There has been no shortage of work for Dan Andersen this offseason.
The CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates the Road to Indy under INDYCAR sanction, has a list of unrelenting challenges. But Andersen and his staff are meeting them head on.
Andersen worked to create a five-year plan with INDYCAR that will help strengthen the top rung of the three-tiered ladder development system, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. There was also last week’s revealing of the 2019 schedule for all three Road to Indy series, which put a greater emphasis on team budgets and car counts to help a driver’s ability to chase a full-season championship and scholarship.
There remains the elephant in the room, finding a replacement for title sponsor Mazda.
“It's going to take time,” Andersen said. “We were notified in July of the departure of Mazda and finding significant partners to step in is a process. We have approached and have initiated conversations with a number of different companies, both automotive and non-automotive.”
While the situation is daunting, Andersen is confident the outcome will “end up fine in the long haul.”
“We will still do an announcement in the coming months about our 2019 prize package and scholarship package,” he added. “We will do the best we can on that. It's a bit challenging without Mazda, but it is what it is.”
Andersen was quick to add thank Mazda for its major investment in the growth of the Road to Indy, which provides the clearest path to the Verizon IndyCar Series for drivers, teams, crew members and more.
“We appreciate all the Mazda has done for us,” Andersen emphasized. “Drivers should also appreciate that because they've been here for nine years, but we are going to move forward with or without additional partnership. The partnerships that we hope to gain in the coming months, we'll enhance that, but we'll be OK.”
The product speaks for itself as 25 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 had Road to Indy experience. It has truly become a global brand with 17 countries represented throughout the fields of the introductory Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, middle-rung Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and top-level Indy Lights.
“It helps us that INDYCAR is very healthy, which it is at this point in time,” Andersen said.
“With full fields, drivers advancing into INDYCAR, seats becoming available, that's always a problem with any ladder system. The pyramid gets narrower at the top. So you take a lot of kids in at the ‘A’ level and they advance to ‘AA’ and then ‘AAA’ level, and then move into INDYCAR.
“Only a few of them are going to make it every year. … It's the reality of any progressive system. We're fortunate that INDYCAR has been expanding and is healthy and some of the (veteran drivers) are starting to step aside and give the kids a chance and that's all very healthy.”
While there is a conscious Road to Indy effort to have talents hailing from North America, the landscape for success comes down to balance.
“We are looking for the best drivers to compete against each other and advance,” Andersen said. “We definitely want North American drivers to get trained and move into INDYCAR. There are some viewpoints maybe that should be more of a focus, but to me, the best American drivers need to beat the best in the world to make it.
“If we isolated American drivers only, the product that we produce may not be quite as fine-tuned if they don't have competition from people all over the world.”
The international flavor of the Road to Indy makes it more competitive and what Andersen and many others believe is the best open-wheel development ladder in the world.
“I get a kick out of reading comments when people say that if you want to become a great open-wheel driver, you have to go to Europe,” he said. “That may have been the case 10 years ago. It's not the case anymore. We have great racing here.”
All three Road to Indy levels open their 2019 seasons on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, from March 8-10. Indy Lights has 18 races on its schedule, Pro Mazda has 16 and USF2000 is set for 15.