The Indy Lights field on the front stretch of the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park street circuit the last time the series visited in 2012 – (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment)

By Steve Wittich

After a one month break, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series is back in action this weekend; heading north to the Motor City – Detroit, Mich., for the seventh and eighth rounds in the fight for the 2021 championship and the $1,289,425 scholarship that goes with the title.

It’s been almost a decade since the top rung of the Road To Indy joined their big brother, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, at the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park street circuit. The race will be the 11th contested on the island and the 14th in Motown.

The first Indy Lights winner in Detroit was Ted Prappas, who took victory in the first of three races held on the 2.5-mile downtown circuit. In 1992, the series moved with Indy car to Belle Isle, where Adrian Fernandez visited victory lane.

The circuit has had two double winners in its history. Steve Robertson won in 1993 and on the way to the Indy Lights crown in 1994. Two years later, Tony Kanaan won his first visit to Belle Isle, returning the following year to pip his fellow Brazilian and Tasman Motorsports teammate Helio Castroneves by 0.355 seconds on the way to a championship.

Only Robertson (1994) and Kanaan (1997), along with Eric Bachelart (1991), have won in Detroit, Mich., on the way to winning the Indy Lights championship.

Indy Lights winners at The Raceway On Belle Isle

2012 Gustavo Yacaman Team Moore
2000 Jonny Kane Team Green
1999 Derek Higgins Team Mexico Herdez
1998 Airton Dare Tasman Motorsports
1997 Tony Kanaan Tasman Motorsports
1996 Tony Kanaan Tasman Motorsports
1995 Robbie Buhl Dorricott Racing
1994 Steve Robertson Tasman Motorsports
1993 Steve Robertson Tasman Motorsports
1992 Adrian Fernandez John Martin Racing

Highlights from the last time Indy Lights visited Belle Isle


Indy Lights winners at the downtown Detroit street circuit

1991 Eric Bachelart Landford Racing
1990 Tommy Byrne Genoa Racing
1989 Ted Prappas Teamkar International

A clean sheet

Outside of simulators, none of the 13 entries for the pair of Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit Presented By Cooper Tires races has turned a wheel on Belle Isle.

A 9:50 am, 40-minute practice on Friday morning will be the first time the IL-15 will turn laps on the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park street circuit.

The only active Indy Lights team with any experience at this track is Andretti Autosport, who finished second with Carlos Munoz in 2012 behind the wheel of the old Indy Lights car.

Andretti Autosport, along with Carlin, have recent data from their NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams to help them roll off the transporters with a solid starting set-up.

“There are a lot of unknowns going into Detroit,” explained a race winner on the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla., Kyle Kirkwood. “It’s the first time any driver in our field has driven this street course, and it’s the first time the IL-15 has competed here.

“The fact that our Andretti Autosport Indy Lights crew can overlay the many years of experience the team has racing in Detroit in INDYCAR should give us an advantage. Regardless, it will be an extremely enjoyable weekend being right against the walls.”

Looking back at the last street course event, the third and fourth rounds of the season should give fans an idea of what drivers to keep an eye on. Kirkwood and points leader HMD Motorsports veteran David Malukas were the two winners in’ St. Pete.”

The five highest-scoring (points) drivers on the St. Petersburg street circuit were:

  1. Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport) – 57 points
  2. David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) – 54 points
  3. Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) – 44 points
  4. Linus Lundqvist (HMD Motorsports w/ Global Racing Group – 34 points
  5. Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport) – 33 points

The scholarship chase

With a $1,289,425 scholarship and at least three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, including a chance to qualify for the 106th Indianapolis 500 on the line, it’s never too early to start considering the title fight.

However, with less than 30% of the season’s possible points doled out and all 13 drivers within 100 points of the current championship leader, counting anybody out at this juncture of the campaign would be unwise.

Indy Lights points leader David Malukas in the HMD Trucking sponsored No. 79 leads an Indy Lights race on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Trailing Malukas by only 11 points headed to round seven and eight is his stablemate and double race winner Linus Lundqvist. The Swede, and defending Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered By Honda champion, believes that this will be one of the few races this season that he will be on equal footing, as far as track experience goes, with his competition.

