In its various different iterations and sanctions, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series celebrated its 30th anniversary by crowning its 30th different champion when Ed Jones beat Santi Urrutia to the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship awarded to the series champion. Carlin is the 15th different team to house the winning driver in the top level Indy Car feeder series.
While most of the focus after Sunday’s season finale was on how Felix Serralles helped his teammate Jones win the championship, the focus really should be on how competitive and clean the racing was between the six drivers eligible for the championship after the Urrutia, Jones and Stoneman got their wrist slapped by Tony Cotman after a professional wrestling match broke out at Road America.
The final Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire 2016 points standings
|2||Santiago Urrutia – R||361|
|5||Dean Stoneman – R||316|
|7||Andre Negrao – R||268|
|9||Zachary Claman de Melo – R||209|
|10||Dalton Kellett – R||193|
|11||Neil Alberico – R||193|
|12||Felix Rosenqvist – R||185|
|15||Garett Grist – R||102|
|16||Scott Hargrove – R||93|
|18||Heamin Choi – R||40|
|20||James French – R||26|
|21||Davey Hamilton, Jr. – R||14|
The rule book, team orders and right vs. wrong.
Twenty-four hours have passed since Serralles pulled over just before Turn 3 on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, ensuring that his Carlin teammate was able to earn the two points necessary to beat Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian’s Santiago Urrutia to the championship, it’s time to take a closer look at Serralles’ contentious action.
Looking at the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire rule book leads us to the following rule:
9.3.4. Team Tactics and/or Team Orders – Team tactics and/or Team Orders are actions or omissions by one or more Members to artificially influence, affect, alter, and/or otherwise interfere with the normal course of an on-Track Event. Team Tactics and/or Team Orders are not permitted. If Officials determine one or more Members attempted to or engaged in Team Tactics and/or Team Orders, Officials may issue a penalty to any or all of the Members, including without limitation any or all of a Team’s Car/Driver combinations.
So what does this rule actually mean? The way this rule is interpreted as it was was described to TSO by a senior MRTI official is that you need to focus on the phrase “the normal course of an on-Track Event,” and that the transgression must impact all of the competitors of the race. Rule 9.3.4 was put in place after the 2014 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire finale where one team car stopped on track, causing a caution. This action was done to initiate a full-course caution and help a teammate catch-up to the back of the field and make up more positions under green flag conditions. The team tactic ended up working when the championship leader had a part fail on the restart and the chaser was able to move back through the bunched up field to score enough points to win the championship.
So what’s the difference between this and what occurred when Serralles moved aside to let his teammate by? The example from 2014 was deemed to interfere with the normal course of an an-Track Event, by impacting every other car on track. Yesterday’s move impacted only the two drivers involved and did not impact the normal course of the on-Track Event.
Even if you think that the above explanation is parsing words and dripping in semantics that could go both ways, we have to consider whether “team orders” were even given.
By listening to radio communications and talking to Carlin team principal Trevor Carlin, it becomes clear that Serralles was never directly ordered to pull over and let Jones by. Carlin admitted that it certainly wasn’t the way the team wanted to win their first Championship stateside, and that because Kaiser was clearly the class of the field on Saturday, they were hoping that the previous day’s race winner would be able to get around Urrutia for second.
When it became clear that Kaiser wasn’t going to be able to get by Urrutia, (Trevor) Carlin told TSO that he came on the radio and explained the Championship implications to Serralles, but never did he ask or tell the Puerto Rican driver to pull over and let Jones by. The decision to yield the spot to his teammate Jones was 100% a decision that was made by Serralles.
Right or wrong? It’s the same action that every other team principal, engineer or driver (outside of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) that TSO asked in the aftermath of the race would take.
This might not be a popular opinion among purists, but I (Steve) am 100% fine with the what and how the exchange of positions was handled.
Santiago Urrutia was clearly devastated after the race, and outside of an understandably dour mood on the race podium, the 20-year-old handled himself very professionally, taking care of all of his media duties before leaving the track.
Conversely, his 52-year-old team owner Sam Schmidt handled the loss with a lack of professionalism. Schmidt was seen having heated exchanges with Carlin team owner Trevor Carlin, series officials, and entitlement sponsors.
