The 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season opener on the Streets Of St. Petersburg will mark the 11th straight year that top level of American Open Wheel racing gets underway in the “Sunshine City.”
When the green flag flies for the first race of the weekend, the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit will surpass the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval as the track that has hosted the most season openers.
This weekends visit will be the 22nd time in 34 seasons that Indy Lights begins their season in Florida. The 11th season opener by the St. Petersburg Street Circuit breaks a tie with the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, which hosted the Indy Lights opener on ten occasions.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race winners on the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla.
|2018 Race #2||Santi Urrutia||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2018 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2017 Race #2||Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport|
|2017 Race #1||Aaron Telitz||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2016 Race #2||Felix Rosenqvist||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2016 Race #1||Felix Serralles||Carlin|
|2015 Race #2||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2015 Race #1||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2014||Zach Veach||Andretti Autosport|
|2013||Jack Hawksworth||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2012||Tristan Vautier||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2011||Josef Newgarden||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2010||JK Vernay||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2009 Race #2||Junior Strous||Winners Circle Group|
|2009 Race #1||Junior Strous||Winners Circle Group|
|2008 Race #2||Richard Antinucci||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2008 Race #1||Rafa Matos||Andretti Autosport|
|2007 Race #2||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2007 Race #1||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2006 Race #2||Rafa Matos||Guthrie Racing|
|2006 Race #1||Rafa Matos||Guthrie Racing|
|2005||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport|
Winning the season opener.
In the 33 previous seasons of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires action, the winner of the first race of the year only won the championship on 13 occasions.
The winner of the 2018 Indy Lights scholarship, Patricio O’Ward was the first driver to win the title after visiting victory lane in the first race of the year.
|2002||A. J. Foyt, IV|
|2010||J. K. Vernay|
Since the introduction of the AER powered Dallara IL-15 four seasons ago, the winner of the first race has had an average championship finish of 4.0 and twice has finished outside of the top five in the title chase.
In 33 seasons of Indy Lights action, the average championship position of the season-opening race winner is 4.4, and that winner has finished tenth or worse on five occasions.
Junior Strous, who won the first race of the 2009 season in St. Petersburg, Fla. only took part in one-third of the races that year and has the ‘distinction’ of being the lowest finishing driver to win the opening race. The Dutch driver ended up in 20th spot.
Does previous experience matter?
The 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season-opening event features ten entries with three veterans and seven rookies.
The three veterans in the field are representing three different teams and combined, Dalton Kellett (53), Zachary Claman (34) and Ryan Norman (34) have 121 Indy Lights starts. That number is equivalent to seven seasons of experience.
History tells us that a rookie has a slightly less than 40% chance of winning the scholarship for three NTT IndyCar Series races including the Indianapolis 500.
In 33 previous seasons, true rookies (drivers with no previous Indy Lights experience) have won the title on 13 occasions. The last true rookie to win the championship was Spencer Pigot in 2015. (Note – Patricio O’Ward was considered a rookie in 2018, but had competed in four previous Indy Lights races.)
However, that number doesn’t tell the entire story.
Championship Auto Racing Teams sanctioned the Indy Lights Series for 16 seasons, and in that era, only four rookies won the championship, giving rookie 25% title-winning percentage.
In 17 years of INDYCAR sanction that began in 2002 over 50% (nine times) of the titles have been won by rookies.
Race weekend basics
Race name: Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented By Cooper Tire
Race #1 length: 35 laps or 55 minutes
Race #2 length: 40 laps or 55 minutes
Each entry can utilize four new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from the test at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Each driver will have 20 activations of the 50 horsepower push to pass (PTP), with each activation lasting 10 seconds
PTP is not functional during starts and restarts, and a driver must be within 1.5 seconds of the car ahead of them for the system to become active
Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty
Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty
Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap
Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and they will not be able to leave pit road for the remainder of the session
Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, and to the driver who leads the most laps – note that no point is given for the quickest race lap because of the use of PTP
Watch the 2018 races
- More than half of the NTT IndyCar Series entries this weekend are Indy Lights alumni. That list includes Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Matheus Leist, Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach.
- Patricio O’Ward set the qualifying (65.0392 seconds) track record in 2018 and Colton Herta set the race (65.4946 seconds) track record in 2018.