“It’s basically a new track for everyone,” Lundqvist concludes. “I think that’s a positive for me. At most other tracks this year, I’m one of few rookies – as was the case in St. Pete, for example – but here, that disadvantage won’t be there. Having said that, it really doesn’t change anything in my own approach. I will take it session by session, do the best I can, and we’ll see where we end up.”

Interesting note: Lundqvist’s mentor Kenny Brack won a Barber Saab Pro race on Belle Isle in 1993; also making a pair of Indy car starts – a 24th in 2000 and a ninth in 2001 – at the track.

The 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion Kirkwood sits third on the championship table, 27 points in arrears of Malukas.

The Jupiter, Fla. native, has had a quick race pace all season, clocking the fastest lap of the race three times, but will need to improve his qualifying pace to keep up with his rivals. The 22-year-old started on the front row in the two previous street course races of the season and will look to repeat that this weekend.

Like the drivers below Malukas in the standing, Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) and Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) are looking for some consistency.

Juncos Racing and Toby Sowery have some momentum, coming off their best two races of the year. The sophomore Indy Lights driver just missed out on a win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and came to Detroit trailing his former teammate Malukas by 46 points.

Surprisingly, the team struggled for pace on the Streets Of St. Petersburg but has had two months to rectify that problem. Check back at 10:30 am and the end of the lone 40-minute practice to see if they made progress.

Don’t overlook Carlin and their rookie driver Alex Peroni. The championship-winning team and Aussie have been steadily progressing up the grid, scoring their first podium together the last time the series was on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Don’t forget that Peroni was stout on street circuits in Europe. The 21-year-old has made four Formula Renault starts on the tight Circuit de Pau-Ville street circuit, winning three of those races.

Alex Peroni on the top step of the podium after a win on the Pau Street Circuit in 2017 (Photo Courtesy of Alex Peroni)

Next, we have the drivers – DeFrancesco and Frost – in sixth and seventh on the points table. Both drivers have had one good weekend – DeFrancesco at Barber Motorsports Park and Frost at St. Petersburg – and two mediocre weekends. They aren’t out of contention yet but will need less mediocre events and more podiums.

“After Road America, we’ll be at the halfway point in the championship, so it will be important to get through the next two weekends with a strong points haul,” said the pilot of the PowerTap Hydrogen sponsored No. 17. “This championship is so competitive, and you have to be at the very top of your game every week.

“We’re going to be giving it everything in the next two weekends to ensure Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport is in a strong position as we reach the halfway point of the championship and the halfway point of the year.”

After a podium in his debut at Barber Motorsports Park, HMD Motorsports w/GRG rookie Benjamin Pedersen has been in learning mode. The 22-year-old Dane, who sits eighth on the points table, will only be making his second start on a street circuit. Finishing every lap, cutting down on errors, and nipping at top-fives should be the goal.

“The ultimate goal is the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but right now, I am racing and learning a lot in Indy Lights,” explained Pedersen. “It is a new car and a new program for me. I competed on my first ever street circuit and brought the car home in one piece. I had a podium result in my series debut, so it has been great. There have definitely been some down times, but if that did not happen in racing, you wouldn’t be trying.”

Andretti Autosport veteran Robert Megennis is currently ninth in points, but with a close battle mid-pack, is only 18 points behind Peroni in fifth. The Fordham University student will need a pair of podiums to move into a more comfortable championship position as the series reaches the halfway point of the season.

“I’m really excited heading into my first ever time at Detroit. I love new tracks. I love street circuits, and the track looks like an absolute blast to drive. I know we’ve figured a lot out since the Indy GP, and I think we’re going to have a great weekend with a lot more potential to be up front.”

Juncos Racing rookie and reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion Sting Ray Robb has not been happy with his results but is still only 28 points behind Peroni for fifth in the championship.

The two races at the first street circuit event of the year were the best of his rookie Indy Lights season – so far. From Payette, Idaho, Robb has been strong on street courses throughout his career, winning once and finishing in the top five on seven occasions.

The rookie trio of Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing), Nikita Lastochkin (HMD Motorsports), and Christian Bogle (Carlin) continue to make headway, steadily eating into the pace advantage their more experienced competitors started the season enjoying. The threesome has only one combined DNF and has completed 94% of their possible laps.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points table after six of 20 rounds.

