Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti shared strong words Friday in Long Beach regarding his team’s involvement in Indy Lights, declaring that fellow NTT IndyCar Series team owners are missing out on an opportunity.
The comments came during an announcement regarding Andretti’s Indy Lights team, which will add a fourth car for Jarett Andretti at this May’s Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Andretti is the only IndyCar owner to have consistent participation in the Road to Indy ladder system, this year focusing solely on Indy Lights.
“It’s very important,” said Andretti of his involvement with he ladder system. “I think it’s very important to the series.
“It really ticks me off, some of the owners that don’t get behind it because look at the talent that comes out of the series. Every year, there’s at least one that comes out and then he comes in (to IndyCar) and they’re competitive.”
Andretti’s words ring especially true this year with both Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and runner-up finisher Colton Herta competing — and finding success — in the premier North American open-wheel championship this year.
The two have quickly gotten up to speed racing against the world’s most experienced and versatile open-wheel drivers. Herta has already won a race in his debut season with Harding Steinbrenner Racing while O’Ward is embarking on a partial-season campaign with Carlin and ended Friday’s second practice session an impressive fifth.
“It’s a really good training ground for our drivers,” continued Andretti. “I think we all should get behind it. I do get really pissed off, to be honest with you, that they don’t get more involved because in the end it’s good for all of us if we make the ladder series strong.
“It’s just going to bring more talent. Not only just the drivers, but the mechanics you can train, you can train engineers.”
Other IndyCar teams have recently chosen to look overseas for driving talent, as is the case with Chip Ganassi Racing’s acquisition of Felix Rosenqvist and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ addition of Marcus Ericsson. Others, like Team Penske, have instead allowed other teams to develop drivers, like Josef Newgarden with Ed Carpenter Racing and Simon Pagenaud with Sam Schmidt’s team.
Charting a different path, Andretti Autosport has shown a willingness to acquire talent developed through INDYCAR’s ladder series. Zach Veach is the most recent example.
Carlos Munoz was another driver nurtured by Andretti in Indy Lights, spending two years with the team before moving up to IndyCar where he delivered thrilling Indianapolis 500 performances.
“(Indy Lights) works very, very well for us and it’s something that I’m not going to give up on,” said Andretti. “I think there’s some plans to make it better in the future, which I’m actually pretty excited about.
“I think INDYCAR is realizing how important it is. I think you’ll see them get behind it a little more.”
While Andretti’s current Indy LIghts drivers aren’t in action at Long Beach, they’ll be back on track in May during the INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend in Indianapolis.