By Stefan Kristensen
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August 2, 2022
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What Is IndyCar Racing?

IndyCar Racing is a racing promotion based in the United States. Despite being massively popular, IndyCar Racing actually hasn't been around for all that long. In fact, it just got started in 1994, with the name IndyCar kicking around since 2011.

Of course, we are sure that you are itching to know what IndyCar Racing is. Luckily, you are on this page. We are going to tell you absolutely everything that you need to know.

What Is IndyCar Racing?

IndyCar Racing is the name given to the company that deals with major open-wheel racing events in the United States. 

Open-wheel vehicles, of course, have the wheels outside of the body of the vehicle (i.e. they are not covered by the chassis). IndyCar is the name given to these open-wheel vehicles in the United States, mostly because of the IndyCar promotion. However, they are mostly known as open-wheel vehicles.

Because these are open-wheel vehicles, they have been designed especially for the track. This is a stark contrast from the competing promotion NASCAR, which is supposed to use stock vehicles i.e. vehicle bodies that are similar to production vehicles although, of course, NASCAR has started to gravitate more towards racing developed vehicles rather than the stock vehicles that they were originally designed for. 

The History of IndyCar Racing

As we mentioned at the start, IndyCar Racing is a fairly new racing promotion. It got started in 1994.

Back in 1994, Hulman ; Company owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. While there were several events being held on the track, including the US Formula One race, the owners decided that they wanted to run an event of their own. So, they decided to found IndyCar.

As you can probably guess from the origins of the racing competition, IndyCar was named after the race track where the competition was founded.

It took two years of planning, but the initial IndyCar competition got started in 1996. 

Up until 2005, IndyCar was raced 100% on oval tracks. This is because the company believed that there were far too many competitions that featured street racing, and they wanted a competition that was a little bit different from what everybody else was doing. However, from 2005 onwards, there have been street racing tracks featured at every IndyCar competition ever since.

It is worth noting that IndyCar was not the first proper open-wheeled competition in the United States. CART had been sanctioning the tournaments for a good while. During the early part of the IndyCar life, they were affiliated with CART. However, a dispute about the specifications of the vehicles eventually resulted in the two promotions splitting. Of course, IndyCar won out, and CART is no more.

At the moment, IndyCar is very much an American-focused racing competition. While there has been the odd race in Canada, the majority of the sport happens in the United States. At the moment, it does not look like this is something that is going to be changing any time soon. In fact, we expect that it won't. This is because it is way too similar to Formula One which, of course, is the event that dominates the rest of the motor racing world. 

The Road To Indy 

In a short while, we are going to be going through the various competitions that occur under IndyCar. Three of these competitions are part of 'The Road to Indy', while the top competition (the IndyCar Series) is the destination.

So, what is the Road to Indy? Well, it is a developmental program for potential IndyCar drivers.

Drivers are not just allowed to enter the IndyCar Series. They have to make their way through a series of steps on a ladder. The person who wins the championship for each of the competitions gets a scholarship and the ability to move up the next rung of the ladder.

At the moment, the competition is run by Cooper Tires. As a result, every single vehicle that competes on the Road to Indy has Cooper Tires on them. Although, once the vehicles make it to the IndyCar Series, there are a few more tire manufacturers that can be used.

IndyCar Racing Competitions

There are four different IndyCar Racing Competitions. All four are held in the United States. Let's go through each of the competitions, and tell you a little bit more about what they are about.

IndyCar Series

The IndyCar Series is the premier competition under the IndyCar banner. This is where all of the best racing drivers on the IndyCar circuit spend their time. 

There are 12 different teams that compete in the IndyCar series. However, interestingly, not all of them compete in every single race. Because IndyCar is still a fairly small competition, in the grand scheme of things, there is not enough money in the sport for all of the teams to compete in every event. However, all of these teams come and compete in the Indianapolis 500.

While we are on the subject of the Indianapolis 500, this is the biggest event in the IndyCar racing calendar.  This race covers a whopping 500 miles, and 200 laps of the track. If a competitor wins an event at the IndyCar Series, they are regarded as one of the best drivers in the sport. And, trust us, it is incredibly difficult to win the Indy 500. 33 drivers line up for the race.

If you want to get introduced to IndyCar in the best possible way, then we suggest that you catch the Indy 500 on TV. You will be surprised at the huge amount of tradition that happens at each and every event. 

Indy Lights

Indy Lights is the developmental part of IndyCar Racing. At the time of writing, the only way to eventually get into the IndyCar Series is to make your way up through the ranks and place high at Indy Lights. So, as you can probably guess, Indy Lights is full of junior races.