1 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 151
2 Linus Lundqvist – r Global Racing Group w/HMD 140 11
3 Kyle Kirkwood – r Andretti Autosport 124 27
4 Toby Sowery Juncos Racing 105 46
5 Alex Peroni – r Carlin 101 50
6 Devlin DeFrancesco – r Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 99 52
7 Danial Frost – r Andretti Autosport 95 56
8 Benjamin Pedersen – r Global Racing Group w/HMD 88 63
9 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 83 68
10 Sting Ray Robb – r Juncos Racing 72 79
11 Antonio Serravalle – r Pserra Racing 64 87
12 Nikita Lastochkin – r HMD Motorsports 61 90
13 Christian Bogle – r Carlin 59 92

Notes, numerology, and more miscellany

  • Despite a month’s break in the schedule, most teams have kept busy with private testing. Groups of teams and drivers have tested at Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
  • Points leader David Malukas has now won the second race of the weekend at all three events this season. Going back to Indy Pro 2000, five of his six Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires wins have come in the second race of an event.
  • With the unfortunate cancellation of the Toronto, Ontario, these weekend races are the final two street circuit races of the 2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season.
  • Hometown hero Robbie Buhl won the 1995 race on Belle Isle, one of only two Indy Lights races in 1995 that Greg Moore didn’t win on the way to a dominant championship. Moore made up for it two years later, winning an Indy car race after starting the last lap in third place.
  • The track record, set in 2000, is old enough to go out for a Stroh’s. Jonny Kane, with a lap timed at 81.840 seconds, holds that record.

“I didn’t get a really good lap to be honest,” Kane said at the time. “The session was a bit messy with a lot of traffic around. I should have been able to go a couple of tenths quicker than that really. It will be a long race tomorrow and the important thing is to have a car that is consistent. I think we have that and hopefully we have enough speed that we will be able to pull away.”

  • All ten races on Belle Isle have had at least one caution. Half of those races have started with a first-lap caution.
  • Gustavo Yacaman beat Carlos Munoz to the line by only 0.164 seconds when Indy Lights visited Belle Isle, the closest finish on the island.

Gustavo Yacaman leads the Indy Lights race on Belle Isle in 2012 (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment)

Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit Presented by Cooper Tires (event in Detroit, Mich., is in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone)

  • includes local times for all of your favorite drivers

Eastern Daylight Time – Devlin DeFrancesco – Kyle Kirkwood – Robert Megennis – Antonio Serravalle –

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 9:50am (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 2:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 9:30am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 12:10pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 10:35am (Sunday)

Central Daylight Time – Christian Bogle – David Malukas

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 8:50am (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 1:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 8:30am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 11:10am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 9:35am (Sunday)

Mountain Daylight Time – Sting Ray Robb

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 7:50am (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 12:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 7:30am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 10:10am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 8:35am (Sunday)

Pacific Daylight Time – Nikita Lastochkin – Benjamin Pedersen

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 6:50am (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 11:30am (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 6:30am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 9:10am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 7:35am (Sunday)

British Summer Time – Toby Sowery (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 2:50pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 6:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 2:30pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 5:10pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 3:35pm (Sunday)

Central European Summer Time – Linus Lundqvist (Stockholm, Sweden) – Benjamin Pedersen (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 3:50pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 8:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 3:30pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 6:10pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 4:35pm (Sunday)

Moscow Standard Time – Nikita Lastochkin (Moscow, Russia)

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 4:50pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 9:30pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 4:30pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 7:10pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 5:35pm (Sunday)

Singapore Time – Danial Frost (Singapore)

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 9:50pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 2:30am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 9:30pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – midnight (Saturday/Sunday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 10:35pm (Sunday)

Australian Central Standard Time – Alex Peroni (Tranmere, Australia)

Indy Lights Practice #1 – 11:20pm (Friday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – 4:00am (Saturday)
Indy Lights Qualifying #2 – 11pm (Saturday)
Indy Lights Race #1 – 1:40am (Sunday)
Indy Lights Race #2 – 12:05am (Monday)

Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:

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.