A few days – and a lot of talk -- has passed since INDYCAR’s decision on which teams would make up the group of 20 Leader’s Circle franchises.
In the end, the 18 returning squads from last year’s top 22 teams -- sans the two entries of the departed Newman-Haas Racing and one each from Andretti Autosport and Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing – plus Ed Carpenter Racing and Dragon Racing’s entry for Sebastien Bourdais got the good news and will receive payouts of nearly $1.2 million this season.
That’s quite a bit of money, so it’s natural that some teams who didn’t make the cut aren’t happy about the outcome. Depending on the situation, that money could have either gone toward more development on their new cars and engines or directly into the operating budget.
But in a move that may prove to be very rewarding for the non-LC teams that are consistently strong on race day, the sanctioning body decided not to put the Andretti and DRR spots up for grabs. Instead, the money from those two spots will serve as the kitty for a separate payout system.
A first-place, “best in class” finish at any IZOD IndyCar Series race outside of the Indianapolis 500 will net a non-LC team $80,000. Tack that onto the regular non-“500” payouts for all entries ($35,000 for a win, $25k for second, $20k for third, $15k for fourth, $10k for fifth) and there’s a good chunk of change to be made.
And the ante grows for Indy, too: Non-LC teams can earn a $250,000 bonus just for qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, with an extra $25,000 for the top finisher.
Altogether, that’s pretty good incentive to do well. You’d also think that at least some money complaints from the non-LC contingent might go away if one of them hauled off a bigger bag of cash at any particular event than an LC entrant. In addition, it’s possible for a non-LC team to earn essentially the same $1.2 million LC payout if it finishes best in class at all 16 races.
But more importantly, if you’re a non-LC team, doing well means taking control of your own destiny: Performance proves your worth to the series.
That being said, another part of the decision which should be noted – and commended -- is that due to the series’ insistence on teams showing their plans for expanding the sport’s fan base through their drivers and sponsors, nobody is sacred.
Bryan Herta won at the Brickyard last year as a car owner and is going full-time in 2012 with Alex Tagliani in the cockpit. Michael Shank is trying to get fan favorite Paul Tracy a farewell campaign and his Grand-Am operation just won the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Then there’s Chip Ganassi, whose Target-backed teams have earned the last four series titles and stand as the current class of the field.
Despite those great accomplishments, all three of them lost in the decision. Herta and Shank’s one-car outfits, as well as Ganassi’s No. 83 entry for Charlie Kimball, will have to soldier on without an LC franchise of their own.
Series CEO Randy Bernard has many priorities to deal with these days, but at the top is building more momentum for the series as a whole. If anybody doubted this, the fact that three big figures in the world of motorsport – one of them being the leader of his series’ four-time defending champions – failed to secure a franchise should quell those misgivings.
It is crystal clear that Bernard and the sanctioning body demand legitimate effort from teams, drivers and sponsors in getting more people watching INDYCAR, both in the stands and on ABC and NBC Sports Network.
The message has been sent: Let solid results on the track speak for your team, pull your share of weight in bringing in more fans, and do right by INDYCAR, so INDYCAR can do right by you.
Let’s see which teams will take the message to heart.
Chris Estrada maintains IndyRacingRevolution.com and has covered sports at all levels for multiple print and digital outlets. He has written for INDYCAR Nation since 2011 and can be reached via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and on Twitter (@estradawriting).