The main reason for competing in the Indy Lights series is for the potential to win a $1-million scholarship. This scholarship will allow the champion of Indy Lights to have a good chance of competing at the IndyCar Series. In addition to this prize, the winner gets to get compete at the Indy 500, and they will be allowed to compete at 2 other events on the IndyCar Series calendar. 

Of course, even becoming the champion of Indy Lights, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will end up competing in the IndyCar Series, although the chances of entering the competition are much, much higher with an Indy Lights win.

Indy Pro 2000

The Indy Pro 2000 no longer operates under the IndyCar banner, with the competition ceasing to exist in 2021. It is now under new ownership.

The Indy Pro 2000 was another competition that helped to provide development for those that were planning on entering the IndyCar Series. The Indy Pro 2000 was seen as the second step on the ladder. This means that, for many competitors, the route to Indy Lights came through the Indy Pro 2000.

The Indy Pro 2000 was initially limited to Mazda vehicles, mostly due to the founding of the tournament (pre-IndyCar) as a Mazda tournament. Hoiwever, in 2017, it switched to allowing a chassis from Tatuus. This was the only chassis that builders were allowed to use until the event left the control of IndyCar.

While the Indy Pro 2000 is no longer under the control of the IndyCar team, it is still seen as one of the pathways towards competing on the IndyCar circuit, which means that a lot of teams invest heavily in their drivers to get them being competitive here. Plenty of drivers have made the jump up the ladder from the Indy Pro 2000.

U.S. F2000 National Championship

The F2000 National Championship is the bottom rung of the ladder on the Road to Indy. This is where all developmental drivers get their start.

It is worth noting that while this is an American competition, the F2000 National Championship is affiliated with a number of driver championships around the world. They are always looking to new, talented drivers to bring into the IndyCar scene.

The F2000 National Championship no longer carries the IndyCar branding. However, it is still seen as one of the most important steps for those that want to eventually drive in IndyCar. You have absolutely no way of ever entering the Indy 500 unless you have competed at the F2000 National Championship.

If you live outside of the United States, then you may find a variety of competitions that offer a pathway to this competition. 

IndyCar v Formula One

Due to the way the cars look similar, IndyCar Racing often draws comparisons with Formula One. While there is a bit of an overlap between the two sports, there is also a substantial number of differences. Let's look at them. Hopefully, this will provide you with more an overview of what IndyCar actually is.

The Vehicles 

As we mentioned, the design of the vehicles is very similar. However, not quite.

The rules for vehicle design in Formula One are a lot more relaxed than it is in IndyCar. In fact, you can design almost anything that you want in Formula One. It may not be competitive, but the rules allow that. In IndyCar, the overall shape of the car is roughly the same. 

There are also a lot more engine manufacturers in Formula One than there are in IndyCar, which gives a bit more variance across the vehicles. Although, in both cases, the engines are going to be tuned to the specifications of the vehicle operator. 

The Speed

IndyCar vehicles have the ability to go slightly faster than that of their Formula One counterparts. However, due to the track design that is common in IndyCar, they have less of an opportunity to get there.

On corners, Formula One cars tend to be a lot faster, mostly because there is a lot less pressure pushing down on the top.

While Formula One vehicles are a bit slower, chances are that they would win most head-to-heads with IndyCar. 

The Tracks

IndyCar favors more oval tracks, with a good chunk of the tracks that they race on being oval in shape (about 25% of the racing calendar). A Formula One vehicle is never going to go near an oval track. Yes, they had them in the past. However, it is not something that is going to be coming back any time soon.

There are some that would argue that Formula One tracks are a bit more complicated than IndyCar tracks. It is apparent that IndyCar tracks are all about showing off speed, while Formula One tracks are more about showing off driver talent. 

Global Popularity 

Formula One is globally popular. IndyCar has barely made a dent outside of the United States. In fact, bar a couple of races here and there, IndyCar has never really raced outside of American tracks. Of course, Formula One is racing around the globe every single year. 

The Drivers

There have been drivers that have driven in both IndyCar and Formula One (Alonso, is probably the biggest name here). There are some that would argue that driving a Formula One vehicle takes a huge amount of skill more than driving an IndyCar vehicle. Although, the skillsets are very different. They are not easily transferable between disciplines, and we have yet to see a driver that dominates in both competitions.

Conclusion

While IndyCar is certainly not the most popular racing promotion in the world, it has started to gain a lot of traction. It is certainly one of the largest open-wheeled racing events in the United States, even beating out Formula One in some cases.

Remember, IndyCar is still new. There is a chance that it is going to get even more popular than it is now. In fact, the growing attendances for each of the races prove that more and more people are falling in love with IndyCar.

Written by Stefan Kristensen
Passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many stories behind racing that make it so interesting.
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