Indy Pro Series Coming of Age INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, March 2, 2006 - With groundwork having been laid for four years, the Indy Racing League Indy Pro Series should continue to come of age in 2006. The pot has been sweetened -- with prize money...
Indy Pro Series Coming of Age
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, March 2, 2006 - With groundwork having been laid for four years, the Indy Racing League Indy Pro Series should continue to come of age in 2006. The pot has been sweetened -- with prize money tripled to $3 million - and the playing field leveled -- with an even mix of six ovals and six road courses. For the first time in series history, the reigning champion will be back. The battle for the Firestone Firehawk Cup will be the most intense ever, while providing even more opportunities for drivers to advance their skills. Teams begin their quest for glory March 4-6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the series' only pre-season Open Test.
Show Me The Money
Competitors in the Indy Pro Series will be competing for $3 million in prize money in 2006. While race winners will still earn a premium, the increase of prize money is spread throughout the field, giving all the "little guys" a reason to compete. Even an 18th-place finish pays $10,000.
"Our previous payout schedule was 20 years old, much like other series' still are," said Roger Bailey, executive director of the Indy Pro Series. "It was time for an increase, and this distribution plan rewards each and every team that takes the green flag."
After incorporating four road-course races into the schedule in 2005, the Indy Pro Series goes a step further in 2006, moving to an even mix of six races on ovals and six races on road courses. The series' first-ever doubleheader will feature two races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Following single races on the road courses at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen International, the series also features a doubleheader at Infineon Raceway.
The oval races give drivers experience on the tight 1-mile at Milwaukee, the high banks at Homestead-Miami and Chicagoland, and the thrill of driving on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"The Indy Pro Series continues to evolve as the perfect stepping stone into the IRL IndyCar Series," Bailey said. "We have a nice blend of oval tracks, ranging from one mile to two-and-a-half miles, and we've aggressively increased the number of road-course races to appeal to an even greater number of young, talented drivers."
Two Races At Indianapolis
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most famous racetrack in motorsports. The Indy Pro Series is the only racing series in the world that races at the facility twice each year, once on the oval and once on the road course.
In 2006, the series will hold the Freedom 100 on the 2.5-mile oval on Friday, May 26 as part of "Carb Day." Five weeks later, the series will return to the facility for the Liberty Challenge on the 2.605-mile road course during the United States Grand Prix weekend.
"Last year's Freedom 100 epitomized the racing of the Indy Pro Series," Bailey said. "We saw numerous lead changes, side-by-side racing and a late shootout for the checkered flag. To be able to showcase that type of racing at a venue like Indianapolis is extraordinary."
Cunningham Returns To Defend Title
Prior to 2005, Wade Cunningham had never competed on an oval. That didn't stop the former World Karting Champion. He recorded 13 top-five finishes in 14 races and capped his season with a victory on the 2-mile oval at California Speedway to claim the Indy Pro Series championship. The 21-year-old will return with Brian Stewart Racing in 2006.
"Wade is an outstanding racer," Bailey said. "We're excited to have him return in 2006 to battle for another title. He'll have strong competition from some of our other returning drivers as well as a large crop of talented rookies."
Learning and Growing
While the racers battle on the track for the Firestone Firehawk Cup, the ultimate reward is the opportunity to enhance their skills and advance to the IndyCar Series. While five drivers have parlayed their Indy Pro Series experience into a ride in the Indianapolis 500 in the first four seasons, new testing rules in place in 2006 will provide drivers more seat time in an IndyCar Series car.
"Our new testing policy allows teams that compete in both the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series to gain additional testing days," Bailey said. "The payoff for Indy Pro Series drivers is the requirement that they spend at least half of the bonus test days in the IndyCar Series car."
Big money, a challenging mix of circuits, fierce on-track competition and career growth will be the hallmarks of the Indy Pro Series in 2006.