By Steve Wittich:
If you are looking for diversity in your racing, then the upcoming Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire at Phoenix International Raceway should have no problem grabbing and holding your attention. The 16 car field includes: six teams, nine drivers with previous Indy Lights experience, seven rookies, six Americans, three Canadians, one Brazilian, one Briton, one Colombian, one Emirati, one Korean, one Swede, and one Uruguayan.
Headlining for the returnees are 2015 race winners Felix Serralles (Carlin), RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), and Ed Jones (Carlin), who will be rejoined in the series by three-time Indy Lights race winner Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing).
Starring for the newbies will be reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champ Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), reigning FIA Formula 3 champ Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing), 2014 GP3 vice-champ Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport) and 2015 Pro Mazda vice-champ Neil Alberico (Carlin).
The top rung of the American open wheel ladder, whether it was known as the American Racing Series, Dayton Indy Lights, Firestone Indy Lights or the Infiniti Pro Series, will be making it’s 15th appearance on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval in April.
With two wins each, a pair of Canadians share the record for most Indy Lights victories at Phoenix International Raceway. “Snow-birds” Paul Tracy and Greg Moore stood on the top step of the podium in four of the eight races held between 1988 and 1995.
Other notable winners include Steve Millen, Jeff Andretti, brothers Mike & Robby Groff and Adrian Fernandez.
The current track record of 157.295mph was set by Greg Moore in qualifying in 1995. However, the track underwent a reconfiguration in 2011, so the speeds set at this test will likely not be representative.
What TSO is watching for:
- The initial reaction of oval newbies. Some love the speed and thrill right out of the box, some hate it and never adapt, and others dislike it initially but learn how to appreciate the intricacies of oval racing.
- How close to the edge teams and drivers are willing to go. The Indy Lights Series did test on the oval at the Homestead-Miami Speedway prior to the 2015 season, but it’s doubtful that teams pushed the envelope. Combine the fact that the series did not race on the 1.5 mile oval with teams and drivers just getting accustomed to the Mazda/Dallara/Cooper combination on the IL-15 and you had an incident free event. Phoenix could be a completely different animal with much higher stakes, as the series returns to Avondale, Arizona for the third round of the championship.
- How adding extra cars impacts Andretti Autosport. It’s no secret that driver Shelby Blackstock and the Indianapolis based squad struggled at times in 2015, but the addition of two extra cars should help the team move forward substantially in 2016.
- Who asserts themselves in the “team leader” roles at the multi-car teams. Especially interesting to watch will be: a) the relationship between former F3 rivals Felix Serralles and Ed Jones at Carlin and b) the bond (or lack there of) between drivers from two diametrically opposed racing backgrounds (Zach Veach from the Mazda Road To Indy and Felix Rosenqvist from the European FIA ladder) at Belardi Auto Racing.
- Where Team Pelfrey slots in on a short oval. The former group from 8Star Motorsports will make up the heart of the Pelfrey Indy Lights program and only ran one oval race in 2015, the Freedom 100. The team features veteran open wheelers Gary Neal (Team Manager) and Yves Touron (engineer), so it shouldn’t take them too long to get up to speed.
- 9am-9:05am —> install lap – all cars
- 9:05am-9:45am —> testing – rookies only
- 10am-10:10am —> testing veterans only
- 10:10am-noon —> testing – all cars
- noon-1:30pm —> lunch break
- 1:30pm-5pm—> testing – all cars
|2||Juan Piedrahita||23||Bogota, Colombia||Indianapolis, IN||Team Pelfrey|
|3||Scott Hargrove||21||Vancouver, British Colombia||Surrey, British Colombia||Team Pelfrey|
|4||Felix Serralles||23||Ponce, Puerto Rico||Atlanta, GA||Belardi Auto Racing|
|5||Zach Veach||21||Stockdale, Ohio||Zionsville, IN||Belardi Auto Racing|
|7||RC Enerson||18||New Port Richey, FL||New Port Richey, FL||SPM with Curb-Agajanian|
|11||Ed Jones||21||Dubai, UAE||Dubai, UAE||Carlin|
|13||Zachary Claman DeMelo||17||Montreal, Quebec||Montreal Quebec||Juncos Racing|
|14||Felix Rosenqvist||24||Värnamo, Sweden||Värnamo, Sweden||Belardi Auto Racing|
|17||André Negrão||23||Campinas, Brazil||São Paulo, Brazi||SPM with Curb-Agajanian|
|18||Kyle Kaiser||19||Santa Clara, CA||Santa Clara, CA||Juncos Racing|
|22||Neil Alberico||23||Los Gatos, CA||San Clemente, CA||Carlin|
|27||Dean Stoneman||25||Croydon, England||Southhampton, England||Andretti Autosport|
|28||Dalton Kellett||22||Toronto, Ontario||Indianapolis, IN||Andretti Autosport|
|51||Shelby Blackstock||26||Nashville, TN||Cornelius, NC||Andretti Autosport|
|55||Santiago Urrutia||19||Montevideo, Uruguay||Miguelete, Uruguay||SPM with Curb-Agajanian|
|77||Heamin Choi||32||Busan, Korea||New York, NY||SPM with Curb-Agajanian|
Timing and scoring will be available at:
The only previous Indy Lights race that is currently posted on You Tube is the 1988 CART sanctioned American Racing Series contest, which featured Paul Tracy’s first of 10 career Indy Lights wins. Bobby Rahal was the analyst for the race.