By Steve Wittich
The Indy Lights championship, the top level of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, returns to action in 2021 with a ten event/20 race schedule.
The season opens up on March 6 and 7, 2021, with a doubleheader on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Doubleheaders at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, The Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Road America, the Streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto, World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway, Portland International Raceway, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and a circuit to still be announced round out the series schedule.
The series returns to Belle Isle, a circuit that has played host to 10 previous Indy Lights races, including a win by Gustavo Yacaman in 2012, the last time the championship visited Detroit, Mich. Other Indy Lights winners on Belle Isle include Adrian Fernandez, Robbie Buhl and Tony Kanaan (twice).
The winner of the 2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship will take home a $1,289,425 scholarship for entry into at least three NTT INDYCAR® SERIES races, including the Indianapolis 500.
The schedule has one glaring omission, the fan-favorite Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires has been discontinued.
The 100-mile, the 40-lap race has been contested 17 times since the inaugural race in 2003. The first two Freedom 100 races were held in conjunction with Indianapolis 500 qualifying before the race became a Carb Day Tradition in 2005.
Per a tweet from Indy Lights, the decision was made by INDYCAR, which does own the top level of the Road To Indy.
When TSO Ladder reached out to IMS / INDYCAR / Penske Entertainment, we were given the following statement:
“Reserving the Month of May schedule for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES provides maximum flexibility to prioritize Indy 500 on-track activities. In 2020, we’ve learned this flexibility is key to ensure we’re able to successfully race the Indianapolis 500.”
Over half of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 field of 33 drivers had started at least one Freedom 100 before taking on the iconic 2.5-mile oval in an Indy car. The 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge field included Freedom 100 winners Ed Carpenter (2003), Josef Newgarden (2011), Jack Harvey (2015), Colton Herta (2018), and Oliver Askew (2019).
Current NTT INDYCAR® SERIES series rookie Oliver Askew beat his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman to the ‘Yard Of Bricks’ by a slim 0.0067-second margin in a 100-mile race that featured 12 official lead changes among four different drivers, and 134 official passes for position.
The Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires has had the two closest finishes in the 111-year history of the iconic 2.5-mile oval.
In 2013, current Road To Indy team owner Peter Dempsey crossed the finish line 0.0026 seconds ahead of Gabby Chaves in a four-wide finish that also included Indianapolis 500 starters Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz.
Three years later, Dean Stoneman edged Ed Jones, lowering the closest Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval finish to 0.0024 seconds.
You can watch that 2016 race here.
This story will be updated as we hear from more Indy Lights stakeholders.