Ten different drivers have stood on the top step of the podium in the ten different races occurring on two different iterations of the road course at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With exactly zero of the 14 drivers entered into the twin-bill INDY LIGHTS Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation having won in Indy Lights machinery, that streak of different winners is set to extend to 11.

Also, since the introduction of the IL-15 in 2015, four different drivers representing four different teams have visited victory lane after taking the checkered flag at the Start/Finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Andretti Autosport (Dean Stoneman), Carlin (Ed Jones), Team Pelfrey/8Star Motorsports (Sean Rayhall), and Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) have all produced winners on the 2.439-mile, 14 Turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the last two years, putting the pressure on Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing to produce the fifth (and possibly) sixth different winning team in as many races.

Indy Lights winners on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Year Driver Team
2016 Race #2 Dean Stoneman Andretti Autosport
2016 Race #1 Ed Jones Carlin
2015 Race #2 Sean Rayhall 8Star Motorsports
2015 Race #1 Jack Harvey Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Race #2 Luiz Razia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Race #1 Matthew Brabham Andretti Autosport
2007 Race #2 Bobby Wilson Brian Stewart Racing
2007 Race #1 Hideki Mutoh Panther Racing
2006 Alex Lloyd AFS Racing
2005 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport

Alex Lloyd celebrates his Liberty Challenge win during the 2006 United States Grand Prix (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

What to expect…

With two wins in the Deltro Energy sponsored No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing entry, rookie Colton Herta currently holds a 15 point championship advantage over veteran Kyle Kaiser after four races.

Herta will be making his first Indy Lights appearance on the IMS road course, but the second-generation driver did contest two USF2000 races during the inaugural event in 2014, including an impressive 22nd to fifth run in the first race, and the quickest race lap in the second race.

Kaiser, who drives for Juncos Racing (who’s new 40,0000 square foot shop is just over 3,900 feet due south of the Pagoda), is taking the slow and steady approach to the championship. The 21 year-old, who has two podiums, three top-fives and not finished outside of the top six this year, will need to hope that the form showed in second Indy Lights race at IMS carries over to the 2017 event. In six previous starts on the IMS road course, Kaiser’s average finish is 7.5, and last year’s third place in the second race is his best result.

Nico Jamin and reigning Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz are currently within striking distance of the top two, 26 and 27 points respectively afield. Both drivers will be looking to past successes AND experience at IMS, in an effort to cut into Herta’s lead.

Jamin and Herta tested in Indy Lights equipment at IMS during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October 2016.

Jamin, who had the second quickest lap time, tested with Andretti Autosport, turning a total of 134 laps. Splitting his test between the now defunct Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and his current team Belardi Auto Racing, Telitz had the third quickest of the two day test while driving for the Brownsburg, Ind. based Belardi.

In six starts on the IMS road course, Jamin, a 21 year-old Frenchman has collected two wins, two poles, led 25 laps, and finished in the top 10 five times.

“I am extremely excited heading into the month of May,” said Jamin. “I feel like the team and I are in the best shape we’ve ever been in, and we’re bringing momentum from Barber (Motorsports Park) with us! We had an amazing pace when we tested in September at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at IMS. I know we’ll have a strong car on both the road and oval courses, and I’m very excited to represent the DuraMAX Team in pursuit of victory lane.”

Telitz is still looking for his first win at IMS, but the 25 year-old does have experience running at the front of the field on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, collecting four podiums in six race starts. The average finish for Telitz, from Rice Lake, Wis., on the IMS road course is 4.7, which is better than the 7.5 average finish by Jamin.

Holding down the fifth and sixth place championship positions are MRTI veterans Neil Alberico and Shelby Blackstock. Combined, the two drivers have a total of four podiums in 13 starts at IMS, and will need to have good weekends to stay in touch with the four drivers ahead of them in the chase for the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship.

Take away a last place finish at in the second race at the season opening event in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Alberico, would handily find himself in the top three in points. Whether it’s a switch to Geoff Fickling as his engineer, working with two-time Indy Lights vice-champion Jack Harvey as his driver coach, or a combination of things (most likely), it’s clear that the Rising Star Racing sponsored, Los Gatos, Calif. born driver has rediscovered the mojo that saw him finish third in the 2013 USF2000 championship, third in the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship, and second in the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship.

Current Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire points through the first four events

1 Colton Herta 101
2 Kyle Kaiser 86
3 Nico Jamin 75
4 Aaron Telitz 74
5 Neil Alberico 69
6 Shelby Blackstock 61
7 Pato O’Ward 58
8 Nicolas Dapero 52
9 Zachary Claman DeMelo 51
10 Matheus Leist 49
11 Santiago Urrutia 48
12 Dalton Kellett 44
13 Ryan Norman 44
14 Juan Piedrahita 38
15 Garth Rickards 34

Other drivers TSO is keeping an eye on:

  • Juan Piedrahita – The popular Colombian will making his 100th Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire start on Friday (watch for an separate article highlighting his career tomorrow.)
  • Nicolas Dapero – Through four races, the 19 year-old average of 5.5 ranks second, behind only Herta on the quickest race lap average chart.  Dapero has also raced well, making up a total of 16 spots from his qualifying position. Now, the Buenos Aires, Argentina needs to qualify better, and maybe having tested an Indy Lights car during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October of 2016 will help him in that regard.
  • Pato O’Ward – Unfortunately, the Mexican driver, who won his third straight WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge race at Circuit of the Americas over the weekend, is not entered in the second Team Pelfrey car this weekend.

