The 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires field at the Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

By Steve Wittich

After taking a one-year hiatus due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship will return better for the 35th season of competition in 2021.

Anderson Promotions, along with Indy Lights sanctioning body INDYCAR, have put forward enhancements for the 2021 season that include an increased scholarship award of $1,250,000, a Titanium Halo, and guaranteed NTT INDYCAR® SERIES tests for the top three finishers in the championship.

“After careful planning with the INDYCAR team, we are pleased to confirm the exciting addition of a season-ending INDYCAR test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway soon after the 2021 season,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We continue to explore additional ways to strengthen the Indy Lights championship. In the interim, we want to spread the word that Indy Lights will be back, and it will be stronger than ever.”

The top-three in the current NTT INDYCAR® SERIES standings, Scott Dixon (2000), Josef Newgarden (2011), and Colton Herta (2018), were all winners of multiple races in the ultra-competitive Indy Lights championship on the way to the NTT INDYCAR® SERIES.

2011 Indy Lights champion and two-time NTT INDYCAR® SERIES champion Josef Newgarden celebrates his 2011 Lights championship (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

“From top to bottom, the entire team recognizes the role, and commitment Indy Lights has played in bringing new talent to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment. “We are firmly committed to ensuring its continued success.”

Forming the foundation of the 2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires field will be a trio of scholarship winners.

Leading that group is 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood, a winner in 21 of the 30 Road To Indy races he’s contested.

“It’s all good news, said the Jupiter, Fla. native to TSO Ladder. “It’s fantastic news! I love to see that Indy Lights is back on the roster for next year. I’m looking forward to getting testing again and getting the year started.

“I love it. I love the idea (of the Titanium Halo). I’ve driven with halos before, in Formula E and FR Americas. It doesn’t hinder your vision at all, and it gives you a sense of safety of being in the car with the halo around you. Especially the lighter Titanium Halo because it won’t affect the car that much.”

2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Kyle Kirkwood on track during the lone Indy Lights practice session of the season. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Linus Lundqvist, a 21-year-old Swedish driver, provisionally wrapped up the Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered By Honda (FR Americas) title this past weekend. The 2018 BRDC British Formula 3 champion has won 12 of 14 races to wrap up the title before the final event, to win the Honda backed scholarship to Indy Lights.

Joining Kirkwood and Lundqvist will be the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion who receives a scholarship for a full season seat in Indy Lights.

Juncos Racing veteran Sting Ray Robb currently holds a 49 point advantage over Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco with five races remaining in the Indy Pro 2000 season. Also, within 65 points of leader Robb is Artem Petrov (Juncos Racing) and Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsport).

Kirkwood, Lundqvist, and the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion, along with the rest of the field, will be fighting for a championship that includes a $1,250,000 scholarship, a 25% increase over the 2019 scholarship. The prize guarantees a driver entry into at least three 2022 NTT INDYCAR® SERIES races, including the Indianapolis 500.

Along with the increased scholarship, the drivers in the Road To Indy’s top level will have a Dallara-designed and installed Titanium Halo for enhanced safety.

The increased safety combined with the larger winner’s prize should make the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series more attractive to drivers worldwide.

I’m thrilled with the announcement,” said Exclusive Autosport team owner Michael Duncalfe to TSO Ladder. “We’ve been waiting for this for a little while now, and we’re thrilled with the announcement today.

“I’m excited that we’ll have the halo on the (Dallara) IL-15 for 2021 and moving forward. I think this really allows us to start bringing in European drivers because the safety aspect will be equal to that in Europe.

“Combine the halo with the prize offering and scholarship the Road To Indy has put together, and it makes Indy Lights an incredible opportunity for drivers to come over to the U.S. and have a career over here.”

Exclusive Autosport team owner Michael Duncalfe celebrates an Indy Pro 2000 win in Toronto (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The schedule for the 2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season will be released shortly.