- There are no previous Indy Pro 2000 race winners or pole sitters in the field this year.
- The last time that the same team won both races was in 2015 when Carlin and Ed Jones took home the checkered flag in the first two races of the IL-15 era.
- Andretti Autosport leads in poles won (seven) and laps led (273) at St. Petersburg. However, the team trails Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in trips to victory lane (seven to five) and podiums stood on (18-12)
- The team with the most podiums at St. Petersburg during the four seasons of Dallara IL-15 competition is Belardi Auto Racing. Three of those podiums came in the form of victories by drivers Felix Rosenqvist, Aaron Telitz, and Santi Urrutia.
- Less than 50% of the pole sitters, ten in 22 races, on the Streets of St. Petersburg have won after starting on the inside of the front row. The average finishing position of the pole sitter in all 22 races is 4.0, and for the eight races with the Dallara IL-15, the average is almost twice as high at 2.1.
- Only three of the 22 Indy Lights races in St. Petersburg, Fla. have run caution free, including the first race in 2018, and eight times the caution flag has waved on the first lap, including the second race in 2018.
- Only three of the 22 Indy Lights races have run caution free, and there have been eight first lap cautions.
- Santi Urrutia’s 11.741 margin of victory is the largest at the event that has finished under green all but one time.
- Only one of 22 Indy Lights races on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit has finished under yellow.
2019 team-by-team and driver-by-driver season preview
When Patricio O’Ward clinched the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship at the Portland International Raceway he became the third Andretti Autosport driver to accomplish the feat and the first since J.R. Hildebrand in 2009.
The Indianapolis, Ind. based team was the dominant team in 2018, winning 14 of 17 races.
The team has had plenty of success in St. Petersburg, Fla. as well, winning five times with five different drivers. Marco Andretti won the first Indy Lights races on the street circuit in 2005, and he is joined by Colton Herta, Rafa Matos, Patricio O’Ward and Zach Veach as winners for the team at this event.
The team leads the way with seven poles, and 273 laps led and with 12 podiums, only trails Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The team will field three cars for the 2018 season.
Leading the charge is veteran Ryan Norman, the pilot of the EVO sponsored No. 48. The third-year driver that recently became a local after moving to Tampa, Fl. has made 34 Indy Lights starts over the past two years and has collected a win, a pole, and four podiums.
The 20-year-old, who is working with engineer Joe D’Agastino for the third straight year stood on his first Indy Lights podium in the second race in St. Petersburg, Fla. last year.
Norman, who had a good winter of testing and led the final preseason test at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this week, wouldn’t call himself the favorite for the title. Instead, he is taking a workmanlike race-by-race outlook on the upcoming season.
“I’m going race by race and try and try and get the best possible result that I can get every time,” explained Norman to TSO Ladder. “I definitely want race wins, and I’m shooting for podiums every single race. The goal is to stay consistent and be there at the end.”
Norman will also get a chance to help a pair of rookies get acclimated to the top rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
“I think for sure,” said Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport Chief Operating Officer when asked if Norman was ready to take on the role of team leader. “He won a race last year and finished last year on a high with pole position at Portland. Very much so.”
The first of Norman’s rookie teammates to sign on with the championship-winning team was New Yorker Robert Megennis, who can’t wait to get his fourth season of Road To Indy competition started.
“I’m so excited,” exclaimed the 18-year-old. “Testing has gone really well. The car is fun to drive. I’m so excited about everything in Indy Lights.”
Megennis will be behind the wheel of the No. 27 sponsored by CyberArk, Optiv, Palo Alto Networks, and SailPoint will be working experienced engineer Len Paskus.
The driver with one win and nine podiums in 47 Road To Indy starts has the distinction of driving four different cars in his four seasons. (Van Diemen USF2000, USF-17, PM-18 and IL-15)
Megennis and his fellow Andretti Autosport rookie teammate both finished their 2018 Indy Pro 2000 seasons on a high, tying for the second most points scored throughout the final five races.
Askew, the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner, will be taking part in his third Road To Indy season in as many years.
Askew, who worked with different engineers in his two previous Indy Lights test worked with Doug Zister, his engineer for the season for the first time during the Homestead-Miami Speedway test. Zister engineered Colton Herta to six wins the past two seasons and won the Indy Lights title with Josef Newgarden in 2011.
