IndyCar is one of the fastest and most well-known motorsports, especially in the USA. With some of the most talked about races on the planet, like the Indy500, it is no surprise that the drivers can earn some big money.
IndyCar prize money varies by race, and the prize money is split between the driver and the team. While some races will pay tens of thousands of dollars, big ones like the Indy500 have prize funds of more than $10 million. However, information on specific prize pots is usually hard to find.
With that said, there is still information out there from past years that allows us to make rough estimates of the various amounts of money one could expect to win racing in IndyCar. Below, we go into the details of prize money for drivers, teams and for winning championships as well.
The data out there for the prize funds of individual races is scarce, and this is largely due to the fact that IndyCar doesn’t release much information regarding the salary and prize money side of things. This makes it difficult to gauge how much an individual race might pay out both in total and to the winner in particular.
This is much in a similar fashion to NASCAR, with the governing bodies preferring to keep the financial specifics close to their chest. However, some estimates suggest the winner of an average IndyCar race receives about $30,000 in prize money. This decreases on a scale down to 10th place getting just a few thousand dollars, with lower places getting even less.
However, the figures for each race will vary, and the drivers also won’t see all of that money either. However, we will talk about where the money goes in a moment. First, let’s talk about the highest paying race on the IndyCar calendar; the Indy500.
Prize Money For The Indy500
The Indy500 is what many people associate with IndyCar. Some fans get into IndyCar because of this race, and other non-fans also only tune into the sport to see what happens at the Indy500. It is an exciting race, with a lot to play for in terms of both pride and the financial bonus that comes with a good performance at the Indy500.
Largest Prize Fund
This is the only race for which more official figures are released, usually to hype it up even more than it already is. The prize pool for the Indy500 peaked back in 2008, when it hit close to $14.5 million. This purse was shared out across all of the racers, but the biggest payout for an Indy500 winner came the following year, when Helio Castroneves pocketed just over $3 million.
The run up to the 2020 Indy500 saw many years of the prize fund hovering around $13 million, with winners taking around $2 million. Even the losers win at the Indy500, with estimates putting the back markers making a cool $200,000. 2020 was going to see the prize pool peak once again, with the fund set to reach more than $15 million.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to that happening, and so the total fund ended up being around half of the expected value, at around $7.5 million. This meant the winner, Takuma Sato, took a substantially lower than expected paycheck of just over $1.3 million. While still a huge amount of money, he wouldn’t have taken all of that home either.
What About The Teams?
IndyCar teams often take more of the prize money than the drivers. This is because it costs a lot of money to put a car forward for IndyCar and to pay the salaries of the rest of the staff. We have discussed the costs of running an IndyCar team in another article here. Teams take a substantial cut of the prize money, depending on where the driver finishes.
A Sliding Percentage
Usually, the higher up in the rankings the driver finishes, the larger the slice of the prize money they get to take home. Some estimates suggest the winner takes about 50% of the prize money, while those further down the table will take a lower percentage on a sliding scale. This means that a 10th place finisher might only take home 30% of his estimated $4,000.
Thus, the teams can expect to make several thousand dollars per race if they do well, but possibly more than a $1 million if they do well at the indy500. This means IndyCar is truly a team sport, but it should be remembered that the drivers (and indeed the teams) make most of their money from sponsors, which can pay several times what they might make in year with multiple race wins.
IndyCar Championship Prize Money
It’s hard to put a number on how much a driver will win in race prize money if they win the IndyCar Championship, due to the large number of combinations of race performances that could equate to a win. They might win 10 races in a season or they might win 5 but take a dozen podiums. This means it is difficult to quantify what the champion might take home from race prize funds.
It is also hard to gauge what they will win as a result of being crowned champion. However, the Indy Lights series, the equivalent of Formula 2 to Formula 1 as a feeder series, will have a championship prize of $1,250,000. Thus, it can be safe to assume that the IndyCar champion takes home at least that, if not double.
Leader’s Circle Program
There is one final piece of the IndyCar prize fund puzzle and that is the Leader’s Circle Program. This is IndyCar’s attempt to reward those that remain in the sport and do well consistently over time. It currently rewards entries that finish in the top 22 from the previous season, with teams finishing in this receiving a $1 million bonus for each full-time entry in that season.
A Nice Bonus
The specifics of race bonuses for those in the Leader’s Circle are once again kept quiet by IndyCar, but it is estimated that these bonuses sit close to the payouts for their respective places. In other words, the bonus for first place if you are in the Leader’s Circle might be close to the $30,000 you could get for winning the race.
IndyCar prize money is a hotly debated topic, with official figures being notoriously hard to find. However, estimates put the prize for first place at an average race at around $30,000, while the Indy500 might pay the winner more than $2 million. The teams tend to take most of the prize money, while the Leader’s Circle Program provides extra rewards for the top 22 drivers.