Feeling the heat?

Combine Colton Herta’s last name to a 15 point championship lead and the result is a 17 year-old who is garnering significant attention from fans and media. How the Valencia, Calif. native performs with and reacts to the additional pressure and attention that comes with leading the championship will certainly bear monitoring.

“I think I’m better now because I have crashed a lot in Europe trying to win championships and it didn’t work out,” explained the Herta, who finished third in both the 2015 MSA Formula Championship and 2016 Euroformula Open Championship, when asked about whether he thinks about the points when he’s on track. “I think I kind of know what to do now.”

Herta’s father Bryan, who calmly guided Alexander Rossi to Victory Lane in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, told TSO that he has stepped back quite a bit from Colton’s career, and will let his son come to him before dispensing advice.

“I think it’s more (team owner) Michael (Andretti) that’s always worried. He always says “Get the points, just get the points,” said Herta. “My Dad is pretty laid back about it. He has confidence in me.”

The two Ps… 

With two long and wide straights, followed by heaving braking zones, passing on the 2.439 mile, 14-Turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is common. Showing patience when you are passing or being passed by a competitor can go along way to determine whether you end the day on the podium or on the hook.

The start of Indy Lights race #1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2016 shows that a driver will need to have poise and patience to make the end of the race. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

For example, the box score for Indy Lights race #1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course from last year shows that winner Ed Jones led the 30 lap race from start to finish, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. By the time the field had got to Turn 7, Jones, Dean Stoneman, and Santiago Urrutia had all taken a turn at the front of the field. But, it was the patience and poise of Jones, who didn’t get flustered after getting passed into Turn 1, that allowed him to capitalize on mistakes by his two competitors.

“It’s a long run into Turn One so it was next to impossible not to let someone get a run on me, and Dean did,” explained eventual Indy Lights champion Jones. “We were right next to each other, with only just enough room to get through. We were pretty close to going off. I felt pretty badly, going down to third, but I could see the two guys ahead of me going at it and I knew something was going to happen. I just kept calm and picked up the pieces. It’s an amazing feeling to win at Indianapolis; it’s another thing to tick off the box! Hopefully next year, I’ll be in IndyCar and tick that off the box as well.”

Andretti Autosport resurgence

During the first two seasons of IL-15 competition, drivers from the Andretti Autosport stable were able to only win two races and stand on the podium a total nine times during difficult 2015, and 2016 seasons.

However, with three wins and five podiums through only four races in 2017, the Don Lambert led squad has seen a resurgence to form that saw them win driver championships with Raphael Matos in 2008 and J.R. Hildebrand in 2009.

That race name though…

May is Lupus Awareness Month, and Royal Purple Synthetic Oil and the Mazda Road to Indy have joined forces to help bring attention to this mysterious chronic autoimmune disease which sees 16,000 new cases reported each year. All 50-plus cars across the three series will carry a decal in support of the Lupus Foundation of America, and a special hashtag – #RaceToEndLupus – will be utilized throughout the event. Fans can show their support by donating on behalf of their favorite drivers via a special page on the national Lupus Foundation website.
Belardi Auto Racing, spearheaded by team owner Brian Belardi and team manager John Brunner, has been a staunch supporter of the Lupus Foundation of America.
“When close friends of our team, Emilee Hunt and Addie, were diagnosed with lupus, we decided to put the Lupus Foundation of America decals on our Indy Lights cars to help raise awareness each May,” said Brunner. “That was 2014, and when we heard many other competitors commenting about how lupus affected someone in their lives as well, we at Belardi Racing contacted our partners at the Mazda Road to Indy to propose a much bigger campaign that highlights this disease during the Indy Grand Prix weekend. Since the official color of Lupus Awareness is purple, the folks at Royal Purple Synthetic Oil saw an opportunity and stepped up to share their sponsorship of the [MRTI Indy GP] with the Lupus Foundation of America.”


INDY LIGHTS Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation schedule:

Thursday, May 11, 2017 (closed to the public)

10:30am – 11:30am  –> Test Session #1
3:45pm – 4:45pm –> Test Session #2

Friday, May 12, 2017

10:15am – 11am –> Practice Session #1
noon – 12:30pm –> Autograph Session
1:45pm – 2:15pm –> Qualifying Session #1
5:50pm – 6:50pm –> Indy Lights Race #1

Saturday, May 13, 2017

9:20am – 9:50am –> Qualifying Session #2
1:15pm – 2:25pm –> Indy Lights Race #2

Recapping the 2016 event

TSO Leader Recap of Indy Ligths Race #1 

In 2013, Indy Lights staged one of the most dramatic finishes in racing history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a four-wide photo finish to the Freedom 100, won by Peter Dempsey.

In 2016, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires made a Kodak moment on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with arguably one of the most dramatic restarts in recent memory in the closing laps of the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Indianapolis, won by Ed Jones.

Watch the 2016 Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Cooper Tires Race #1

TSO Ladder Recap of Indy Lights race #2

There’s no shortage of talent in the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series and another of those drivers who seemed on the verge of a victory, Andretti Autosport’s Dean Stoneman, broke through Saturday to become the sixth winner in seven races to start the year.

Watch 2016 Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Cooper Tires Race #2

Don’t miss any of the action: