HomeGarageDriverless cars will race at Indy

Driverless cars will race at Indy

Not in the 500, but in a high-speed, 20-lap autonomous challenge event for student-created software


The famed Borg-Warner Trophy features the images of every driver who has won the Indianapolis 500-mile auto race. But a new race is scheduled for October 2021 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring cars without drivers, at least without a human driver sitting in the cockpit.

The inaugural Indy Autonomous Challenge, which unveiled its Dallara IL-15 racing car January 11 on the opening day of CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronic Show), will offer $1.5 million in prizes to teams from colleges and universities around the world racing cars using student-created software that enables autonomous racing. 

Think DARPA Grand Challenge for motorsports, with a goal of developing software that “can ensure precision control of vehicles at high speeds during the competition and reduce fatalities and pollution on public roadways afterwards.”

While DARPA Grand Challenge vehicles traveled off pavement at perhaps 5 mph, the Indy Autonomous Challenge racers, powered by specially prepared 4-cylinder engines, should be capable of nearly 200-mph speeds.

Indy, Driverless cars will race at Indy, ClassicCars.com Journal
Indy, Driverless cars will race at Indy, ClassicCars.com Journal

“If we can go- 240 mph and keep cars from colliding on the track, surely we can make highways safer,” said Mark Miles, president of Penske Entertainment, which owns the Indy track and the Indy Car racing series. 

Speedway president Doug Boles noted that the Brickyard originally was constructed as a site for technology testing and development, and that the Wright Brothers set an aircraft altitude record at the facility in 1910, a year before the first 500-mile auto racing.

“Our history has led us to today and to the IAC,” he added. “We can’t wait to see the best and brightest minds from around the world competing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Those minds will come from nearly 40 colleges and universities from 14 states and 11 nations, said Paul Mitchell, president of Energy Systems Network, the Speedway’s partner in the project. 

He said he expects the software development for the race to “accelerate technology commercialization and to solve real-world (public transportation system) programs.”

Indy, Driverless cars will race at Indy, ClassicCars.com Journal

“Self-driving cars are the next challenge in automotive technology and a major leap needed to be taken,” he added. “What better way than a high-speed race at the world’s best race track?”

Software simulation racing is scheduled for late May with practice days for the race cars at the Speedway in early June and early September. Pre-race practice starts October 19 with the final 20-lap race on October 23. All teams retain the rights to their software and the winning team gets a $1 million prize.

For more information, visit the IAC website.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


    • EXACTLY what I was thinking as I read this. I mean, great, students are learning to write code for autonomous driving- but it takes all of the thrill from the event. Better that they write code for autonomous cars on national roads since that seems to be an inevitability.

      • i guess you didnt read the story racing has for over 100 years been the test bed for performance that is later used in road cars so the point is to make all cars better without killing people on public roads during the development phase> another point if you are not the driver in the car but enjoy watching racing what difference does it make it the team does not have a person in the car racing in todays world can not be achieved by just the driver.

  1. EXACTLY what I was thinking as I read this. I mean, great, students are learning to write code for autonomous driving- but it takes all of the thrill from the event. Better that they write code for autonomous cars on national roads since that seems to be an inevitability.

  2. Great for development and a great way to save lives during development and yes autonomous cars does seem inevitable. But it’s not racing and no I won’t watch it. It does take a team to make for a successful win on the track but make no mistake Trevor the checkered flag is achieved by the driver.

  3. What a great opportunity to develop state of the art technology for future cars. Now on the flip side of the coin, I would like Mr. Penske to feature a twenty lap race, each year, from a different decade, say the 1930’s. I could cheer for a Studebaker! The racers would need to reflect a car that was exact to 1930’s specifications,no cheating! The pit crews would also need to reflect 1930’s equipment. I wonder if they could find enough entrees for a genuine race? This could become a yearly event featuring a different decade? I do believe I would look forward to an historic race each year. It would give all car lovers a visual and exciting sense of automotive history! Hoooray!!!

    PS. Can you imagine a 20 lap race from the 1960’s and perhaps a NOVI would win??

    • Rules, regulations and safety would apply. Watch a Pro Bowl in the NFL. Do you think the players are showing us 100%. With the modern Indy cars we have almost reached an area that leans on near perfection with millions of dollars spent on each car. Tires would certainly be one area that would need attention on historic entrees and 20 laps is certainly not like the 500. Your point is blunt and I get it.

  4. are things getting weird, or what is happening?
    anyone who has ever heard the start of 1st LAP, noway that can be duplicated at home!
    the rise/feeling in Universe ENERGY is from people channeling it all at once!!!!

  5. When I read that these autonomous race cars will NOT BE competing in the 500 then I became more interested. Especially if this can enhance the education and development of college students. Let’s take another leap into the future and remove the fossil fuel engine out of the car and make it electric! After all racing should be, and always been a test bed of development of what we could eventually see in production cars. As much fun as vintage racing is to watch, motor racing is not about the past. Nor should it be.

  6. I would rather die than live the day the car race will be also robots

    1984 is becoming a reality and I don’t like it one bit

  7. I can’t wait to watch the race. Think about it. Young men and women from all over the world trying to out do each other and win a lot of money. All of the sensors and anti- collision/ crash information built into the vehicles. It would be a hoot if they made it the full 20 laps. I personally cannot wait for autonomous cars , that way I can run every single red light in my town and not worry about an accident because of the technology. Now if I can just bypass the signal cameras….


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