Dan Andersen has no small task in front of him as he takes over the reigns of the floundering Indy Lights series, which has been plagued by team and manufacturer apathy, outdated equipment, and minuscule fields.
Andersen, though, is plotting a course that he hopes will remake the series image, attract new teams and drivers, and lower costs. This is a tall order indeed, but Andersen Promotions has a proven track record of success in two other rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy, the USF2000 and Pro Mazda Championship series.
In an exclusive interview with More Front Wing, Andersen outlined his blueprint for turning around the struggling series using some of his proven strategies. New tires, new dampers, and paddle shifters will introduce new technology into the series and lower operating costs, while the long term plan calls for a new chassis and engine partner in 2015.
MFW: What are your short and long term goals for the Indy Lights series?
Dan Andersen: What I need to do is shake things up. The series over the last few years hasn’t had either a tire partner or an engine partner. Even though it was called the Firestone Indy Lights series, the Firestone partnership with Indy Lights ended several years back and they were essentially just providing tires for a price. There was no activation around the series and no support of the series other than just to be able to sell their tires.
With Cooper Tires, also a partner of USF2000 and Pro Mazda, we have a true partnership where they will be providing funding way beyond just cheaper tires — and the tires will be significantly cheaper than the Firestones — and they will be activating around the series, which we need. The change to Cooper Tires will introduce an unknown to all the teams. The next step will be the introduction of a new damper package, and the third will be the introduction of a paddle shift kit for the current car.
I needed to introduce new dampers and tires to introduce some changes into the setup of the cars. It introduces a much more level playing field for a team that wants to come into the series next year. If you’re a new team and it’s only going to be one year, you have to buy the cars and then you have to go against the teams that have been running the Lights series for a decade. It’s a steep hill to climb, and I felt that by introducing two key changes that it would definitely affect car setup, making it easier for a team that wants to come in next year and compete against the teams that have all the knowledge.
We are going to do one year (2014) with the car we already have but just because it’s too late to change it for next year. If I could, I would. But by the time we built it and tested it, we would have to start the season in June to do it right. But we’ve embarked on a plan to introduce three major changes to the car to mix things up a little bit.
The dampers and paddle shift kit will be transferrable purchases. Teams buying those components will be able to use them in the current car in 2014 and then move those pieces right onto the new car in 2015 and just pay less for that car since they already have the dampers and paddle shift kit in house.
MFW: Will there an engine package change in Indy Lights?
Dan Andersen: Definitely.
Infiniti quit being an engine partner probably seven to eight years ago, so even though the engine in the car is still an Infiniti they have no involvement with the series at all. We’re out for bids right now, and hopefully within the next two weeks I’ll be able to make a decision on an engine partner for 2015. I own the current engines per my agreement with IndyCar, and we’ll continue rebuilding these engines next year because it’s frankly just too expensive to modify the car to accept a different engine.
MFW: How many companies are bidding on the engine contract for 2015?
Dan Andersen: We don’t have all the bids yet, but the deadline is coming up very soon. I know that we are talking to at least five different engine people. Tony Cotman is the fella that I’ve retained to collect all of the bids and analyze them to present to me. He and I have a meeting Thursday night down in Baltimore where he will give me everything he has at that point. Hopefully we will have them all and we will be looking at engine bids, damper bids, and paddle shift bids next weekend.
MFW: Do you think that Andersen Promotions taking over the Indy Lights series can benefit the ladder system as a whole?
Dan Andersen: We need partnerships to be able to help support the series and pay the right amount of prize money. One of the reasons that IndyCar wanted out was because they were losing a fortune on it every year, and that’s because they didn’t have any partnerships for tires or engines.
We have a style of doing business that most teams seem to like. I still have the heart of a team owner, and everything that I do takes into account the effect it will have on the team owners. Several teams have already indicated that they are going to buy Indy Lights cars and move up, which is a good sign for next year.
Controlling all three steps make it easier to control factors like testing dates to save everyone money. We can do media opportunities for all three levels that can benefit them all, and lots of other little things like that. I think it will definitely be a benefit to the ladder system to have one promoter behind it all.