By Steve Wittich
The premier junior open-wheel series in North America, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship, will be racing on the shores of Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Fla. (St. Pete) for the 25th and 26th time.
Andretti Autosport with Marco Andretti won the first time the series visited the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in 2005. Andretti Autosport’s win was the first of the squad’s five Indy Lights wins in St. Pete. Other active Indy Lights teams with wins at this event are Carlin (three) and Juncos Racing (one).
Current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers with Indy Lights wins at St. Pete include Rinus VeeKay (2019), Pato O’Ward (2018), Felix Rosenqvist (2016), Ed Jones (2015) and Josef Newgarden (2011).
Indy Lights race winners in St. Petersburg, Fla.
|2019 Race #2||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing|
|2019 Race #1||Zachary Claman||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2018 Race #2||Santi Urrutia||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2018 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2017 Race #2||Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport|
|2017 Race #1||Aaron Telitz||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2016 Race #2||Felix Rosenqvist||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2016 Race #1||Felix Serralles||Carlin|
|2015 Race #2||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2015 Race #1||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2014||Zach Veach||Andretti Autosport|
|2013||Jack Hawksworth||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2012||Tristan Vautier||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2011||Josef Newgarden||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2010||JK Vernay||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2009 Race #2||Junior Strous||Winners Circle Group|
|2009 Race #1||Junior Strous||Winners Circle Group|
|2008 Race #2||Richard Antinucci||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2008 Race #1||Rafa Matos||Andretti Autosport|
|2007 Race #2||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2007 Race #1||Alex Lloyd||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2006 Race #2||Rafa Matos||Guthrie Racing|
|2006 Race #1||Rafa Matos||Guthrie Racing|
|2005||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport|
Can Kirkwood recover?
The race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park was a new experience for 2018 USF2000 and 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood. The Jupiter, Fla. native, finished ninth on Saturday and fifth on Sunday.
“It was a tough weekend for the Andretti Autosport team as a whole,” said Kirkwood. “We played a lot of catch up but I was really proud of where we got the car compared to where we started. By race time, we were super fast but qualifying meant everything at Barber, especially without Push To Pass for that event. The positives to take away are that we got some points on the board, the team worked fantastically together to get us in contention and we learned a lot to take to the next events with race situations and car setup.”
The season-opening event is the first time in his Road To Indy career that he did not stand on the podium in at least one of two races during a double or triple header race weekend, a string of 13 race events. In 19 previous Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires events, Kirkwood had only failed to reach the podium on one other occasion when he finished fourth in a single Indy Pro 2000 race on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval.
Delving even deeper into his career, Kirkwood had stood on the podium at least once in the last 25 double or triple headers he contested (in the U.S.A.). A streak dating back to an F4 United States Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017.
Speaking of Andretti Autosport
It was a forgettable weekend for the Andretti Autosport trio of Robert Megennis, Kyle Kirkwood, and Danial Frost. The team that has produced the last two Indy Lights champions and won 58 races in the series had an average finish of 8.7 at Barber Motorsports Park, and Kirkwood’s fifth-place finish in Sunday’s race was the best the squad could manage.
The team has five wins, eight poles, and 13 podiums in St. Petersburg, Fla., meaning they should be primed for a rebound.
The threesome of drivers has had past success on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
- Danial Frost has three podiums in four RTI appearances in St. Pete.
- Kyle Kirkwood has one win and two podiums in four RTI starts at St. Pete.
- Robert Megennis has made eight previous RTI starts in St. Pete, winning once and standing on the podium three times.
No, we didn’t forget him.
Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco, unlike his teammates, had a strong Indy Lights debut at Barber Motorsports Park, gaining four spots in two races and twice finishing on the podium.
The Canadian also had consistent pace throughout the weekend, tying Kirkwood with the team’s best qualifying average (5.0) and the fastest lap of the race average (3.5).
“I’m really looking forward to heading back to St. Petersburg, said the Florida resident. “We were only there back in October last year for the Indy Pro 2000 final round, and I can’t wait to try the Indy Lights car there.
“I’ve been fortunate to race at some of the best street races in the world, including Macau and Pau. They present a huge challenge as you have to push hard, but there are huge consequences if you get it wrong.
“Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport has had great success here in the past and I’m looking forward to targeting more success for them this week.
“I’ve been reviewing videos from past races. I know Andretti has had strong cars there in past years with Pato (O’Ward), Colton (Herta), and Oliver (Askew). We have high expectations for the weekend and are really going to be able to take the fight to HMD (Motorsports).”
They have the momentum
The four-car effort from HMD Motorsports and Global Racing Group w/HMD have the momentum after a memorable weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Linus Lundqvist and David Malukas won races for the team that finished one-two on Saturday and Sunday.
Malukas, who won Sunday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park going away, should have tremendous confidence headed to St. Pete. The last time Indy Lights was on this track 13 months ago; he led the lone series practice session in 2020.
Lundqvist is not quite a stranger to street circuits. The Swede made a pair of 2019 Euroformula Open starts on the Circuit de Pau-Ville, a tricky street circuit in the southwest of France.
