Indy Lights – Thoughts on the New Chassis Direction

FIL-LogoMany were quick to post Andersen’s announcement, and by now I’m sure you’ve read the release that we’ve included below. I wanted to spend some time mulling over the implications of Andersen’s direction for the evolution of the Firestone Indy Lights chassis, a platform that is over a decade old. As I read and reflect on the announcement, there’s a couple of things that strike me: first, there isn’t really any new information that we didn’t have after the Toronto weekend, second, chassis applications have been made once already and they’re asking again. I’m still very bullish on the future of the pinnacle series of the Mazda Road to Indy program, but this announcement isn’t the glorious declaration that everything is fixed and grand. It does appear that the series is headed in the right direction and at a wise pace.

We’ve known for a couple of years that Firestone wasn’t especially keen on retaining title sponsorship of the Indy Lights series, and their continued participation in Indy Lights and the IndyCar Series came at an increased cost to the teams. Cost of participation has been one of the several issues limiting the attractiveness of the Indy Lights series to team owners. Andersen Promotions, which also operates the USF2000 National Championship and Pro Mazda Championship, will likely reach a deal with Cooper Tires to be the exclusive tire provider for the entire Mazda Road to Indy program. Andersen has made no official statement regarding the tire direction except to say that his group was working on new engine and tire partners.

Speaking of engines, the current engine is the same 3.5L naturally-aspirated V8 that was originally badged by Nissan’s luxury brand Infinity back in 2002 when the series was known as the Menards Infinity Pro Series. Since the 2006 season, however, the engine has gone unbadged and unsupported by any manufacturer. Andersen is looking to correct that by seeking new engine partners. In his recent acquisition of the Star Mazda Series, now the Pro Mazda Championship, one of the first things that Dan Andersen did was to seek out a new engine builder for the Mazda rotary powerplant to increase the engine build quality and longevity, and reduce maintenance costs. We will likely see the same plan in place for Indy Lights with the additional complication of bringing a new powerplant. The current large-displacement V8 is not in-line with the current engine philosophy in INDYCAR or in the wider motorsports community. Look for a turbo-charged Mazda engine in 2014. The petrol version of the SKYACTIV motor Mazda is currently using with their Mazda 6 in the Grand-Am GTX. Utilizing a lower displacement, turbo-charged platform would better match the direction the IndyCar Series has gone with their motors. We could see the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Series Powered by Mazda as early as 2014.

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In 2015, we will have a completely new chassis, that makes use of modern technologies and designed with both ovals and road circuits in mind. The current Dallara chassis was designed when the IRL was racing exclusively on ovals. Like with the old IndyCar Dallara chassis, the Indy Lights chassis was fitted with different front and rear wings in an attempt to make it more capable on the twisty circuits. Nothing can get around the fact that the car’s proper place is on an oval, though. We’ve already gone through one round of solicitations for new chassis and received quality proposals from companies like Dallara, Swift, Mygale, and others. Now, it seems that there is a second request being put forward. Hopefully, it will not require manufacturers to start their designs from scratch, but will allow them to modify their existing design proposals. The change in leadership for the series may help salve the irritation manufacturers rightly feel after having that previous RFP terminated at the last minute after much time and expense had been spent on the designs.

Bringing in a new engine and new chassis will require teams to fund an initial investment in new parts, tooling, and equipment, but the pay-off should be lower long-term operating costs with a platform that has greater industry support and greater marketability to sponsors. We’ve seen Andersen successfully revive the USF2000 series, and make positive changes in the Pro Mazda Series that have resulted in reduced costs this year and should bring increased participation next year. All in all, it looks like Dan Andersen has the Indy Lights program heading in the right direction. Here’s to a more marketable and viable series in 2014.

Andersen Promotions Announces Firestone Indy Lights Chassis Plan

PALMETTO, Fla. (July 29, 2013) – Andersen Promotions, the promotional arm of the first two steps on the Mazda Road to Indy which will oversee the licensing and operation of the Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2014, today announced that it has completed an analysis on chassis options for its newly acquired series. The company has reached a decision to introduce a new Firestone Indy Lights race car for 2015 and utilize an updated car for the 2014 season.

The current Firestone Indy Lights chassis will see several updates to enhance its current performance with much-needed newer technology to properly represent the platform as the gateway to the IZOD IndyCar Series. The majority of the updates will be applicable on the new 2015 race car to assist with budgets.

“In an ideal world, we would be debuting a new Firestone Indy Lights car next season,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Unfortunately, with our very recent acquisition of the series, there isn’t enough time to accomplish this for 2014. Safety is paramount, and we also want a race car that is attractive and interesting to drivers worldwide. By enhancing the current chassis, bringing in new engine and tire partners to activate and support the series while also reducing costs and offering strong incentive programs to current and potential teams, we give ourselves time to do the job properly.

“I have to thank all of the team owners who attended our meeting during the Toronto race weekend to offer their perspectives into the direction of the new Firestone Indy Lights Series. Their input there and over the past few weeks has been invaluable. We are excited for the future. As I said in that meeting, our goal is to rebuild, rebrand and re-buzz Firestone Indy Lights, and that starts with our equipment package.”

The selection of a chassis designer/manufacturer for the 2015 car will be announced within 90 days from proposals submitted by four major manufacturers. The new chassis will be a purpose-built, state-of-the-art race car delivering the appearance and functions needed for Firestone Indy Lights competition with the necessary price points for both the new car and spares to assist with team budgets. This process is being overseen by Tony Cotman, President and Founder of NZR Consulting and the former Vice President of Competition at INDYCAR.

The new car will debut for testing in the second half of the 2014 season.

In the coming months, Andersen Promotions will be issuing bulletins regarding updates to the 2014 car. Additional announcements about the series’ new engine and tire partnerships will be announced prior to the finalization of the new chassis.

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One Thought to “Indy Lights – Thoughts on the New Chassis Direction

  1. Brian McKay

    INDYCAR could have accepted years ago the proposal by Lola Cars to supply chassis that would be raced in the Izod IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights Series. However, the ICONI Committee and the former P.B.R. chief thought that IndyCar teams must race Dallara chassis forever and ever and ever and ever …

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