(Originally posted to Planet-IRL.com.)
In response to a recent post on the current flaws with the Road to Indy feeder system, Planet-IRL has been contacted by Tony George, Jr., the Manager of Business Development for the Firestone Indy Lights series. With his permission, his response is provided below for your perusal. Tony’s dedication toward and enthusiasm for the program are apparent, and we greatly appreciate his taking the time to address the concerns from the post and give the community some insight into the IRL’s intentions for the future of the Road to Indy.
I recently read your “Road to Indy still riddled with pitfalls” blog on Planet-IRL and you have clearly done your homework. I wanted to first, thank you for taking it easy on us, and second, thank you for passionately covering the future of our sport.
I have been working at the Indy Racing League full-time for a few years now, and the Firestone Indy Lights and young driver development has become my focus. My father created the Indy Racing League to ensure the long-term viability of our family business, subsequently, making sure that happens has become my number one goal.
The League feels that creating an all inclusive, ultra-competitive, cost effective farm system for our future stars, teams and sponsors, while giving young Americans an alternative to seeking opportunities on other continents, or in other domestic series, is major contributing factor to the future success of our sport. The series’ we chose to be a part of the Road to Indy were selected based on, cost-containment, competitiveness, field-size, and relevance to Indy-style racing. I think we have succeeded in choosing the “right” series’.
In the short time I have been involved, I have come to realize that the business of motorsport doesn’t necessarily follow recognized business procedures in the outside world. In the case of Road to Indy, different agreements were completed at different times, and in the case of USF2000 certain announcements needed to be made, in order for drivers and teams to learn what was available to them.
To further clarify some of the “glaring issues” mentioned in the blog, the IRL would clearly prefer to sanction ALL of its Road to Indy development series’, but due to existing contractual agreements, this is not possible for 2010, a situation which we expect to rectify in the future.
With regard to the current prize structure, we are extremely delighted with the commitment and focus that Mazda Motorsports has shown in creating its MAZDASpeed driver development program. Mutually, Mazda and the IRL fully expect to optimize this association in the growth of the Road to Indy program moving forward.
Obviously, the most glaring issue is the scholarship from Firestone Indy Lights to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Unlike other major American sports, a major financial commitment is needed to enable the Champion to progress to the ultimate level. We are well aware of this situation and are doing all within our power to secure this funding. In the meantime, if the Road to Indy does what we intend for it to do, a driver can not only hone his or her driving skills, but can also learn the nuances of sponsorship and learn how to raise money. However, we also expect to have a system filled with talent that competes week after week in front of IZOD IndyCar Series sponsors and owners, who will embrace the Road to Indy, making the second part become less important. Not to mention, competing on IndyCar weekends adds exposure and value to these smaller series, which enables the teams and drivers to generate more funds than running on club weekends.
In conjunction with Mazda Motorsports we are planning a Road to Indy Summit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday and Friday, which is Carb Day, before the Indy 500. This summit is designed to get young talent to the Speedway and hopefully “set the hook.” In addition to attending month of May activities and racing related programs with Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr. and drivers meeting with President of Competition, Brain Barnhart, an intensive program is being assembled to train these young drivers off the track as well. Topics to be covered are sponsorship, media, and fitness training.
We are very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and we hope you are as well. We ask for your patience and support as we grow this program into something in which everyone benefits. We recognize we have a few issues to overcome, but the important first step was aligning the ladder, and we did that. Now we can focus on bringing everything full circle as we work on scholarships, sanctioning, etc. In its current state, we believe the Road to Indy is the best place for any driver to grow who strives to compete in the IndyCar Series and at the Indy 500. We are VERY confident that over the course of this season and going into the 2011 season, ALL of these issues will be resolved, creating a development platform that American open-wheel has never possessed. Stay tuned. You won’t be disappointed.