Joining Schmidt in the group that handled “Santi’s” loss poorly were the Uruguayan fans and media who hurled insults at Jones, Serralles and his Carlin team.
It is interesting to see the sour reaction from the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian camp, as Steve distinctly remembers RC Enerson remaining behind his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian championship contending teammate Jack Harvey, despite having a quicker car, in the first of two races during the finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2015.
You can check the sector times for yourself —> Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented By Cooper Tires Race 1 Section Data Report. http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/3384/2015-09-12/indylights-sectionresults-r1.pdf
Carlin’s deep history
When Ed Jones joins the Verizon IndyCar Series grid in 2016, he will join a long list of Carlin alumni currently contesting open wheel racing’s most diverse series.
Mikhail Aleshin (Formula Renault 3.5, GP3 and GP2), Max Chilton (British F3, GP2, Indy Lights), Conor Daly (GP3), Charlie Kimball (British F3), Josef Newgarden (GP3), Will Power (Formula Renault 3.5), Graham Rahal (A1GP, as Team Lebanon), and Takuma Sato (British F3) have all driven for the European open wheel powerhouse with Aleshin (Formula Renault 3.5) and Sato (British F3) winning championships for the Farnham, United Kingdom based team.
Trevor Carlin started his eponymous team in 1996 after first managing Bowman Racing and West Surrey before entering Carlin in the 1997 British Formula 3 Championship with Jamie Spence and Henry Stanton. It didn’t take long for the team to win it’s first of 14 driver’s championships when current A.J. Foyt Racing driver Sato, won 12 races on the the way to a dominating 2001 British Formula 3 title. The team has won nine British Formula 3 Championships, two Formula Renault 3.5 Series Championships, one GP3 Championship, one MSA Formula Championship and now one Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire Championship. The team also currently leads the 2016 F4 British Championship with Britsh teenager Max Fertwell.
Does Ed Jones winning the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship help propel Carlin’s much discussed jump to IndyCar? Well, it certainly can’t hurt.
Tony DiZinno of NBC Sports talked to Trevor Carlin before the “Soul Red Finale” weekend began at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and while Carlin was hesitant to confirm a 2017 jump up to IndyCar, but Carlin also didn’t close the door to the option depending on how things shake out in the next couple of months.
In addition to Jones winning the driver’s championship, Carlin also won the 2016 Indy Lights Team Championship, beating Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian by 29 points (413-384)
A nice recovery for Andretti Autosport
After a difficult season as a one-car team in 2015, Andretti Autosport added Pro Mazda grad Dalton Kellett & veteran European driver Dean Stoneman to returnee Shelby Blackstock to mount a three-car attack on the 2016 Indy Lights campaign.
The Indianapolis, Indiana-based team struggled with overall pace for a large portion of the IL-15’s debut season, and Blackstock finished the year in the second-to-last spot in the championship.
Even though the deal was late coming together, it was clear form the first green flag at St. Petersburg, that Formula 2 champ, GP3 vice-champ and cancer survivor Dean Stoneman would help move the team forward.
“Having a driver such as Dean helped to give us a benchmark for the team and for the other drivers,” explained Rob Edwards (Andretti Autosport Director of Engineering and Race Operations) to TSO Ladder. “As a single car with a rookie driver in 2015 it was hard to have that benchmark. With multiple drivers, one of them quite experienced, the team was able to grow and develop more effectively.”
Kellett was announced as returning to the team for another season, and while I’m sure the team would love to have Stoneman and Blackstock back, that duo is rumored to be pursuing Verizon IndyCar Series seats. However, according to Edwards, the team would like to have at least three cars, and possibly four cars in 2017.
“We would like to run four cars!”, exclaimed Edwards. “Certainly we would like to run at least three, we are close to finalizing our second car and are working on the third.”
Juncos Racing team principal Ricardo Juncos, has recently purchased an IL-15 that was available on the open market. The team’s new building in downtown Speedway, Indiana is on schedule to open later this fall with construction due to finish soon and TSO would not be surprised to see the team add a third Indy Lights car.
