IndyCar has a new name for its Indy Lights series to connect with younger audience

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star

On the eve of the third anniversary of his announced purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series, Roger Penske and Penske Corp. have made another significant change to the American open-wheel racing landscape. The top step of the development ladder for the IndyCar series -- a series that has been known as Indy Lights since 2008 -- will be INDY NXT (pronounced next) in hopes of "extending racing's reach and impact to a younger and emerging consumer audience," according to a release.

Linus Lundqvist, of Sweden, passes Hunter McElrea, right, during a restart at the Indy Lights Series auto race, Saturday, July 23, 2022, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

The series will also switch from Cooper Tires to Firestone, also IndyCar's tire partner, in hopes of providing a more seamless transition for drivers. Similar to Cooper Tires' relationship with Indy Lights, Firestone will serve as INDY NXT's presenting sponsor: INDY NXT by Firestone.

The move comes after IndyCar took back sole control this year of the promotion, management and operation of the series it launched in 2002, when it was dubbed the Infinity Pro Series. After numerous name changes, IndyCar adopted the Indy Lights moniker in 2008. In 2014, IndyCar management handed over promotion of Indy Lights to Andersen Promotions (while maintaining the series' sanctioning body) -- a move that led to dropping Indy Lights' tire and branding relationship with Firestone that had lasted from 2008-2013.

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Last fall, Penske Entertainment Corp. announced it would reassume total control of Indy Lights to help the series and its teams, sponsors and drivers feel more part of its parent company series. The Indy Lights paddock was repositioned at races closer to IndyCar's, and though it slashed the Freedom 100 on the IMS oval, series management attempted to make the Indy Lights weekend schedule better mirror IndyCar's with fewer doubleheaders. The "enhanced collaborative relationship" also included IndyCar delivering integrated marketing, digital assets and race officiating to Indy Lights.

Thursday's announcement of a full-scale branding change is the latest step in Penske Corp. putting its stamp on IndyCar's developmental system -- a process that drew ire weeks ago when it was revealed IndyCar had repurposed more than $700,000 toward individual race purses for Indy Lights in 2022 from the champion's scholarship. Rather than having more than $1.2 million toward a ride in IndyCar in 2023 that would've guaranteed three races (including the Indy 500), Linus Lundqvist received $500,000 and has yet to pick up a seat.

Still, IndyCar's Thursday release says it sees 2023 as a chance for "a reset and a new mission to emerge, guided by an ethos that aims to inspire and relate to Generation Z and the younger talent piloting race cars."

"INDY NXT by Firestone will continue to develop and graduate new generations of racers ready to engage in breathtaking, high-stakes competition," IndyCar president Jay Frye said in a release. "Firestone is the perfect partner in this endeavor, with its innovative technology and authentic appreciation for INDY NXT and its vast potential."

With a full-time field that will near 20 cars for 2023 -- the highest entry list for the series since 2009 -- INDY NXT will kickoff its 14-race slate at St. Pete during the IndyCar season-opener weekend. Its season also includes trips to Barber, the IMS road course and Detroit (for back-to-back doubleheaders), Road America, Mid-Ohio, Iowa Speedway, Nashville, WWT Raceway, Portland and a season-ending doubleheader at Laguna Seca.