Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire preview
There are six very hungry drivers who have three races left to sort out who will be the big winner of the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship and a partial season Verizon IndyCar Series ride.
With only 52 points separating the top six drivers and a scant 25 points separating the top 3, the pressure being felt by Santiago Urrutia, Ed Jones, Dean Stoneman, Felix Serralles, Kyle Kaiser, and Zach Veach is unimaginable.
Urrutia is the first to admit that he was inconsistent and somewhat erratic to start the season, but ever since the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie picked up his second avoidable contact penalty in the first race at Road America he has been on an incredible run.
“I can’t afford to make any mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning of the season that cost us a lot of points,” admitted Urrutia. “Ed Jones is very consistent, he’s always there so I have to be in a position to take points away from him.”
A five week, six race span of three wins and six top fives since the first race at Road America has put an IndyCar ride firmly within Urrutia’s crosshairs. The pilot of the Soul Red No. 55 clearly understands the magnitude of the next thee races, and is taking it one race at a time.
“Every race is going to feel like the final one of the season because the championship points are so close. We’re definitely going to fight to win and if we don’t win, or be on the podium at least so that we can take the maximum points and bring it on to Laguna Seca. Right now we have a 16-point lead so we have to make it a really good weekend to carry that advantage to the season finale weekend.”
Jones will hope that having the month off helps him regain his early season mojo. The Dubai, United Arab Emirates native strung together an impressive run of two wins, five podiums and seven top fours in the seven races between Phoenix and Road America race #2. However, in the last six races, Jones has only managed one podium (Iowa) and has an average finish of only 7.3.
“The championship is the goal, but I have to go very strong in the last three races,” said Jones. “If I can be the best in those races, that’s all I can control.
Since suffering from a mechanical issue in the first race at Barber Motorsports Park in April, Andretti Autosport’s Stoneman has been the most consistent driver in the series. In that eleven race span, the 25 year-old European veteran has two wins, seven podiums, nine top fives, 10 top 10s, and one finish of 14th when he did not start the second race in Toronto due to contaminated fuel. That equates to an average finish of 4.4, but, if you take away Toronto race #2 the Cancer survivor’s average finish falls to 3.3
Serralles, Kaiser, and Veach are currently sitting in spots four through six and with so many drivers to leap frog, they will likely need some help in the form of attrition from the top three to have a chance at taking home the big prize.
Serralles has been bit by an inconsistent streak all season, the Puerto Rico native has won two races, but also has four race results of 10th or worse.
Kaiser, who started the season with three straight podiums, led the championship after his win at Phoenix International Raceway, but since that early April race, the 20 year-old has only managed to stand on the podium three times (all third place finishes) in the following 12 races.
Belardi Auto Racing veteran Veach has also had a tale of two seasons. In the first eight races of the year, the 21 year-old could only manage an average finish of 8.1. Ever since the calendar turned to summer in June, the Zionsville, Indiana resident has one win, three podiums, five top fives, and seven top 10’s in a seven race span.
Since leaving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the “Month of May” behind, Urrutia has easily outscored his closest competitors. His 163 points since May are 55 points clear of second place Jones and 35 points clear of third place Stoneman.
Points scored since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire began their summer stretch at Road America in late June.
|1||Santiago Urrutia – R||163|
|3||Dean Stoneman – R||128|
|5||Andre Negrao – R||126|
|8||Zachary Claman de Melo – R||94|
|10||Neil Alberico – R||74|
|11||Dalton Kellett – R||73|
|12||Garett Grist – R||73|
|13||Felix Rosenqvist – R||65|
|15||James French – R||26|
|16||Heamin Choi – R||11|
Saturday’s race will be the 9th time that the Indy Lights series visits Watkins Glen International and the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Four previous winners of Indy Lights races at the 3.37 mile, 11-turn road course have gone on to win the championship. Alex Lloyd in 2007; Raphael Matos in 2008; J.R. Hildebrand in 2009; and JK Vernay in 2010.
Indy Lights winners at Watkins Glen International
|2010||J.K. Vernay||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2009||J.R. Hildebrand||Andretti Autosport|
|2008 Race #2||Raphael Matos||Andretti Autosport|
|2008 Race #1||Richard Antinucci||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2007 Race #2||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2007 Race #1||Wade Cunningham||Andretti Autosport|
|2006||Bobby Wilson||Ken Hardley Racing|
|2005||Jeff Simmons||Ken Hardley Racing|
How the championship contenders have fared in the eight previous natural terrain road course races.
The Indy Lights championship will be decided on two historic natural terrain road courses that are separated by almost 3000 miles. So far in 2016, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series has contested eight races on natural terrain road courses (two at Barber Motorsports Park, two at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two at Road America, and two at Road America)
Urrutia, the winner of the Mazda Scholarship for taking home the Pro Mazda crown in 2015, has won the last three road course races, and four of the eight. “Santi”, who just turned 20, also has two second place finishes, meaning the Uruguayan driver has stood on the podium in seven of eight natural terrain road course races.
Jones, who was also a championship contender in 2015, has two wins on natural terrain road courses, but the 21 year-old has only managed an average finish of 8.5 in the last four races at Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Stoneman is the third member of our championship trio and the Croydon, England native also has a road course win and a total six podiums in the eight road course races.
The top three in points have accounted for seven of eight victories on natural terrain road courses, and they are joined by Berardi Auto Racing’s Zach Veach, who scored at win at another historic road course, Road America.
Road course points scored by the 12 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire entrants at Watkins Glen International
|Rank||Driver||Road Course Points|
|1||Santiago Urrutia – R||201|
|2||Dean Stoneman – R||165|
|5||Andre Negrao – R||123|
|9||Zachary Claman de Melo||112|
Notes and other things we’ll be watching
- The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire teams and drivers tested at Watkins Glen International this past Tuesday. Times for the test were not official, but we’ve heard from a couple of sources that Urrutia, Jones, Stoneman and Veach were all within 0.1 seconds.
- We’ll be closely watching tire wear. We won’t delve too deeply into what we’ve heard since TSO has found differing opinions within the Indy Lights paddock on this subject, but don’t be surprised that the driver standing on the podium on Saturday afternoon is the one that did the best job of looking after their Cooper Tire slicks.
- Expect the Mazda powered IL-15 to set another track record. The track record for the 3.37 mile 11-turn Watkins Glen International road course is 1:36.7418, and was set by Wade Cunningham in qualifying on July 6, 2007. TSO was told that drivers were running over three seconds quicker then that during testing on Tuesday.
- TSO believes that Andre Negrao could play the spoiler in the championship fight. The GP2 veteran has three straight natural terrain road course podiums. With the way he’s driven lately, the 24 year-old Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pilot is due for a win. Negrao could be a strong asset to his SPM teammate Urrutia, by stealing points from the other championship contenders, but the hungry Brazilian could also play spoiler by taking away points from the championship leader.
Friday, September 2nd
|10am – 10:45am||Indy Lights practice #1|
|2:30pm – 3:15pm||Indy Lights practice #2|
Saturday, September 3rd
|10am – 10:45am||Indy Lights qualifying|
|1:35pm – 2:45pm||Indy Lights race|
Don’t miss any of the action
- live timing – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, & USF2000
- on twitter –Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, Cooper Tire, Mazda Racing and TSO Ladder
- via the Road To Indy TV app – Android or Apple iOS
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #MRTI hashtags
The race will air on NBCSN on Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 1pm (et) – right before the IndyCar race