TORONTO — IndyCar has given an outside organization the rights to operate its Indy Lights feeder series beginning in 2014.
The multi-year agreement announced Friday with Andersen Promotions gives the company all three rings in the "Mazda Road to Indy" ladder system. Andersen already owns and operates USF2000 and Star Mazda series.
"This is a positive move for our sport," said IndyCar President of competition Derrick Walker. "A strong and relevant training system is important to develop the next generation of IndyCar drivers."
The ladder system provides training for drivers and teams trying to make it to the IndyCar Series and Walker said tying the final step to the first two through Andersen will position Lights for faster growth and consistency among the three ladder divisions.
Andersen will direct on-track activity while using IndyCar personnel, and will be the primary contact for business, marketing and promotional operations.
Indy Lights is expected to run up to 12 races a year, with 10 as companions to IndyCar.
IndyCar will work with its television partners on broadcast continuity and will continue to support the scholarship for the Lights champion to move up to IndyCar.
One of the biggest challenges will be increasing car counts in the Lights series, which had just eight drivers run the last three events. The May race at Indianapolis had a season-high 11 drivers in the field. It's a far cry from the heyday of the series that produced many of today's current IndyCar drivers.
"I think it's tough seeing it at Pocono when there's eight cars running around a two-and-a-half mile circuit, they were separated by 20 or 15 seconds," said 2000 Lights champion Scott Dixon. "Back a while ago when we raced in that series, it was very competitive. You had full fields of 25-odd cars, sometimes more. It's a great feeder series. Hopefully they run it strong."
Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, admitted there are several challenges facing the series and increasing participation.
"Some people think it's purely a cost challenge, we need to reduce costs," Andersen said. "But I actually don't think that's the major issue. I think the cost is not far off where it should be for a proper development step.
"The most important thing we need to do is regain the interest in the ladder, and we need to do that via changes to the car, changes to the way we produce the whole series — mainly PR and marketing worldwide."
Andersen said manufacturers Mazda and Honda both have interest in supporting the series from a sponsorship aspect — an important development if Lights can secure an engine partner. He's also eyeing a new car for the series by 2015, which could make next season the most challenging for Indy Lights.
"Implementing a new car may take more than a one year to fully do," Andersen said. "As we have ideas in mind that the current car will not be run as is for next year, but it will likely be run in some form with some updates to it. The new car will encourage a lot of participation in 2015. I'd like to see us at 15 cars or more for next year. I'd like to see us at 20 cars or more the year after that.
"I think it's totally doable. If we enlist another four to six team owners, we've solved our problem."