The IZOD IndyCar Series has a plan that assists its prominent teams called the Leaders Circle, which INDYCAR has modified for the upcoming 2012 season.

The program has been capped at 20 entrants for the year, with additional funds used to enhance race payouts for non-Leaders Circle entrants.  INDYCAR said the 18 returning members that finished in the top 22 in 2011 entrant points have each been awarded Leaders Circle designations; the series used its option to award the remaining two spots to reach a decided 20-entrant cap.  

In order to award the final two spots, INDYCAR principals heard representatives from teams on their organizational, promotional and marketing plans for 2012.  It shared its broad-based marketing, business development and public relations objectives in an effort to develop cross-promotional opportunities.

Based on these presentations, one entry each from Ed Carpenter Racing and Lotus Dragon Racing received invitations to fill the remaining Leaders Circle openings.

"We want to make sure we're laying the foundations for our teams to grow strong into the future," noted INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard.  "Only the top 22 entrants from last year were guaranteed spots in the Leaders Circle and when Newman/Haas Racing gave up its two positions, we decided to choose two teams that could make substantial commitment from both a competition and promotional aspect for the series.

"We feel," he declared, "that Ed Carpenter Racing and Lotus Dragon Racing bring the right mix of organization stability and commercial reach to the sport, so they have been awarded with Leaders Circle designations."

Bernard did say that this was a difficult decision.  "All the eligible teams had great qualities.  We made a decision that would allow all of them to compete for the money, available only to non-Leaders Circle entrants."

Those not involved in the Leaders Circle program are eligible for payouts in each race - aside from the Indianapolis 500 - with the highest finishing entrant receiving $80,000, followed by $65,000, $53,000, $40,000 and $26,000 for fifth highest finisher among the non-Leaders Circle participants.

In addition, every IZOD IndyCar Series entrant competes for bonuses of $35,000 for first place, $25,000 for second, $20,000 for third, $15,000 for fourth and $10 grand for fifth place at each race outside of Indianapolis.

The Leaders Circle program began in 2002 to provide incentives to teams that participate full-time in the IZOD IndyCar Series.  The program leverages relationships built by INDYCAR with its partners, sponsors and suppliers to provide monetary benefits directly to the teams.

INDYCAR capped the starting field number at 26 entrants for the Sao Paulo round in April and for the new Qingdao, China race in August.  The field will be composed of the top 24 in the 2012 entrant point standings entering each event, with the highest finisher in the 2011 entrant point standings and a promoter's option for the 26th entrant.

The Leaders Circle program ensures approximately $1.1 million for the season if the entrant successfully qualifies for the Indianapolis 500 (a $250,000 bonus) and is among the 26 to participate in the China race, which will be a bonus of $68,559.

The IZOD IndyCar Series champion and championship entrant share in a $1 million bonus, with second through fifth place in the final standings receiving added bonuses of $250,000, $175,000, $125,000 and $75,000.  

With all contingency prizes continuing to be awarded to entrants for individual races this coming season, IZOD IndyCar Series payouts should amount to more than $39 million throughout the course of the 2012 season.

There were a number of teams left out in the cold with this decision, including 2011 Indianapolis 500 winners Bryan Herta Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Chip Ganassi's entry for Charlie Kimball (that ran the entire season last year), Eric Bachelart's Conquest Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and new entrant Michael Shank Indy Racing.  The decision left some fuming that team owners Jay Penske and Ed Carpenter received the two spots - but performances in 2012 could make it easier for them to earn a Leader's Circle spot for 2013.