The 22-year-old Askew has started 30 Road To Indy races and has collected eight wins, 11 poles, 16 podiums, nine fastest race laps with only a single did not finish (DNF).
After spending two years as part of the Cape Motorsports family, Askew is comfortable with his move to the larger Andretti Autosport and compared the two organizations favorably.
It will be the same approach,” explained Askew when TSO Ladder asked if he’ll change his approach this year with a different team. “I feel I’m in a better position now than I have been in the past couple of years based on experience. Some people think maybe I should stay in Indy Pro 2000 for another year, but I think I’m more than ready to race this car.
“I think my environment now is amazing. The people here are very , and the environment is very positive.”
The 2019 campaign will also be the first time that Askew will have teammates that can push him, telling TSO Ladder:
“That’s something that I haven’t had in the past, a quick teammate. Nothing against Cape Motorsports, but it was just the situation we were in there. I do believe that those guys prepared me very well for this opportunity. The operation that they run and their work ethic and how they do things is pretty much spot on to how Andretti Autosport works.”
In four previous races on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, Askew has one win, one pole, three podiums and a worst finish of sixth.
Belardi Auto Racing
It’s been four seasons since Gabby Chaves won a championship for the Brownsburg, Ind. based Belardi Auto Racing, but stating that only tells part of the story.
Over those four seasons, the team’s pilots have won 13 races and finished second (Santi Urrutia – 2017), third (Urrutia – 2018) and fourth (Zach Veach – 2016).
The Brian Belardi owned, and John Brunner managed team has won one of the two races at the season opener each of the past three years and their seven podiums in the IL-15 era is the most of any team.
Zachary Claman, who had one win, four podiums, ten top-five finishes, and five fastest race laps while contesting the 2016 and 2017 seasons of Indy Lights will be back in the series with a singular objective.
“I’m excited to be back, and hopefully I can win the scholarship,” said the 20-year-old to TSO Ladder. “That’s the only goal. I’m definitely not coming back to finish second. I’m here to win, and that’s it.”
The Montreal, Quebec native has enjoyed working with the team so far, telling us:
“I really enjoy working with (engineer) Tim Neff. He’s won the championship a few times and worked with some good drivers. I’m still constantly learning stuff, even after being in IndyCar, and I’m going to improve throughout the year and put in a good enough effort to win.”
“ZCD,” who has dropped the DeMelo this year, has made four previous starts on the Streets surrounding the Albert Whited Airport with a best finish of seventh in 2017.
Lucas Kohl is a familiar face to Road To Indy fans, taking part in 44 USF2000 contests over the past three seasons.
Indy car veteran Roberto Moreno mentors the 20-year-old who understands that making the jump over Indy Pro 2000 to Indy Lights will be a tough one.
“To learn as much as I can,” said Kohl to TSO Ladder when asked what his expectations were for this year. “The team has a lot of experience, so they are really helping me with that transition. The car a lot more horsepower, so it’s a lot different to drive than the USF2000 car. The team has been really helping me make that transition smooth. The more time I get in the car, it’s going to get better and better, and I’m looking forward to the season.”
The Brazilian who calls Miami, Fla. home finished third in the USF2000 championship last year and has made six starts in St. Petersburg. His best finish was a third place in the second race of 2018.
After testing with Andretti Autosport over the off-season, Julien Falchero is joining Belardi Auto Racing for the 2019 season.
The 22-year-old has five seasons of racing experience in Europe including the last two in GP3 and will be working with experienced engineer Kent Boyer.
Falchero had the second quickest time in testing at Circuit of The Americas in February and ended this weeks test at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the third-best lap. The Valance, France native, is excited about making the move racing in the United States.
“I think already before the test at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) I was thinking about doing it,” explained Falchero about his move from Europe to the U.S.A. “When I saw the IndyCars and the atmosphere I decided this was the thing I wanted to do. I like everything. I like the car. The American spirit is great, and after COTA I decided I wanted to do this championship.”
Speedway, Ind. based Juncos Racing has won two of the last four Indy Lights championships and will field a car for the reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion for the second year in a row.
