By Steve Witich

It’s a rare occurrence that the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires, which is serving as the opening act for the Indianapolis 500 for the 17th time this year, do not bring the 100,000+ Carb Day fans to their feet.

Since Ed Carpenter’s dominating 13.952-second victory in the inaugural event in 2013, the average margin of victory of the ten races that have finished under green conditions has been 0.24227 seconds. And in four of the last six races, the margin that the winner crosses the line first has started with 0.0### seconds, and in three of those it was 0.00## seconds, including a scintillating win by Colton Herta in 2018

The top-three finishers will be fighting for an expanded prize package of $85,000 this year, including $50,000 to the winner.

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION ALERT – TSO Ladder is sponsoring a new award this year, the #TSO1ToGo Award, which will see the leader at the white flag receives a $500 prize.

Somewhat surprisingly, there have been no Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires winners become Indianapolis 500 Champions. This year, Ed Carpenter (2003), Josef Newgarden (2011), Jack Harvey (2015), Matheus Leist (2017) and Colton Herta (2018), all have the opportunity to become the first driver to win two different Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval races.

Previous Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires winners

Year Driver Team
2018 Colton Herta Andretti Steinbrenner Racing
2017 Matheus Leist Carlin
2016 Dean Stoneman Andretti Autosport
2015 Jack Harvey Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Gabby Chaves Belardi Auto Racing
2013 Peter Dempsey Belardi Auto Racing
2012 Esteban Guerrieri Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2011 Josef Newgarden Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2010 Wade Cunningham Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2009 Wade Cunningham Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2008 Dillon Battistini Panther Racing
2007 Alex Lloyd Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2006 Wade Cuningham Brian Stewart Racing
2005 Jaime Camara Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2004 Thiago Mederios Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2003 Ed Carpenter A.J. Foyt Racing

This year, 23 of the 33 qualified drivers for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge have Indy Lights experience, including series champions Kyle Kaiser (2017), Ed Jones (2016), Spencer Pigot (2015), Sage Karam (2013), Josef Newgarden (2011), J.R. Hildebrand (2009), Scott Dixon (2000), Oriol Servia (1999) and Tony Kanaan (1997).

Who and what we’re watching

Starting on pole

Before 2010, six of the seven Freedom 100 winners started from the pole. Since that time, only Matheus Leist, in 2017 has won from the inside of the front row.

Over those nine years, the average starting position of the winner is 4.88. Esteban Guerrieri, who took the lead on lap 37 after starting 18th. Last year, eventual winner Colton Herta started sixth and led six times on the way to victory.

Finding pace

Juncos Racing has been missing some pace on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval the past two years, but they should be better this year. TSO has heard that they found something from the Speedway team’s thrash to make the Indianapolis 500 that will transfer to their Lights program. Adding Dalton Kellett, who had three straight Freedom 100s with the quick Andretti Autosport can’t hurt either.

The veterans

The only Indy Lights oval winner in the field is Ryan Norman, who bested the second row Indianapolis 500 starter Colton Herta in an exciting Indy Lights race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. The 21-year-old ended Monday’s test with the third best speed and a win would help him get his season back on track.

“I think so,” answered Ryan Norman when TSO Ladder asked him if this was where he gets his season back on track. “We’ve had some good qualifying runs. I had a good first race at Indy (road course). We have the speed; we just have to put it all together. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to do that the first couple of race weekends, but we’re back on an oval. I was really fast in race trim and race set-up, and we have a very strong qualifying car.”

Dalton Kellett will be making his 15th Road To Indy and 10th Indy Lights oval start. The 26-year-old has three podiums in his three previous Freedom 100 starts and started from the pole last year.

We suspect there might be another veteran make an appearance on track in familiar colors tomorrow morning. Tuned in to find out who.

Indy Lights oval newbies

A pair of podiums and a lowest finish of sixth in his four previous Road To Indy ovals combined with his the fastest lap during Monday testing, make the New Yorker, one of the drivers to watch on Carb Day.

“It is just so much fun racing here,” said Megennis after his first taste of the iconic oval on Monday. “Today was everything I expected it to be, and more. Running flat out, going 200 mph, being two, three, four-wide: you don’t get that anywhere else. I ran a bunch in traffic to get used to it: There’s such a big draft here and it was a blast. Andretti Autosport gave me such a great car and we prepared so well in advance that we barely changed anything. It’s not the most important thing, to get P1 in testing, but it’s still a nice way to finish off before we come back on Thursday. I can’t thank all my partners enough for getting me out here!”

Only a single point separates Rinus VeeKay and Oliver Askew in the chase for the three-race NTT IndyCar Series scholarship, and both have one Road To Indy oval win in three starts.

Askew, who also had the quickest no-tow time in Monday’s test on the 2.5-mile oval, drove to victory lane in his first ever oval race, the USF2000 Freedom 75 at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2017.

The second quickest driver in Freedom 100 testing earlier this week, VeeKay won his last time out on oval at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

The 18-year-old is being mentored by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk and will have an experienced teammate to rely on for support as well.

Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) gets some advice from two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and countryman Arie Luyendyk (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“It’s great to have Dalton next to me,” said the Dutchman. “It’s the fourth time he’s driving here. He has a lot of experience on this track, with this car. He also knows what the Andretti cars do from the past years which gives us a good reference.”

Belardi Auto Racing rookie Lucas Kohl is making his fourth career oval start. His best effort was a fourth-place finish at Lucas Oil Raceway in the USF2000 Freedom 75 last year. The Brazilian ended Monday’s test with the seventh best time and looked comfortable while running in traffic.

David Malukas, who is making his first Indy Lights oval start and only his second Road To Indy oval start should take this year’s race as a learning opportunity.

“I am pretty excited to race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval,” expressed Malukas. “My goal is IndyCar and the Indy 500 so I will take it all in, learn and work towards the best result possible. We had a good test on Monday, as I was able to experience the car in traffic at nearly 200 miles per hour. Things happen pretty quick around here but I am a lot more comfortable now than I was at the beginning of the test.”

Oval newbies

Three drivers are making their first formula car oval starts.

Toby Sowery, who returns for the Freedom 100 with BN Racing/Team Pelfrey, will be making his first ever oval start. The 22-year-old got his first taste of turning left only during a successful test at 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway last week. Sowery completed 109 laps during Monday’s test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval ended the day with the sixth fastest lap.

On the other end of the spectrum regarding oval starts is Chris Windom, the pilot of the NOS Energy Drink sponsored No. 17 AER/Dallara IL-15 from the Belardi Auto Racing / Jonathan Byrd’s Racing stable.

The 28-year-old has made thousands of open wheel starts on dirt (and pavement), winning the USAC Silver Crown Championship in 2016 and the USAC National Sprint Car Championship the year before that. Also on Windom’s resume are a pair of pavement sprint car wins in the prestigious Little 500.

Windom was set to make his Indy Lights debut last year, but a crash during testing put those plans on hold.

Jarett Andretti, the seventh driver with that famous last name to contest a race on the historic oval, The 26-year-old’s father John has always wanted to see his son race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his godfather Michael Andretti is making that happen.

Andretti began racing midgets, sprint cars, and modifieds in 2011, racing in high school and while completing his degree at N.C. State. The Indianapolis, Ind. born driver added sports cars to his resume last year, and is currently driving a McLaren 570S GT4 in the Blancpain GT World Challenge America GT4 series.

Andretti did test a USF2000 car with Andretti Autosport, but is was seven-years ago on the road course at Putnam Park in Greencastle, Ind.

“It’s hard to put into words exactly what this means,” said Andretti after Monday’s test. “You take a glance at the Pagoda, and you start to take it in. The only other time a track has hit me like that was in the 24 Hours of Daytona when I saw the Ferris wheel at 3 a.m.! You have to take in those moments and appreciate them. But this is totally different than any track I’ve ever been on. It was good to get the experience of running in traffic; getting better in that area will be one of the most important things. Now we’ll continue prep work, watch a lot of videos and prepare as much as I can.

The Championship

If the pattern from the first three Indy Lights weekends carries over to the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires, it will Oliver Askew’s turn to trade places with Rinus VeeKay at the top of the points table.

VeeKay outscored rival Askew in St. Petersburg, Fla., before the American turned the tables at Circuit of The Americas, outscoring the Dutchman by 20 points. VeeKay’s win and a third-place finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was a little better than Askew’s second and third place, giving the Juncos Racing driver a point lead headed to the marquee event of the season.

Lurking just behind the two leaders is fellow rookie Robert Megennis, who had outscored one of his two rivals in each of the last two race events.

Zachary Claman currently sits fourth but has suspended his season.

BN Racing’s Toby Sowery and David Malukas, along with Andretti Autosport veteran Ryan Norman are not out of contention but will need a strong effort in the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires to kickstart a comeback.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points table after six rounds.

1 Rinus VeeKay – R 146
2 Oliver Askew – R 145 -1
3 Robert Megennis – R 125 -21
4 Zachary Claman 124 -22
5 Toby Sowery – R 110 -36
6 David Malukas – R 101 -45
7 Ryan Norman 89 -57
8 Lucas Kohl – R 77 -69
9 Dalton Kellett 75 -71
10 Julien Falchero – R 66 -80

While winning the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires does pay well, it most certainly doesn’t guarantee a driver will also win the season-long championship.

Only four of the 16 previous winners of the Freedom 100 have gone on to win the championship. Those drivers are: Gabby Chaves (2014), Josef Newgarden (2011), Alex Lloyd (2007), and Thiago Maderios (2004)

Thiago Medeiros celebrates winning the 2004 Freedom 100 (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Race #1



Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires schedule 

Thursday, May 23

  • 10am – 10:45am –> Practice
  • 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm –> Qualifying

Friday, May 24

  • 1pm –> 17th Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires (40 laps) –

You can watch the race live on NBCSN. Jake Query

Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action: