCar Series program, has graduated to the premier series three of the past four years. Tristan Vautier will drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the 2013 season. Scholarships also were awarded to 2012 Pro Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth and USF2000 champion Matthew Brabham, both of whom will graduate to the next step on the ladder this season.
“INDYCAR would like to thank the suppliers, manufacturers and other parties for their continued interest and involvement in the development of the new car,” George said. “Everyone involved believes there is a bright future ahead for the series.”