Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda as well as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and Derrick Walker, president of operations and competition for IndyCar, the sanctioning body of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, met with the media in Toronto to discuss the details of the agreement for Andersen Promotions to license and operate Firestone Indy Lights beginning in 2014.
Q: Derrick, if you could tell us about this new collaboration, what this means for IndyCar.
DERRICK WALKER: Absolutely. Pleased to be here to be part of this announcement.
As has been said, we are joining a collaboration with Andersen Promotions to enhance the Road to Indy program. So for those who have followed Indy Lights for many years, I think you'll see this will be an infusion of multi series coming together to make the whole concept of a driver who gets into a junior series, works his way up to IndyCar, get much stronger.
We are working very hard to try and continue the good work that's been done by the current Lights program. A lot of that is going to blend into the new partnership that we have. I think it's just going to make Indy Lights stronger.
Q: Dan, if you can, talk about the decision to add Firestone Indy Lights to your current portfolio and plans for the series going forward.
DAN ANDERSEN: Sure. Glad to be here. I appreciate the support of IndyCar in this whole process.
As has been mentioned, my organization promotes the USF2000 Championship and the Pro Mazda Championship, the first two steps on the Mazda Road to Indy. We are naturally concerned with the overall development of that program.
The Mazda Road to Indy is actually something that is relatively unique in the world. In most countries there are a variety of ways to climb whatever motorsports ladder that is in place. In North America there has been for the last three or four years a clearly defined path.
As the person involved in the first two steps, I had a natural interest in and concern for the top step. In past years I also owned teams in the Indy Lights series. I know what it does. I know the tremendous amount of drivers that have been graduated up to IndyCar and I know how valuable the program is.
Early this year we started a dialogue with IndyCar, and they have been completely supportive and will continue to be supportive as we take this step and involve ourselves in Indy Lights.
Q. What do you think can be done short term to increase car counts and also what will the process be to look at new cars?
DAN ANDERSEN: There are several challenges. Some people think it's purely a cost challenge -- we need to reduce costs. We recognize that certainly as a former team owner in these levels cost is always an issue. 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 top 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.
There are numerous drivers participating in ladders in other continents that are paying far more than the Indy Lights budget. For whatever reason, Indy Lights is not currently viewed in the way it once was. We need to recapture that.
We have our work cut out for us. But we need to get that buzz going again, get people to realize that this is a step that can produce a new career in IndyCar.
It has worked in the past. The story needs to be told better than it has been. We have a lot of plans in that regard to promote it worldwide. On the home front, we will be changing the car. We're currently working on that with RFPs out for tires, engines and cars. We'll get into that over the summer. You'll be seeing announcements rolled out on a fairly regular basis from now until Labor Day about what shape the series will look like in 2014 and 2015.
Q. Dan, you just mentioned cars, engines and tires. It's called the Mazda Road to Indy. Is there any chance Mazda might want to step up?
DAN ANDERSEN: Mazda is definitely one of the interested parties, as is Honda. There may be others on the engine side. I don't want to go into that right now.
Currently the series does not have an engine partner, so there will be an engine partner in our future. What we need as a series to go along with the marketing and the PR elements is a partner on tires and engines that are willing to activate around the series, willing to help us elevate the image and exposure of the series with their own activation.
Q. Dan, you talked about the cost. You do have a little experience rolling out the USF2000 cars. Can you give me an idea what the cost should look like? Do you have a goal for steps?
DAN ANDERSEN: I do. Budgets vary. Teams include different amounts of testing, pre-season, off-season testing. You have to deal in ranges when you're talking about development series budgets. An F2000 is currently anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 per car per season. The Pro Mazda budget is in the $350,000 to $450,000 range. Indy Lights budget, I'm not positive where it is currently, but it should be in the $700k to $750k range.
We will take some steps to make sure budgets don't rise with the new car and engine by reducing schedule challenges in terms of travel logistics and events. We'll likely introduce a few double-header weekends to improve the number of races being driven by the drivers. They need seat time. They don't only need it in testing and practice but they need it in racing. We'll attempt to get some more races out of the schedule that we're operating.
Q. Do you have a target number for the number of entries next year as compared to what you have now? The reason I ask the question is that the Champ Car Atlantics were in a little bit of the same boat earlier. Are you looking at 15 cars for next year, 20 cars?
DAN ANDERSEN: Do you want my dreams or my reality?
