By Patrick Stephan
Before we get to the practice session, here are some notes from the media bullpen earlier today where I got to talk to some of the drivers.
Chatted with Matthew Brabham, who is currently 2nd in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points, 108 behind Linus Lundqvist with three races to go (1 here, 2 at Laguna Seca). Brabham won the first race of the year at St. Pete and the most recent at WWT Raceway at Gateway.
28 years old, Brabham is still doing whatever he can to get in to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full-time. In 2016 he made 2 starts, running the Indy GP and the Indy 500, finishing 16th and 22nd respectively, finishing all but one lap in the 500.
Brabham told me he is actively talking to teams and sponsors with his #1 priority being the top series, even if only for a few races. He is willing to do another year of Indy Lights if that option is there. Having talked to Brabham for pushing a decade now, his main concern has always been to go fast in anything he’s been given – including things like the Stadium Super Truck Series where he’s been their champion three times (2018, 2019, and 2021) with 24 wins.
Brabham said that those recent wins back in open wheel racing are helping to show teams and sponsors that he is ready to go Indycar racing, but nothing is set yet for 2023.
A driver is that is set for 2023 is Hunter McElrea who will return to Andretti Autosport for a second year of Indy Lights competition. McElrea is one point behind Brabham, so third in the title fight, with 2 wins and 3 poles this year. After a rough start to the season, McElrea has the most points since Detroit, which had him back in the title fight for a bit, but now he can look forward to finishing strong and getting ready for 2023.
McElrea told TSO that he just put too much pressure on himself early in the year and that lead to mistakes. Now that he is focusing on having fun, the results are coming and he will go in to 2023 much more refined. He also noted there aren’t a ton of NTT INDYCAR Series opportunities available for 2023 so he’s looking forward to making his debut in 2024.
“I don’t want to go to Indy car half cooked, so another year of Lights will be good for me,” he said.
While he expects to fight for the title next year, he also knows there will be a lot of good guys in Lights, including some very strong drivers from Indy Pro 2000 that will be moving up.
Making his Indy Lights debut this weekend is Flinn Lazier, the 23 year old son of 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier, and grandson of Bob Lazier. Flinn has been racing mostly in SCCA Formula Atlantic and working to put together a program to get to Indy Lights.
After graduating from the University of Denver a year ago, Flinn has been working at the family’s hotel (the Tivoli Lodge) in Vail, Colorado.
This deal came together just a couple weeks ago and Flinn said his plan for this race and next weekend at Laguna Seca is just to learn as much as he can. And for the record, like his father and grandfather Flinn is a skier. (I’m personally a snowboarder that goes to Vail a few times a year, so of course I had to ask how he preferred to get down the mountain).
The lone practice session today for Indy Lights got started at 1:25pm Pacific Time with the air temp at 82F and the track at 112.3F. Scheduled for 50 minutes, most of the field went out and started turning some laps as soon as the track went green.
The exception was point leader Linus Lundqvist who was still on pit lane 12 minutes in to the session.
Christian Rasmussen was leading at this point with a best of 1:05.4082, though as soon as I typed that, Jacob Abel moved to the top spot at 1:05.3040, that too was quickly bettered by Sting Ray Robb with a 1:05.2840.
With 35 minutes to go, Hunter McElrea missed Turn 1 by a lot, and to quote Nick Yeoman on INDYCAR Live! he “blasted through the signs,” as he didn’t even try to make the first right hand portion of the front stretch chicane. McElrea was able to drive his car back around to the pits, but we went red so the AMR INDYCAR Safety team could reset the signs and cones.
Under the red, Matthew Brabham was now P1 at 1:05.1334, followed by Sting Ray Robb, Jacob Abel, Christian Rasmussen, and Danial Frost. They were followed by McElrea, Bogle, Lazier, Simpson, Francis, Jr., and Pedersen.
Back to green Pedersen would move to P1 heading in to the final third of the session, followed by Brabham, Lundqvist, Robb and Rasmussen. Yes, Lundqvist did get out and start turning laps with about 15 minutes to run.
For comparison, with 12 minutes to go, Lundqvist had 4 laps completed to Jacob Abels 25 laps. The only other driver in single digits was McElrea as his car still being looked over after he hit the signs (and sand bags) earlier in the session.
And with 10 minutes to go, Benjamin Pedersen was still up front at 1:04.4820, the only driver in the 1:04’s. Brabham, Lundqvist, Robb, and Rasmussen follow. Kyffin Simpson moved up to 6th, then Abel, Bogle, Lazier, Frost, Francis, Jr., and McElrea.
Unfortunately, timing and scoring seemed to freeze up on me and others at this point, so I couldn’t follow along with changes over the last few minutes of the session.
I can say that several drivers got in some quick laps at the end with Pedersen still leading, but Lundqvist, Brabham, Bogle, Robb, Abel and Simpson all getting in to the 1:04’s. Rasmussen, Lazier, Frost, Francis, Jr., and McElrea followed.
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||BEST TIME||DIFF||BEST LAP||TOTAL LAPS|
|5||2||Sting Ray Robb||01:04.7967||0.3147||26||27|
|11||99||Ernie Francis Jr.||01:05.2331||0.7511||19||27|