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08/08 2018

HERE’S HOW TO GET A LICENSE TO DRIVE IN THE VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES

 

 

IndyCar revealed on Thursday a driver licensing system but it doesn’t really change the informal policies enacted over the past decade or so.PHOTO BY MOTORSPORT IMAGE – LAT

It’s a formal version of the informal policy that IndyCar has always used

BY:  BRUCE MARTIN

IndyCar unveiled a new license system this week, but it’s only a formalized version of a pre-existing policy according to league president of competition and operations Jay Frye.

The driver approval system is being put on pen and paper so that aspiring drivers who hope to become Verizon IndyCar Series drivers know the requirements and criteria for gaining an IndyCar license.

According to Frye, the licensing program is one piece of the puzzle that is part of IndyCar’s five-year plan that includes changes to the Indy Lights program. Those changes were announced on Wednesday, when IndyCar addressed Mazda leaving as sponsor of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system at the end of 2018.

Those include budget reductions for entrants, increased prize money, expansion in testing and licensing.

“It’s really just a guideline,” Frye told Autoweek on Thursday. “Before, we would get applications for drivers resumes, and there was really not any specific criteria or particular guideline to it. We are trying to define more what would qualify a driver. There are different pieces to it — testing and racing. It shows how a driver can get a test.

“It’s a guideline or a data point. We wanted to create another data point that would define if a driver is ready for a testing or a full-scale IndyCar race license.”

Frye believes having this in print helps give guidance to drivers that aspire to be part of the series.

“People have come to us before and asked, ‘What do we have to do to become an IndyCar driver?’” Frye recalled. “Well, what do you tell them?

“We didn’t have anything to hand them and say, here it is. Dan Anderson’s group has a nice thing to show them how to get involved in the Mazda Road to Indy Ladder Series and how much it costs. But if you have a true ladder series, you should have them go through your system. However, if we have a kid that is in Pro Mazda doing extremely well, we don’t want to preclude that kid from having a test in IndyCar.

“When they have a test is when we evaluate them. If things go well, we can approve them to run a number of tracks based off of that.

“It’s a guideline. Other things will come up, like with Robert Wickens and DTM. It’s not to preclude anybody in any way, but it’s a way to show them how it works, how it is defined. They have to test a car first and this is being defined.”

Frye compared it to his days owning a NASCAR Cup team when drivers were not allowed to run at Daytona or Talladega in a Cup car unless they had already run those two massive restrictor-plate tracks in an ARCA car first.

“When Danica Patrick went from IndyCar to Cup, she had to run an ARCA car at Daytona or before she could run the Daytona 500 or at that time, a Xfinity Series race,” Frye recalled. “It’s just a guideline based on some questions we’ve been asked. There is a moving target with different skill levels and abilities.

“But it’s purely a guideline. It’s a more formal process than we’ve had before. You can’t address everything, everywhere. There are lots of ways to get here, so you set a guideline as to what an approach would be.”

There remain automatics, such as full-time NASCAR Cup, Formula 1IMSA and WEC drivers who have shown the ability to compete in their respective series.

“But if you are a younger person, here are the things we’ll watch and boxes you can check and a testing license,” Frye said. “They may have to start on road courses before getting an oval test or have to run in the Freedom 100.

“Before, there was no formula, but here is a guideline that helps explain it in black and white. This is our version of formalizing something. We are creating a formal guideline and trying to make everything we do here a process.”

Frye took over as IndyCar president of competition and operations after the 2015 season. Autoweek asked Frye if some drivers have been denied a chance at running an Indy car, and Frye said there have been a few who were told to start out on the lower ranks.

“Now, this gives you a template of what you need to do to qualify,” Frye said. “We have come up with something that creates a path, depending on what your history is.

“It’s not designed to preclude anybody. It’s just a template; a guideline.”

Such series as Formula 1 or NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series or having achieved predetermined success or experience in other categories will gain automatic eligibility. Some drivers who have moved straight to IndyCar from elsewhere may have to run a few Indy Lights races first.

Drivers can gain automatic eligibility for a license by finishing in the top three at the end of a full-season Lights campaign, or in the top five at the end of two full Lights seasons. Qualification from other series, including the WEC, Formula 2, NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, GP3/F3, Formula E, Pro Mazda, USF2000, Formula 4 and IMSA, will depend on accumulating a set number of qualifying points over a two-year period.

There are also exceptions for those who have displayed a wealth of performance in other series, such as Wickens in DTM.