Rookie Zachary Claman de Melo does have a contract for a second year, and Nicolas Dapero, a Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire winner from this weekend will be joining the team for testing during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October.
Belardi Auto Racing
Belardi Auto Racing was known to have hosted one of the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire drivers for a weekend with the team at Watkins Glen International. The TSO Ladder expects the Brownsburg, Indiana-based team that won the most races as team this year to return with a two car full-time effort. The experienced and successful engineering duo of Kent Boyer and Len Paskus, combined with the “just get it done” attitude of veteran team manager John Brunner make the Brian Belardi-owned squad an attractive landing spot for any driver.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian
Earlier in the year, the TSO Ladder had been hearing that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian were considering shuttering their successful seven championship winning Indy Lights program. Thankfully, that talk has died down recently and it appears that the team that that would be entering its 17th consecutive Indy Lights season in 2017 will return with at least two cars.
Carlin is expanding their American program to include USF2000, with one driver already signed and a second to be announced very soon. The chatter about Carlin joining the IndyCar Series in 2017 has also picked up again recently. It would be surprising to see Carlin run anything less than three cars again, and winning the 2016 driver and team championship will only make them a more attractive landing spot.
The integration of the former 8Star Motorsports Indy Lights program into the Team Pelfrey family wasn’t exactly the smoothest. However, the Gary Neal-led Indy Lights portion of the team now has closer ties to the F1600 Formula F Championship Series, Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda, and Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire parts of the team and TSO wouldn’t be surprised to see drivers fed from one step of the ladder to another.
Some interesting stats
Steve keeps a database of all kinds of useless stats that don’t mean a whole lot. Here are some that he found most interesting.
- Total race laps: 716
- Total race miles: 1417.8
- Total cautions: 17
- Most cautions: 4 at the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval
- Fewest cautions: 0 a total of seven times
- Total caution laps: 39
- Most caution laps: 10 at the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Fewest caution laps: 0 a total of seven times
- Lead changes: 15
- Most lead changes: 3 at the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America race #2 and the Iowa Speedway oval
- Average race speed: 110.70mph
- Fastest average race speed: Iowa Speedway at 154.396mph
- Slowest average race speed: Toronto race #1 at 82.626mph
Top five in points in the final 10 races since leaving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
- Zach Veach —> 218
- Santiago Urrutia —> 215
- Kyle Kaiser —> 190
- Ed Jones —> 178
- Andre Negrao —> 175
Top five in points on the 11 natural terrain road courses
- Santiago Urrutia —> 253
- Ed Jones —> 233
- Zach Veach —> 226
- Dean Stoneman —> 197
- Kyle Kaiser —> 189
Top five in points in the four street course races
- Felix Rosenqvist —> 112
- Kyle Kaiser —> 92
- Felix Serralles —> 86
- Andre Negrao —> 67
- Santiago Urrutia —> 65
Top five in points in the three oval races
- Ed Jones —> 73
- Dean Stoneman —> 67
- Felix Serralles —> 59
- Kyle Kaiser —> 53
- Zach Veach —> 50
So what can we take away from the above points breakouts? Drivers are often impacted by things outside of their control, so looking at stats, isn’t the end all and be all, but it does provide a decent big picture view.
The two things that TSO takes away from the above points breakdowns is:
- Kyle Kaiser, who finished third in the championship is an extremely diverse driver. The 20 year-old Juncos Racing sophomore was the only driver to finish in the top five in points in all three disciplines that Indy Lights visits
- With the addition of Gateway Motorsports Park to the schedule, oval races are becoming a larger part of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship and his improvement on ovals in 2016 should bode well for him as he moves up the final step of the ladder.
- Belardi Auto Racing —> 6
- Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian —> 4
- Carlin —> 4
- Andretti Autosport —> 2
- Juncos Racing —> 2
- Carlin —> 8
- Belardi Auto Racing —> 4
- Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian —> 3
- Juncos Racing —> 3
- Carlin —> 13
- Schmidt Peterson Motorsports —> 13
- Belardi Auto Racing —> 11
- Juncos Racing —> 8
- Andretti Autosport —> 8
- Team Pelfrey —> 1