The pair of Legacy Indy Lights 100 races at Barber Motorsports Park should provide a solid test for the newfound focus and maturity of Juncos Racing sophomore and current Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire points leader, Kyle Kaiser.
A perfect mix of poise, pace and patience has resulted in one win (Phoenix International Raceway) and a trio of podiums for the 20 year-old. During the Indy Lights race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in 2015, Kaiser had the pace, qualifying fourth for both races, but it was the patience and poise that the Santa Clarita, California native struggled with, getting into first lap incidents in both races.
The InterVision/NetApp/Juniper Networks sponsored driver does not have a reputation for being hard on equipment and he certainly performed better in the second half of 2015, so TSO will chalk up his early season exuberant errors to the jump in power, braking and downforce from Pro Mazda to Indy Lights.
The two races this weekend will mark the ninth and tenth Indy Lights contests on the on the 2.3-Mile, 17-Turn Barber Motorsports Park Road Course. From 2010 through 2013 there was only one race per weekend but the last two years have featured a pair of Legacy 100s.
Five different teams have scored victories at Barber, with Andretti Autosport’s three visits to victory lane leading the way. In 2015, it Juncos Racing and future Indy Lights champ Spencer Pigot that won from pole on Saturday and Sunday.
The 16 drivers that are entered this weekend are the same group that took part in the opening weekend in St. Petersburg and also took part in the March 5, 2016 official test at Barber Motorsports Park.
That test was led by reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champion Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian). The Montevideo, Uruguay native may be an Indy Lights rookie, but he did race twice at Barber, and scored a second and third in last year’s Pro Mazda races. Currently ranked seventh in overall points and third in the rookie standings, the 19 year-old’s championship hopes would certainly be aided by another pair of podium finishes in Alabama.
Felix Rosenqvist, who ended up second quickest in his first trip to Birmingham, Alabama during March testing will need to put a forgettable performance at Phoenix International Raceway behind him, and focus on his form that took him to his maiden Indy Lights win in the second race at St. Petersburg. It will be interesting to watch how the 24 year-old performs on a “European style” circuit that is not brand new to him. TSO would be very surprised if he doesn’t run up from the very first session on Friday morning.
Another pair of rookie interlopers from across the pond that should to be looking forward to racing on a “European style” circuit that they have seen before, are Andre Negrao and Dean Stoneman.
Stoneman, a 25 year-old Cancer survivor could only muster 11th in testing at Barber, but if he can get a grasp on when the Cooper Tires “come in” during qualifying, expect to see him contending for podiums in only his third Indy Lights weekend.
Andre Negrao, a native of Campinas, Brazil, who is currently sits sixth in the championship has shown the maturity that you would expect from a multi-year veteran of GP2, and is only one of seven drivers to complete 100% of the laps contested to date. With the 23 year-olds extensive experience on natural terrain road courses, don’t be surprised if he sneaks his way onto a podium this weekend.
In seven starts in USF2000 and Indy Lights at Barber Motorsports Park, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian sophomore RC Enerson has three wins, four front row starts and five podiums, including his first career Indy Lights podium last year. Enerson’s commitment to finding the edge of adhesion in high g corners equates toe the New Port Richey, Florida native to excelling on high speed road courses. Expect to see the 19 year-old running at the pointy end of the grid all weekend.
Winner of the first Indy Lights race of the year, Felix Serralles (Carlin), is currently sitting second in the 2016 title chase, 18 markers behind Kaiser. Serralles finished March testing at Barber with the sixth quickest time and should have good memories from the second race in 2015. The 23 year-old Puerto-Rican gained five spots from his 9th starting position to just miss out on a podium finish.
After winning the first three races of 2015, Carlin pilot Ed Jones suffered through a mediocre weekend in Birmingham that saw him finish fourth in the first race, and after contentious contact with Kaiser in the first corner, 11th in the second race. Jones ended testing in March with the fifth quickest time, and will need to keep building on the momentum of his second place finish at Phoenix International Raceway if he wants to contend for the $1million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship for a second straight year.
The experienced Mazda Road To Indy quintet of Neil Alberico (Carlin), Scott Anderson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), and Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) have a combined 30 starts at Barber Motorsports Park, with one win and 11 top fives among them. It will be interesting to see if that experience pays off this weekend.
Juncos Racing rookie, 18 year-old Montreal native Zachary Claman de Melo has shown improved pace each time he steps into the Ugg/Seven for All Mankind/Vince/Vilebrequin sponsored, Mazda powered No. 13. The move from Formula Renault 2.0 to Indy Lights is a big step and so far the young Canadian has not put a tire wrong and appears to be patient to learn how to deal with the increased downforce and power.
The two dark horses in the field this weekend are Scott Hargrove and Zach Veach.
The 21 year-old Hargrove is only confirmed with Team Pelfrey through this weekend, and needs to make a splash if he wants to continue to chase the championship, and if his previous results and testing times are any indication, he should have a good shot to do just that.
The native of Vancouver, British Colombia, finished March testing with the third quickest time and has two wins and two second place finishes in Pro Mazda races at Barber Motorsports Park.
Stockdale, Ohio’s Zach Veach has made three previous Indy Lights starts at Barber Motorsports Park and his last visit in 2014 included a win and third place finish. Belardi Auto Racing is also a past winner at the scenic road circuit, with Gabby Chaves winning for the Brownsburg, Indiana based team in 2014.
What TSO is watching this weekend.
With a string of three straight mature drives, Kaiser has quickly built a big lead in the championship. It’s still only three races into the 18 race championship, but it will be interesting to watch which drivers “get desperate” and take chances that they would not otherwise take.
There is almost no doubt that Canadian Scott Hargrove will have the pace to contend for wins at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, but with this being his last scheduled pair of races, can he reign in that “need to win” approach enough to drive within himself. Does he need to?
Is this the weekend that Neil Alberico figures out to maximize sticker Cooper Tires in qualifying? The Rising Star Racing sponsored driver has had competitive race pace, but has struggled on fresh rubber.
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire weekend schedule:
Friday, April 22, 2016
- 10:15am-10:45am — Legacy Indy Lights practice #1
- 5:25pm-5:55pm — Legacy Indy Lights practice #2
Saturday, April 23, 2016
- 8am-8:30am — Legacy Indy Lights qualifying
- noon-1:15pm — Legacy Indy Lights race #1
Sunday, April 24, 2016
- 12:20pm -1:10pm — Legacy Indy Lights race #2