While the senior IndyCar Series, and many others around the world, are waiting to see exactly how many cars it will be able to field in 2009, the supporting Firestone Indy Lights category appears to be in rude health.
After completing a competitive 2008 season that saw ten different race winners and a championship battle that went down to the wire at the final race, the series continues to witness unprecedented growth as the 2009 campaign approaches, with five new teams announcing the intention to compete alongside series mainstays such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Andretti Green Racing, Panther Racing and Team Moore Racing.
In addition, several other teams remain in contact with series officials in the hope of joining the grid before the 16-race schedule begins in St Petersburg on 5 April.
As a result, there has been a near 200 per cent increase in announced car-driver combinations from the same time a year ago, including returnees JR Hildebrand, Sean Guthrie and Andrew Prendeville, and newcomers Martin Plowman, Gustavo Yacaman and Sebastian Saavedra, who will all graduate from various European-based F3 series.
“Firestone Indy Lights is definitely one of the first places people now look to further their racing careers,” series executive director Roger Bailey noted, “The balance of the schedule between seven ovals and eight road and street courses, almost $4 million in prize money, new events at Long Beach, Toronto and Edmonton and a stringent cost containment programme are just some of the reasons why people say they are looking at us.”
In an effort to help the series remain one of the most cost-effective development series in the world, officials have worked to maintain capital expenditure, including retaining the current spec chassis, which will continue to be used through the end of the 2011 season.
Firestone's continued presence as title sponsor also adds to the growth and stability of the series, enhancing the overall prize fund - which sees an increase in 2009 - as well as several contingency and bonus programmes that are paid to teams in addition to the money that can be earned by on-track performance.
Firestone again will sponsor the 'Lucky Three' initiative, which will pay bonuses to three randomly selected teams that finish outside the top ten in each race, and, at selected events, will pay a $1000 'image award' to the team which best represents the Firestone brand.
“Over the past few seasons, Firestone Indy Lights has provided some of the closest, most exciting racing found in any series around the globe,” Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer commented, "Considering the fact that Firestone Indy Lights offers such a competitive and entertaining on-track product at an affordable, contained cost, it is no real surprise to see the increase in entries for 2009. The Firestone brand is proud to once again serve as the title sponsor and official tyre of Firestone Indy Lights, and we are looking forward to another great season of racing.”
Several other key series partners will sponsor contingency awards to be presented at the end of the season, including Lucas Oil Products, for rookie of the year, Ethos For Earth Fuel Reformulator, for the 'hard charger' award, Mesco Building Products, for the top finishing new team, and Mo's Gold Car Polish, for chief mechanic of the year.