The Road to Indy Ladder System is one of the most successful driver development programs that has brought stars to the forefront of the sport. With the intention and purpose of reaching the IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500, the Road to Indy Ladder System is a scholarship-funded path.
There are three levels in which participants must race in before reaching the IndyCar series. Drivers come from all over the world to participate in the ladder system so that they can one day race at the top of the sports. Some of the countries where drivers come from include Brazil, Korea, Norway, Venezuela, Italy, United Kingdom, Argentina, United Kingdom, Australia, Colombia, Singapore, Venezuela, New Zealand, Canada, China, South Africa, Denmark, Finland, France, Guatemala, Guyana, India, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Sweden, Spain and Zimbabwe.
While the series launched in 2010, it has revived many of the great racing series that preceded it. It has now helped so many of its graduates reach the IndyCar Series and there are success stories now riddled in the sport. An easy way to imagine the Road to Indy Ladder System is like minor league baseball. You have single-A, double-A, triple-A and then the major leagues. There are three rungs of the Road to Indy before some drivers graduate to the “big leagues” or better known as the IndyCar Series. The major difference is the scholarship money that is handed out along the way, making this unlike anything in sports.
The cars at all three levels are a little bit different and designed to teach along the way. The first level offers the most basic car for drivers who are learning to drive with that kind of speed and power. Once drivers reach the third level, the Indy Lights, they are racing in a car that is the closest thing you can get to racing a IndyCar series race car.
Road to Indy – The Three Levels
There are three levels in the Road to Indy Ladder System. Each level is more challenging and difficult and it gets each racer closer to the IndyCar series. There is the USF2000 National Championship, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship and the Indy Lights. The USF2000 National Championship is the first level in the ladder system and after the Indy Lights, it feeds into the IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500.
As of today, there has only been one racer to graduate from the program and then go on to win the IndyCar series. There have been no drivers to have won every single rung of the ladder while racing to the IndyCar series.
Sage Karam, Matthew Brabham, Tristan Vautier and Spencer Pigot all won two scholarships while racing their ways to the IndyCar series. They are considered the cream of the crop when it comes to the Road to Indy ladder system.
USF2000 National Championship
The USF2000 National Championship is the very first step in the ladder system and is presented by Cooper Tires. This is considered a level that is vital for training and learning how to become a racer. The winner of this level is awarded a $325,000 scholarship toward the Indy Pro 2000 Series.
This level is open to drivers who are years 15 and older. In 2019, 10 different drivers representing seven teams made their way to the podium in the 15 rounds on deck in 2019, and five different drivers captured race wins.
The USF-17 was introduced in 2017 and serves as the vehicle of choice for the USF2000. Some winners of the USF2000 include: Andy Lally, Bryan Sellars, Zach Veach, Dan Wheldon, Sam Hornish Jr., Buddy Rice, Lawson Aschenbach, Austin Cindric, Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot, Colton Herta, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay
The UFS2000 is a broadcasted event and can also be streamed on devices such as Amazon Fire, Roku and Apple TV.
Indy Pro 2000 Championship Series
The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Series used to be called the Mazda Pro Series but was renamed in 2019. This is the second ring in the Road to Indy Ladder System. The winner of this level is awarded another scholarship with some drivers advancing to the Indy Lights competition in the following year.
The Indy Pro 2000 has developed and graduated some of the top racers in the sport. This is a level where many of the best racers truly develop their skills and get their names recognized at the next level. Marco Andretti, Jack Hawksworth, James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal are some of the few names that have come through this level.
In total, seven drivers representing five teams shared podium honors with four drivers capturing race wins in the 16-round season. The car driven is the PM-18 which was introduced in 2018 and will be used until at least 2024. The scholarship for this level is valued at over $600,000. There are three different point systems that are in this level when racers have oval races, team championship points and road/street courses. 45 points is the most you can get in one race which comes when a racer comes in first place in the oval race.
The Indy Lights
The Indy Lights is the third level of the Road to Indy Ladder System and this is where the absolute top racers in the series go to race. The third level is valued at $1 million toward the NTT IndyCar Series with a minimum of three races including the Indianapolis 500. With much more on the line for each and every racer, this is a make it or break it level for the racers. This is the level that propels drivers to stardom level and labels them as the brightest up and comers in the sport. The Series took a break in 2020 and looks to return in 2021 featuring 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood and the 2020 Formula Region Champion.
When it comes to The Indy Lights, Oliver Askew, Colton Herta, Spencer Pigot, Charlie Kimball, Rinus VeeKay, JR Hildenbrand, Patricio O’Ward, Sage Karam, Ed Jones, Gabby Chaves, Kyle Kaiser and Tristan Vautier are some of the top racers in this level who have gone on to race in the IndyCar series and the Indianapolis 500.
36 Indy Lights drivers have made career starts in the NTT IndyCar Series. And since the inception of Indy Lights, this number totals 140. There have only been three of the championship drivers who have not moved up to the next level.
With the Road to Indy Ladder System being the only development series to offer scholarships at every single level, scholarships have been valued at over $2 million in 2020. The Indy Lights Series, when it returns is broadcast on NBC Sports Gold and the INDYCAR Pass Package. The races are all televised and there are even shows and other informational programs that are broadcasted as well. These can all be streamed on devices like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire Stick .