By Steve Wittich
A few more notes from the two-day Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires testing at Circuit of The Americas.
It’s only a test, but don’t think that ending up on top of the timesheets isn’t important to the teams and drivers.
Andretti Autosport Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards told TSO Ladder: “It’s always important. It’s all competition. You all want to be up there. Obviously, we had two exceptional drivers last year. I think to show the depth of the team, that we can bring new drivers in and basically pick up where we ended up last year is very important. It’s always important, that’s where you want to be.
The term tire degradation doesn’t just apply to the NTT IndyCar Series, the drivers from the Indy Lights series are also experiencing fairly significant fall off with their Cooper Tire rubber. Most drivers we chatted with told us that the tires start to fall off after three or four laps.
Reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Rinus VeeKay told us:
There is quite a bit of degradation. I don’t think there will be issues, but it will be necessary to manage. I think it will be hard for every driver to manage that. I think it will be extra fun.
Another common refrain is that even a small mistake, especially in a crucial corner, can quickly ruin a lap.
After the final session, Marco Andretti called Oliver Askew aside to counsel him.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Askew about the opportunity to race for Andretti Autosport. “Just walking into the shop you feel the amount of experience and passion that the team has for it. All of these guys and girls work really, really hard. It means a lot, and hopefully, I can represent them well.”
Veteran Dalton Kellett was using the No. 67 during the test. The 26-year-old told us that number was chosen because it’s the year that his primary sponsor, K-Line Companies, was founded. The company is in the very high voltage (think power lines) business was started by Kellett’s grandfather.
Indy Lights car count
The most common question we are asked about Indy Lights is: “how many cars will there be?” Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.
Seven of the drivers that are participating in the two-day test are signed for the 2019 season. That list includes Oliver Askew (Andretti Autosport), Zachary Claman (Belardi Auto Racing), Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing), David Malukas (BN Racing), Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport) and Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing),
Julien Falchero (Andretti Autosport), Dalton Kellett (Carlin) and Logan Sargeant (Carlin) are all “just” testing this week.
We talked to a team official from Carlin who told us that they are still evaluating an Indy Lights program for 2019 but made sure to emphasize that the team thinks it is essential to be a part of the series.
The last time we talked to Michael Andretti, he was reasonably confident they would have four cars.
When we asked Brian Belardi about a third car, he certainly wasn’t quick to say no. The veteran team owner did say that running a partial season with a third driver was a possibility.
Juncos Racing team owner Ricardo Juncos and BN Racing principal Bryn Nuttall both told TSO Ladder they would only be fielding a single Indy Lights car.
Larry Foyt told TSO that A.J. Foyt Racing was close to putting together an Indy Lights team, but ran out of time. The former “Road To Indy” driver did say that a ladder team is still something the team is interested in starting.
When we talked to Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt in October, he still wouldn’t rule out a return to the series where the Indianapolis based team made their name. However, the last IL-15 departed the shop and made its way to BN Racing.
We are also hearing rumors that another team might be joining the series for a limited schedule.
Where does that leave us?
Somewhere between 9 to 11 full-time entries and a few other drivers/teams contesting a few races.
Indy Lights are back on track (officially) on March 4, 2019, on the 2.21-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course before the season begins four days later in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Here are some pictures from testing at Circuit of The Americas.