Road to Indy scheme to award increased prize money in 2019 despite Mazda’s exit

by Jordan Groves

Despite uncertainty after the loss of former backers Mazda, the Road to Indy scheme will continue in 2019 and will do so with an increased total of prize money compared to last year.

The Road to Indy scheme, which will be awarded by Cooper Tyres next year, will continue to help fund drivers in their bid to reach the IndyCar Series, with the winners of the Indy LightsPro Mazda and USF2000 championships being awarded a combined total of $2 million.

In recent months, you could be forgiven for worrying about the future of the highly successful Road to Indy scheme, which has aided drivers such as 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden to rise through the ranks to eventually find a spot on the IndyCar grid. Other notable graduates of the program have included the likes of Spencer Pigot and recent series debutants Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta.

The scheme’s future was put into jeopardy earlier this year when Mazda announced in August that they would be ending their long-running ties with the program in order to focus on their other involvements in motorsport.

The loss of Mazda, coupled with a recent lack of entrants for some of the involved championships, may have been a cause for doubt as to whether or not one of the best scholarships in motorsports would end up being lost. However, today’s announcement confirms that the scheme will continue in 2019, with the Indy Lights champion in particular actually set to receive an increased total of prize money.

Dan Anderson, owner and CEO of the owners of the Road to Indy program, Anderson Promotions, said today in an interview with Autosport that he was “pleased” that the scheme could continue next season and went on to state that there was no driver development program across the globe that compared to Road to Indy.

“We are pleased to announce the continuation of the highly regarded Road to Indy scholarship programme for all three of our champions each year,” said Andersen,

“Our goal has always been to advance the careers of talented drivers to the IndyCar ranks, and these awards will help pave the way for even more Road to Indy stars to race in future Indy 500s.

“There are no driver development programs in the world with as much on offer.”

Credit: Mike Young / Courtesy of IndyCar

Jonny Baker, the new series director of Road to Indy, also commented on the future of the program following today’s announcement. He told Autosport that the program needed to demonstrate to interested drivers that it was their best option to further their careers. He went on to cite the recent graduations of participants such as O’Ward and Herta to full-time IndyCar seats with Harding Steinbrenner Racing for 2019 as examples of what Road to Indy drivers can go on to achieve.

“The message needs to be that being an IndyCar driver right now is arguably more attractive than it’s ever been in the last dozen years and that recent Indy Lights graduates have got full-season contracts at the top level,” Baker said,

“That resonates with a lot of people – as do the scholarships for the champions to help propel them to the next level.”

Baker later went on to explain that another key goal for the Road to Indy program was to boost the grid sizes of the involved championships. This year’s Indy Lights grid size has been particularly disappointing, with only twelve drivers racing over the course of the season and only seven having competed in every round.

“Getting the grid numbers up, and we’ve got to be realistic that it will be a progressive thing,” Baker continued, “So for 2019 we want them all to increase, but there’s not going to suddenly be 20 Indy Lights entries next year. With Lights, it would be fantastic if we were looking at 12 to 15 cars next year – that’s going to be the main aim.

“That starts with getting the message out there that it’s fantastic value, and, if you’re good in Indy Lights, there’s a very high chance that you will have the chance to also shine in IndyCar. It’s not like you can ever stop teams from occasionally choosing drivers with Formula 1 or Formula 2 experience over the Road To Indy graduates.

“But I think you’ll see the majority of young drivers coming into IndyCar will arrive with a Road To Indy background and are able to prove themselves at the top level.”

The 2019 IndyCar Series will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10. All three of the Road to Indy championships will also be in attendance at St. Petersburg, with each series on-track for two races over the course of the event.

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