Their rookie teammate Benjamin Pedersen, who is fourth in the championship standings, will be seeing a street circuit for the first time.
The team did collect two Indy Lights podiums on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, with Toby Sowery behind the wheel in 2019.
A driver representing Belardi Auto Racing made four of the last seven trips to the Indy Lights victory lane. Sadly, the Brian Belardi team is no longer with us, but the team’s engineer Tim Neff is now with Juncos Racing. The experienced Indy Lights engineer was also part of seven Schmidt Peterson Motorsports wins on the circuit, making him a valuable asset for Juncos Racing and their two drivers.
The two drivers, Toby Sowery and Sting Ray Robb have also had success in St. Petersburg, Fla. Veteran Sowery stood on a pair of Indy Lights podiums in 2019, while rookie Robb has eight previous Indy Pro 2000 starts on the circuit. The 19-year-old has one win, two podiums, six top-fives, and has never finished worse than seventh.
Just over six years ago…
Carlin, a stalwart in the European Junior Formula scene, made their American debut in St. Petersburg, Fla., 316 weeks ago. And, what a debut it was.
The brilliant Carlin blue No. 11 of current Dale Coyne Racing With Vasser-Sullivan driver Ed Jones started on pole for the team’s first Indy Lights races, leading every lap and quickly letting the American racing scene that they had arrived.
Carlin’s complete results at St. Pete include three wins, two poles, four podiums, and 88 laps led.
The Delray Beach, Fla. led team returns to the gulf side of the Sunshine State and the track that hosted their first win with a pair of drivers.
Australian Alex Peroni had a solid start to the season, finishing fifth and sixth in the first two races of the season; he should be looking forward to his first American street circuit adventure.
The 21-year-old has made six previous street circuit starts in the Formula Renault category. His outstanding record in four starts on the tight Circuit de Pau-Ville street circuit and the iconic Circuit de Monaco include four wins, three poles, five podiums, and six top-five finishes.
Don’t be surprised to see Carlin and Peroni at the pointy end of the grid this weekend.
Who is INDYCAR bound?
With a scholarship valued at $1,289,425 and entry into at least three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, including the Indianapolis 500, it’s never too early to look at the championship standings.
With less than 10% of the season’s points handed out, we won’t put too much stock into the points, but we will remind you that the eventual champion won the season opener 38.2% of the 34 Indy Lights seasons. Only once, Jon Beekhuis in 1988, has the eventual champion failed to finish the first race of the season.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires 2021 championship standings after two races
|1||Linus Lundqvist – r||57|
|2||Devlin DeFrancesco – r||44|
|4||Benjamin Pedersen – r||39|
|6||Alex Peroni – r||32|
|7||Kyle Kirkwood – r||29|
|8||Sting Ray Robb – r||26|
|10||Danial Frost – r||23|
|11||Nikita Lastochkin – r||22|
|12||Christian Bogle – r||22|
|13||Antonio Serravalle – r||19|
- Kyle Kirkwood (USF2000 in 2018), Robert Megennis (USF2000 in 2017), and Sting Ray Robb (Indy Pro 2000) in 2020) are the drivers in the field with previous Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires wins in St. Pete.
- The race winner has started on the pole 11 times and on the front row 18 times (75%).
- The average starting position of the two-dozen previous race winners is 2.3. The average starting position of the ten race winners in the IL-15 era is 2.3.
- In 2016, Felix Serralles won from the inside of the fourth row, the furthest back a winner in St. Pete has started.
- Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has seven Indy Lights race wins in St. Pete, the most of any team.
- The average finishing position of the pole-sitter in 24 previous Indy Lights races in St. Pete is 4.2. In the IL-15 era, the average finishing position of the pole-sitter is 2.9.
- The pole-sitter has failed to start one race and was unable to finish four more.
- Eight different Andretti Autosport drivers have started from the pole in eight total races, the most inside front row start of any team.
- Nineteen different teams have sent drivers to the Indy Lights podium in St. Pete. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with 18 podiums, leads the way.
- Andretti Autosport drivers have led 274 laps in St. Pete, the most of any team.
- Nine of the 24 Indy Lights races have had a first lap caution, including the second race the last four years the series has visited.
- The first race of the weekend has run caution-free the last four years, the only caution-free Indy Lights races in St. Pete.
- Junior Strous crossed the finish line 0.443 seconds ahead of Sebastian Saavedra in Race #2 in 2009, the closest finish at this event.
Indy Lights weekend schedule – all times Eastern
- 10:25am – Indy Lights Practice #1
- 1:25pm – Indy Lights Qualifying #1
- 5:25pm – Indy Lights Qualifying #2
- 3:20pm – Indy Lights Race #1
- 10am – Indy Lights Race #2
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- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
A note about our presenting sponsor.
Once again, a huge thank you to Cooper Tires for coming back to be the presenting sponsor of TSO Ladder for the fourth season. Without them, we would not be able to bring you our extensive Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires coverage. If you require tires, I highly recommend them. Our family has the Discover ® AT3 4S on our SUV and CS5 Grand Touring on our car.