DAN ANDERSEN: Next year will be probably our most challenging year, because implementing a new car may take more than one year to fully do. 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. We had an owners meeting in here yesterday and currently Indy Lights has four team owners participating. We had I think 14 or 15 team owners in the room listening to our vision. In my view, if we enlist another four to six team owners, we've solved our problem.
Q. Derrick, is there something you can do to help current IndyCar owners to get more involved with Indy Lights?
DERRICK WALKER: The short answer is yes. There is a lot of interest in what Dan is doing with Indy Lights right now. I think a lot of team owners are looking at it to see the viability of them entering into Lights.
But as was the example back in the Atlantic days, one of the biggest things that happened to Atlantics that really turned the switch on from when it was falling off to suddenly having a full field and a lot of good competition was the championship meant something. When a driver won that championship, he actually could go up to IndyCar, or in those days Champ Car.
I think we as a series have got to get back around the table. I'm sure Dan has a lot of ideas. Some of the teams have got some ideas. We're going to try to see if we can incentivize them. It's in their best interest in the long run to have a program in Indy Lights. There is some interest right now on what little has come to the surface.
Q. IndyCar is starting standing starts at some events. Would that be considered for Indy Lights in the future?
DAN ANDERSEN: I would say yes. We haven't discussed that right now. There's no reason not to consider it. I'm not technically enough into it to see with the current car if that's doable or not.
We do standing starts with Pro Mazda occasionally. We'll be doing one here this weekend. We're going to follow IndyCar's lead on that. As they do that type of thing, we want to be training our people to do the same things.
Q. NASCAR props up their ladder series with Cup drivers coming down and doing some races. Would there ever be any consideration of getting IndyCar drivers running a few Lights races?
DAN ANDERSEN: Actually we've been talking about that in the last few days. I like that idea a whole lot. I'd like to see a team involved in both levels. I'd like to see them putting their IndyCar driver in alongside their rookie Indy Lights drivers and teaming up with them. That will certainly be something we'll explore.
I'd like to see some unemployed IndyCar drivers jumping into Indy Lights and doing one-offs. How we can incentivize those teams and drivers to do that, we're looking at that.
Q. Dan, are we looking to bringing a testing requirement back that we had a few years ago? An IndyCar team could get test days by running a Lights driver. Is that something on the table?
DAN ANDERSEN: Yes, it's on the table. It's likely. We have to work with IndyCar on their whole testing program because it's a little different back when that testing bonus was available. But IndyCar has indicated that they're certainly willing to participate in whatever helps Indy Lights. We appreciate that.
Q. From a scheduling standpoint, anyplace you want to make sure you're paired up or new places you might want to take the ladder? What about potential standalone events?
DAN ANDERSEN: Dream list or reality?
Q. Either one.
DAN ANDERSEN: We want to race with IndyCar with their weekends, almost exclusively. There may be one-off events. IndyCar is where we think our drivers need to be exposed to. We need to be part of those weekends. Our arrangement with IndyCar is just that, to have us continue to operate on IndyCar weekends.
Q. Derrick, there was a very healthy financial award to win Atlantics. There's been an element of that recently within IndyCar, which hasn't been very well-publicized. Is that something you foresee continuing from the series side or would that burden be put upon Dan and his organization?
DERRICK WALKER: I think it will be a joint effort. IndyCar will continue to support Indy Lights. We're not standing by and letting Dan go at it himself. We're going to do it together because it's in our best interest to continue to work together.
Q. Dan, with the ladder, with the three rungs, do you see the opportunity to add new owners or do you think you might be in a situation where you're essentially trying to take a few from other series and shuffling the deck?
DAN ANDERSEN: I think we're looking at both. There are already a number of teams in my other two series who are expressing interest in purchasing cars and jumping in. We're also talking to quite a number of IndyCar teams about starting junior teams within their organization.
If I can take one minute and just explain that the benefit to IndyCar teams -- and I did explain this to them yesterday -- this isn't just a driver development series. Our series has produced most of the people, three series, who are participating as mechanics, engineers, what have you in IndyCar. We train all types of people to move up.
Sponsors also can jump into a junior program and grow with the sport and then become involved in IndyCar racing. It's kind of a training program that is just broader than drivers. We are definitely talking to IndyCar teams as well as the other junior teams and some former Atlantic teams, as well.