Growing grids a great problem for IndyCar to have

Credit Roger Penske and the Penske Entertainment organization for the size and stability that underpins the vast IndyCar grid. After weathering the financial ravages of COVID, the series owned by Penske emerged from the pandemic with 25 full-time entries in 2022, saw the number increase to 27 in 2023 and it’s held firm at 27 this year — a modern record for consecutive seasons.

On its current trajectory, the number could hit 29 or more in 2025, which is both a blessing and a headache to manage for a series that’s searching for ways to handle the expansion.

The relatively inexpensive costs to field an entry compared to other top-tier racing series — which is changing and increasing with the mid-season introduction of hybrid powerplants — has been a significant source of interest to entrants looking to join a major North American championship.


At an average operating budget of $6-8 million per season through 2023, an IndyCar entry has cost a fraction of what’s needed to race in NASCAR’s Cup Series, and with no hope for international teams to gain an entry in Formula 1, IndyCar has benefitted from having a comparatively low price point to compete in its series for drivers and teams who’ve abandoned hope of reaching F1.

Although the average budget has crept up to $8-10 million per car in 2024, it has not led to a downturn in entries so far, or stifled interest for those who’ve been looking to pay to drive or assemble a new team to field.

Building upon the 27 existing cars operated by its 10 long-tenured teams, the series is facing the strong possibility of another rise taking place in 2025 as three other teams — including two newcomers — are actively working to join IndyCar on a full-time basis.

First among them is the Abel Motorsports Indy NXT program, which made a one-off IndyCar appearance last May at the Indianapolis 500 with a chassis belonging to its driver RC Enerson. The team founded by Kentucky construction magnate Bill Abel has purchased a Dallara DW12 of its own, and the necessary pit equipment, to run a car at every race. In 2023 and again this May, Abel will use Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine to power the No. 50 entry. It’s unclear whether continuing to use Chevy engines after Indy is an option.

The Pratt & Miller Motorsports team, which facilitates Chevrolet’s factory IMSA GTD Pro effort, is pursuing its first foray into IndyCar, but has not purchased a car, nor does it have an engine lease in place. And then there’s the multi-discipline PREMA Racing team from Italy, which is at the forefront of IndyCar’s potential growth.

Looking to IndyCar’s two engine manufacturers and their efforts to share the burden of supplying the season-long field, Chevy has 12 motor leases in play for the year and Honda has 15, which would point towards Team Chevy as the brand with the strongest likelihood of supporting any new teams next year. To get to 29 or 30 cars, Chevy would need to come closer to Honda’s lease number.

To that end, multiple sources tell RACER that Prema — which has a robust European junior open-wheel and sports car operation and has expanded into the U.S. through its running of the Iron Lynx Lamborghini IMSA GTP program — has secured a pair of engine leases from Chevy and is expected to announce a two-car IndyCar effort in the coming weeks.

From its Michigan-based shop, Prema is said to be planning to launch its American open-wheel initiative in 2025 with a focus in hiring an IndyCar veteran to lead the team and mentor a second driver who has come up through Prema’s championship-winning European ladder which reaches all the way to Formula 2. Prema is also known to have met with multiple IndyCar teams to explore the possibility of forming a technical alliance. A call to Prema to discuss the various topics at hand was not returned before publication.

Although Team Chevy declined to speak on the subject of supporting an expanded IndyCar grid, Honda Racing Corporation US VP Kelvin Fu was willing to broach the matter.

“I think it’s good that there’s so much interest in the paddock,” Fu told RACER. “I know it’s something that IndyCar have been working on for a long time. But I think we’ve done as much as we can. Anytime anybody’s asked, we’ve tried, and we’re at 15 full-time and for the Indy 500 we’re at 18 [leases], which is a lot. I think this is as far as we can go.

“A lot of it is supply costs — resources, getting people here and supporting the series. I don’t know if there’s anything else that we could actually do more than what we’ve already done.”

Accommodating growing grids in a finite amount of space presents its own challenges. Michael Levitt/Lumen

For its part, the series welcomes the idea of growing its field, but there are some challenges to consider if the grid stretches beyond 27 cars. At some of IndyCar’s venues, the available space on pit lane can hold no more than 27 entries, and adequate paddock space to fit extra transporters is by no means guaranteed across every circuit. Figuring out how to embrace the new-team interest has been an ongoing focal point for the series.

“That’s a complicated topic,” IndyCar president Jay Frye told RACER. “In 2017, when we developed the five-year plan, one of the goals was to bring in new owners and teams. The plan, in that regard, has certainly worked. And it’s not just new teams and it’s not just quantity, it’s the quality of the teams and entities that are wanting to come race with us — which is a great thing.

“So, how do we manage this going forward? Part of it is somewhat self-policed with the limitations faced with the engine manufacturers. Obviously, Honda and Chevrolet both do a phenomenal job but they are certainly getting near the point of being tapped out with the amount of teams they can support.”

RACER understands the series has been proactive in holding meetings and calls with the range of new entrants and will continue to do so until solutions are hopefully found.

“That’s an ongoing conversation,” Frye added. “And these new entities that want to come in, how do they go about that? Do they buy current entities? It’s a really good problem to have and one we’re actively trying to solve.”

Story originally appeared on Racer