Since joining IndyCar in 2013 and becoming its president after the 2015 season, Jay Frye has provided much-needed leadership to a series that once seemed adrift.
Prior to Frye ascending to the role of IndyCar president, the paddock was often in a state of near mutiny, especially during Derrick Walker’s tumultuous tenure from 2013-’15.
Before that, the teams were so upset with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard over the cost of replacement parts from Dallara, several of them wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board of directors to get him fired.
The Tony George era that included Brian Barnhart as race director also had to deal with lack of a unified paddock.
It’s much different during Frye’s helm, however. He is about to enter his 10th season at IndyCar and his seventh as IndyCar president.
Except for a few minor squabbles here and there, Frye and IndyCar teams are a united group. Penske Corp. and Roger Penske have solidified that foundation.
The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season could feature the largest car count for races outside of the Indianapolis 500 since CART regularly had 28-car fields during the 1990s. Bumping has even returned to the Indianapolis 500 as 35 to 36 cars have attempted to make the field of 33 in recent seasons.
The secret to Frye’s success is his ability to listen to the team members, including owners, managers, engineers and drivers. It’s important to Frye that they all “buy in” to his ideas before they are implemented, but he also isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions.
SPEED SPORT’s Bruce Martin talked with Frye as the sanctioning body prepared for the 2022 season.
Q: What has been on your project list since the end of the season?
FRYE: It’s funny, we get asked that all the time, ‘What do you do in your offseason?’ The busiest time of the year is probably from the checkered flag of the last race of the season up until Christmastime. It’s the time of year we have a lot of drivers, owner, team managers meetings. There is a lot of follow-up and things that we activate or engage for the following season, the next season and into the future, too.
It’s a hectic time, but also a great time to reconnect with everybody. It’s a great paddock-wide effort. This is when we make all of this stuff happen.
Q: In 2022, IndyCar will be testing the new car and engine for 2023. Where do things stand with that project right now?
FRYE: Full speed ahead. Everything is going really well. Chevrolet and Honda have both been doing a great job. We talk about a new car, but for the initial project, it’s not really a new car; it’s what the car needs to take the new 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. That’s the first steps of what we are doing now. There will be a lot of testing for the hybrid system in the 2022 season to get ready for 2023.
In regard to the hybrid, we haven’t announced our plan, except we are doing the hybrid program. We haven’t announced what it is. We are doing that soon. I think the fans will be pretty excited about it. It’s pretty cool technology. It’s lightweight with a lot of horsepower. We will remain fast and loud like we have been. I think the fans will be interested in how it works and all the capabilities that it has.
Q: After the season ended, you did a test at Barber to replicate the additional weight of the hybrid system and horsepower of the new engines to simulate how the car will handle. What did you learn from that test?
FRYE: It was good. The drivers did a great job and there was some talk about the wheel being heavier, but the guys at PFC did a great job with the brakes. There were really no surprises and it went better than we anticipated. We will continue to work on weight savings to do what we can to mitigate the new system. We aren’t done with that.
Q: What is the challenge in creating great racing that is also safe and fast?
FRYE: In 2021 we saw all of that. We saw great racing with record numbers of passes in numerous events, record lead changes, very close side-by-side racing. Our drivers are spectacular. They are up on it from the minute the green flag falls, so that is really good.
We also saw a few times where the aeroscreen came into play. It did exactly what we intended it to do. It had a positive outcome. If it wasn’t there, we aren’t sure what would have happened. We can’t speculate, but it did its job in a big way. Safety is an evolution. It’s something ongoing that we work on every day. We aren’t done with that aspect.
Great racing is also something we work on every day. We’ve tested things already for 2023 and tested a year ago a push-to-pass scenario and what that looks like at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are things we are constantly working on to make the racing product better, keep the entertainment level way up for the fans. That’s an ongoing evolution.
Q: What do you see the car count being in 2022?
FRYE: It’s been an amazing six, seven, eight years in the car count regard. Car count is an overall indicator of the health of the series. One time, we had 18-20, then a few years later 20-22, then it was up to 24 and this past year we had 28 at some events, which was the most we had in a decade. The growth continues. I think next year will be in the 26-27 range, which is magnificent if you look at the last five, six, seven years. It is growing. It has been a great paddock-wide effort. We came up with a five-year plan in 2016. In 2017, we froze the aero kits and in 2018, we had the universal aero kit.
There has been a plan in the past and now that plan goes through 2023. The teams are part of the process, and the manufacturers are part of the process. They have great input and that is the reason we have the growth.
Everyone knows where we are and where we are going and what we are doing. We don’t want to obsolete parts and pieces. When we have capital needed in different parts of the car, teams know about it 18-24 months in advance.
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