Indy Lights Preview
Hot, in all it’s various definitions is the word of the week as the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series heads to the ⅞ of a mile Iowa Speedway bull-ring for the 11th race of the 18 round championship.
Leaving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the chase for the $1million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship could certainly have been classified as hot. Carlin pilot Ed Jones led the championship by 29 points over Andretti Autosport rookie Dean Stoneman, with two other drivers within 50 points of the sophomore.
The two races in the scenic Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin were witness to some hot tempers by the top three drivers in the championship that spilled over into some on and off-track shenanigans that forced Indy Lights Race Director, Tony Cotman to step in. Jones, Stoneman and Santiago Urrutia have all been placed on probation for the remainder of the season and warned that any additional incidents including unsportsmanlike conduct and dangerous or over aggressive driving will result in the loss of a minimum of 10 championship points.
“The notices issued do not preclude a driver from racing hard but serve as a reminder on how to race over the final eight rounds of the championship,” said Cotman.
With some pent up angst dating back to the crazy last restart during the first race of Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend, Jones, Stoneman and Urrutia all used their cars in an attempt creates space and to intimidate each other over the course of the two races on the 14-Turn, 4.014-mile Road America road course.
What resulted was a hot championship fight becoming a red hot championship fight. Jones still holds a lead over Stoneman, but it has tightened up to a 19 point gap. Urrutia was the big winner when Stoneman and Jones made contact early in the second race at Road America. The reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champion won the race and was able to cut the gap to leader Jones to 24 points and the gap to second place Stoneman to a meager five points.
Jones, recently told TSO that,“I LOVE ovals”, and has just missed out on the top step of the podium in the last three Indy Ligths oval races. The 21-year old began his steak at the Iowa Speedway last year and it has continued at Phoenix International Raceway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2016.
Jones is one of three drivers in the top six in points that has previous experience at Iowa Speedway in the Mazda powered Dallara IL-15, leading 13 laps and finishing second behind his Carlin teammate Max Chilton.
Stoneman’s ninth place finish in the second Road America tilt was his first finish off the podium since he suffered a mechanical issue in the second race at Barber Motorsports Park. The 25 year-old Cancer survivor has collected 122 points since the beginning of May, which is 17 more than Jones has tallied during that five race span.
“Looking forward to racing on the short oval at Iowa,” said Stoneman. “Testing there went well and I feel we will have a competitive car. It will be good to get back to racing after the bittersweet weekend at Road America. The podium in Race 1 kept us in the championship hunt, but the puncture whilst in the lead was really frustrating. We will arrive in Iowa wiser and stronger and looking forward to getting the Stellrecht Mazda up front again.”
Urrutia qualified on the outside of the Pro Mazda front row last year, his only appearance at Iowa Speedway, but ended up finishing a disappointing fifth. However, the Mazda sponsored 19 year-old only has an average finish of 8.75 in his four previous Mazda Road To Indy oval races will need to find a way to be more competitive during Sunday’s 115 lap event.
“I’m ready for Iowa,” explained the native of Montevideo, Uruguay. “As a team, I think we’re working better. Everybody did a great job when we got the win at Road America so I’m confident that we can work together and take advantage of that momentum throughout the rest of the season. I’ve never had a podium on the ovals so I’m looking to get my first one in Iowa and keep moving up in the points championship.”
The opposite of hot, is cool, as in keep your cool, something the three front-running championship contenders will need to accomplish if they don’t want to run afoul of Cotman and continue to have a chance at winning the Mazda advancement scholarship.
The pressure on these drivers is certainly immense, and while it’s understandable that pressure might seep over onto the track, it’s still inexcusable, and certainly can’t happen in the tight confines of a short-oval that races like a superspeedway.
We’ve spent a lot of words on the front running threesome, but by no means have we discounted anybody else.
Kyle Kaiser, the Juncos Racing sophomore who ran away with the first short oval race of the year at Phoenix International Raceway, is currently fourth in points and needs a Phoenix-esque performance to jump back into the the title conversation. TSO understands that Kaiser was very quick during testing at the Iowa Speedway last week, and will hope to build on an impressive fourth place finish in last years race.
A tenth place finish in last year’s race leaves Carlin’s Felix Serralles with some work to do. The Ponce, Puerto Rico native has had an up and down season, but has shown well on a short oval in the past, winning at the Milwaukee Mile in 2015.
The only driver with three races of experience at the Iowa Speedway, is also the hottest driver leaving Wisconsin. Zach Veach, moved back into championship contention with a win and a third place finish at Road America. The 21 year-old has experience in USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway and will look to use that to make his way further up the championship points table.
Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey), Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) and Neil Alberico (Carlin) all have prior Mazda Road To Indy experience at Iowa Speedway. Kellett, who is coming off a podium at the last oval race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also has the best Iowa result of the foursome, a second place finish in last years Pro Mazda race.
Making their first visit to Iowa Speedway, and facing a steep learning curve, will be: Zachary Claman de Melo (Juncos Racing), Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), and Heamin Choi (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian).
Alright, back to the topic of hot to close out our preview of this year’s race. With the newly patched track surface in Turn 3 and Turn 4 combined with hot mid-day temperatures making it even slicker during the race, the team that finds the correct set-up for the north end of the track will have a great chance of keeping their car off the wall* and taking home the trophy at the end of the day.
This will be the ninth time in the past decade that the Indy Light series visits Iowa Speedway, with 2014 being the only year the top rung of the Mazda Road To Indy was absent.
Current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that have won at Iowa are: Max Chilton (2015) and Josef Newgarden (2011).
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian leads the way, winning five times. The pole sitter has only won twice (2010 and 2015) and their average finishing position is 2.88.
The average finishing position for the pole sitter is 4.5 and Andretti Autosport leads the way by taking pole on four occasions.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian has scored 58% (14 of 24) of the available podiums and Ana Beatriz, Wade Cunningham and Gustavo Yucatan are the only drivers with multiple podiums. All three drivers have two podiums.
Previous Indy Lights Winners at Iowa Speedway
|2013||Sage Karam||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2012||Estaban Guerrieri||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2011||Josef Newgarden||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2010||Sebastian Saavedra||Bryan Herta Autosport|
|2009||Ana Beatriz||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2008||Dillon Battistini||Panther Racing|
|2007||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
2015 Indy Lights race at Iowa Speedway
Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway schedule (all times are local):
Saturday, July 9th
- 10am – 11:15am –> Indy Lights autograph session
- 1:15pm – 1:45pm – -> Indy Lights practice #1
- 5:15pm – 6pm –> Indy Lights practice #2
Sunday, July 10th
- 11:am – 11:45am –> Indy Lights qualifying
- 2:15pm –> Indy Lights race (115 laps)
Don’t miss any of the action
- live timing – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, & USF2000
- on twitter –Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, Cooper Tire, Mazda Racing and TSO Ladder
- via the Road To Indy TV app – Android or Apple iOS
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #MRTI hashtags
The race will air on NBCSN on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 7pm (et)
You can also catch all the action on IndyCar’s YouTube channel: