How IndyCar is managing interest from new teams

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How much is too much? It’s a question IndyCar Series team owners are asking themselves as a recent wave of growth continues its march into uncharted territory.

Spread across 10 teams that place anywhere from two to five cars apiece on the starting grid, IndyCar’s paddock has been filled with 27 full-time entries since 2023-a modern record. The heady number also represents the boundary of the series’ comfort zone.

Some of the tracks that host IndyCar races can accommodate no more than 27 cars on pit lane, and among its two engine manufacturers, Chevrolet and Honda are reaching the limit of how many entries they can supply. And thanks to the recent announcement of an 11th team that’s preparing to join the field, the series is expected to host 29 cars at every race in 2025. Prosperity’s tipping point has been found.

Where Formula 1 and its entrants have ranged from being impolite to downright hostile in their efforts to police expansion beyond 10 teams and 20 cars, IndyCar — owned since 2020 by business and racing mogul Roger Penske through his Penske Entertainment division — has kept its doors open for business.

As a sporting league, IndyCar has operated for decades without a formal structure in place for participation in its series; teams have joined without having to buy a franchise and left at will with nothing more than cars and empty shops to sell. But with Penske at the helm, that’s about to be modified in an impactful way as the establishment of a charter system, one that’s designed to reward its existing team owners with memberships into an exclusive franchise club, is in the final stages of planning.

And there’s a stipulation: Only those who participated as season-long entrants through 2023 are welcome. Under IndyCar’s upcoming charter deployment, which is similar in many ways to F1’s Concorde Agreement and the charter system devised by NASCAR, the absence of a business framework will be resolved. Ties between its 10 long-established team owners and the series will finally be established through the issuance of franchise contracts that cover 25 of the 27 full-time cars.

In truth, IndyCar and its engine suppliers would be more comfortable with fewer cars to manage, which is why 25 entries, rather than the complete field, will be welcomed into the charter. If the current spike in interest were to slightly decline in the coming years, going racing with a solid 25-car field would not be viewed in a negative light.

Nothing has been written in stone, but the basic premise of IndyCar’s charter would provide the 25 entries with guaranteed starting spots at every race, with a possible exception being its biggest event with the Indianapolis 500. Those 25 would be granted the exclusive opportunity to earn enhanced prize money payouts from Penske Entertainment, which puts $1 million up for grabs for each of the entries that place first through 22nd in the annual Entrants’ championship. Every charter will also serve as an asset team owners can sell if they want to downsize their operation or get out of the series altogether.

The doors to IndyCar won’t be closed to new teams like Italy’s PREMA Racing, its inbound 11th which produced Formula 2 championships for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri. But due to the timing of PREMA’s post-2023 arrival with IndyCar’s 28th and 29th entries, its cars will not receive charters and won’t have the protection or income potential afforded to the other 10 teams.

IndyCar is also heavily considering a restriction on how many cars can take part in each race as part of its charter system. If it’s carried forward, PREMA’s arrival in 2025 would coincide with a fixed grid of 27 cars that sends its pair of Chevy-powered entries, and the other two unprotected entries, into a race-by-race qualifying battle to earn the 26th and 27th starting positions throughout the season (outside of the Indy 500, where it has 33 starters).

Under this plan, when more than 27 cars are entered, unprotected entries would fail to qualify at every non-Indy round which would, in theory, increase the value of the 25 charters.

Once the charters are issued, IndyCar’s team owners will hold the keys to 25 guaranteed homes on the grid, and while it’s unlikely that any of the charters will be put up for sale anytime soon, a PREMA or another new team could be inspired to pay a hearty sum to buy their way into the club and receive all the perks and protection it would bring.

“I’ve been in the series since 1991 as a team owner, let alone beyond that as a driver, and have invested a lot of money to be here,” 1986 Indy 500 winner and veteran entrant Bobby Rahal told ESPN. “And I’m not the only one. We have an opportunity to create value for those who have committed personal and professional resources over many, many years, and IndyCar’s management has recognized that it’s time to take advantage of bringing this in, particularly when the series is so good. We’d be foolish not to.

“What’s made Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL, and all these other professional sports leagues so valuable? It’s that there’s X number of franchises and that’s it. The only way of getting in there is if you buy somebody out,” Rahal added.

Three-time Indy 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter started his self-named team 16 years ago and shares in Rahal’s fandom for rewarding the stalwart entrants of IndyCar with charter memberships. He’s also mindful of the repercussions that could stem from allowing more than 27 entries and capping the race-day grids.

“IndyCar has always been a welcoming place,” Carpenter said. “You’ve seen new teams come in; 2012 is when we came in, and there’s always been different challenges during the different eras. For certain right now, the challenge comes down to supply and space.

“Are we going to enter into an era that we haven’t seen in a long, long time where there’s people attempting to qualify for races that don’t end up racing? That’s going to be a challenge. IndyCar definitely has momentum and positivity going, but at the same time, I don’t know that it’s fully strong enough for teams to manage very long from not being able to compete in race events, ” Carpenter added.

Argentina’s Ricardo Juncos, IndyCar’s newest entrant, has seen his team go through a considerable volume of changes since their debut in 2017. With limited funding to work from, Juncos was able to compete sporadically through 2019, shuttered the team when its budget was depleted, found a partner and investor in Brad Hollinger, and made his return late in 2021 under the Juncos Hollinger Racing banner.

Both of its cars will receive charters, which feel like a lifeline and a form of validation for their persistence and commitment to the series.

“We’ve made a mega sacrifice and investment in IndyCar, and here we are,” Juncos said. “I started my [IndyCar training series team] in 2009 and it took me many years to get to IndyCar. I think the charter system is the best thing that can happen. Not just for us, but for IndyCar; the whole value of the series will go higher.

“We’ve changed the way we sell sponsorship for ourselves, for example, because we know we will be in every race when this charter happens. Right now, anybody can come in and go tomorrow, right? So there is no solid foundation and power when we negotiate. So we will have more power with the charter, and that’s a big benefit for us. We need a charter to protect our teams..”

Juncos closed the conversation by revisiting the opening query.

“We have the best product in the world of motor racing, by far,” he said. “So that means nothing is wrong with the racecar. Nothing is wrong with the regulations. Nothing is wrong with the racetracks, and nothing is wrong with the quantity. We don’t have to change anything. We have everything we need. So the question is, do we really need more cars than we already have?”

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