The Ricardo Juncos led team is still looking for their first win in the season opener but has shown pace on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit the past. Kyle Kaiser started on pole in 2016, and Kaiser along with Spencer Pigot have split four podiums.
In 30 races of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action, reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay), has ten wins, seven poles, 22 podiums and has finished with a top-five result in an astonishing 93% of his starts.
The 18-year-old recently won his second championship in six months, beating some of Europes best open wheel talent to win the F3 Asian Winter Series Championship.
The Hoofddorp, Netherlands driver is returning to Juncos Racing to fight for another championship after testing with Andretti Autosport and will be working with engineers Yancy Diotalevi and Juncos Racing technical director Ernie Gonella.
“It’s nice to be with the same team,” said VeeKay to TSO Ladder. “It’s the same way of working. It’s like coming home with these guys. It’s really nice to be with this team, and we can challenge for the championship this year.”
VeeKay has two wins, one pole and four podiums in four previous starts on the shores of Tampa Bay.
Dalton Kellett, who has three years of experience in Indy Lights was a late signee and with a strong engineering background and three straight Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval podiums, should be able to help the team move their technical program forward.
The Toronto, Ontario native, who lives in Indianapolis, Ind. has made 111 Road To Indy starts including 53 in Indy Lights will be working with the experienced Tom Brown as his race engineer.
The 26-year-old with a degree in engineering physics from prestigious Queen’s University is looking for more consistency this year, telling TSO Ladder:
“Hopefully my expectations and goals are within a reasonable line of each other. I expect to be consistent; I expect to be competitive and would like to win and be consistently in the top five and top three.”
Kellett has made 14 Road To Indy starts in St. Petersburg across USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights.
A chance meeting at a Las Vegas Nevada Starbucks has led BN Racing, driver David Malukas and the do-everything team manager, mechanic and engineer Bryn Nuttall from karts to Indy Lights in four years.
Malukas has three wins, four poles and seven podiums in 25 Road To Indy starts with Nuttall at his side the whole way.
“It’s big,” explained Malukas when asked how important it was to move up the ladder with Nuttall. “I started with Bryn in karting, and we’ve always had a connection. When you start that young, you have the jokes, and you have the inside language. It’s just good times.
“Even if we’re down and we’re slow, we still somehow make it fun and enjoyable and figure our way around it. I’ve tried other teams (at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and in Europe), and I never had that connection. I always felt a bit lost, like an introvert in the team and you have to make those connections again. To have a big connection with Bryn and the team, it makes a big difference.”
A Friday phone call led to Toby Sowery becoming the tenth Indy Lights entry for the Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented By Cooper Tire in a joint BN Racing/Team Pelfrey entry. For now, this is a one-off entry.
The 22-year-old has made four previous starts in the Road To Indy, two each in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000, including a pair of podiums in the later at Road America while driving for BN Racing earlier this year.
Sowery spent the majority of 2018 racing a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in International GT Open, but the Cambridge, England born driver has a ton of open-wheel experience, finishing winning a total of six times in the ultra-competitive BRDC British Formula # Championship finishing third and fourth in the 2015 and 2016 championship standings.
“It’s always nice to get a call,” said Sowery about this last minute opportunity. “Obviously, we’ve made a step up each time, so maybe next year (laughs) maybe you’ll see me in an IndyCar.”
When TSO asked Sowery what his goals were for this weekend he told us:
“Obviously, everything I do is to help the team but I have my ambitions as well, and I want the best results that I can get. It’s always tough limiting race expectations to reality. These boys have been testing. I’ve not been in any car since September, and the last single seater I drove was Indy Pro 2000 at Road America.”
Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- IndyCar Radio will have all of your Indy Lights action at IndyCar Race Control, indycarradio.com, the tune-in app and website, XM Channel 209, Sirius Channel 216, Web Channel 970, or the Sirius / XM app
- Indy Lights races will be available for view with the purchase in the USA with the purchase of the NBC Gold IndyCar Package
- Outside of the USA, you’ll be able to watch the Indy Lights races on all of the Road To Indy TV app delivery options, Indy Lights YouTube channel, and Road To Indy TV Facebook page
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
- please subscribe to the following YouTube channels: Road To Indy TV for a post-race weekend wrap-up show, and USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 for previous races.