The 2021 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field gets the green flag at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

The second half of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season gets underway at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend. The top rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires visits the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Mid-Ohio Road Course for their 35th race in 24 seasons.

Steve Millen, driving for track owner Truesports, won the series first visit to Mid-Ohio in 1986

Drivers representing Andretti Autosport have won eight of the ten races since 2017, and the Indianapolis, Ind.-based team’s ten trips to the top step of the podium lead all teams. Andretti Autosport, with ten poles, 27 podiums, and 338 laps led, also topped those categories.

Previous Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race winners at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

2022 Race #4 Linus Lundqvist HMD Motorsports/Global Racing Group
2022 Race #3 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport
2021 Race #2 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport
2021 Race #1 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport
2019 Race #2 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport
2019 Race #1 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport
2018 Race #2 Patricio O’Ward Andretti Autosport
2018 Race #1 Patricio O’Ward Andretti Autosport
2017 Race #2 Nico Jamin Andretti Autosport
2017 Race #1 Santi Urrutia Belardi Auto Racing
2016 Race #2 Santi Urrutia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2016 Race #1 Santi Urrutia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2015 Race #2 Sean Rayhall 8Star Motorsports
2015 Race #1 RC Enerson Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Race #1 Jack Harvey Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Race #2 Jack Harvey Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2013 Gabby Chaves Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2010 Martin Plowman Andretti Autosport
2009 James Davison Vision Racing
2008 Race #2 James Davison Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2008 Race #1 Rafa Matos Andretti Autosport
2007 Richard Antinucci Cheever Racing
2001 Townsend Bell Dorricott Racing
2000 Townsend Bell Dorricott Racing
1994 Andre Ribeiro Tasman Motorsports
1993 Bryan Herta Tasman Motorsports
1992 Robbie Groff Groff Motorsports
1991 Brian Till Cole Performance
1990 Paul Tracy Landford Racing
1989 P.J. Jones PIG Enterprise Racing
1988 Jon Beekhuis PIG Enterprise Racing
1987 Juan Manuel Fangio II TeamKar International
1986 Steve Millen Truesports

HMD Motorsports veteran Linus Lundqvist, the only driver with multiple wins this season with four, holds an 82 points advantage over Andretti Autosport sophomore Sting Ray Robb. The Swedish driver leads the way with four wins and five poles. Lundqvist’s average finish is an impressive 2.3; he’s one of three drivers to complete every lap so far and has led 55.7% of the laps contested.

“Halfway through the season, and it’s difficult to say anything other than it’s been good,” exclaimed the 23-year-old Lundqvist. “I think it’s been better than what both the team and I could have expected. We knew that we would be fast, but to have a start to the season like this feels very, very good. Obviously, we still have a ways to go and a lot can happen, but I think we will continue to build on the momentum that we built up.

“We know we are going to be fast at these tracks, so we’re going to try to get a couple more wins, keep an eye on the on the championship and obviously play it a little bit safe to try to win this thing, but very happy and proud of the work that the team has done. I think both for myself and the team that the step that we took from last year feels awesome. I’m pumped and the team is as well, so it’s going to be a fun second half of the year!”

Both drivers have five podiums, but Robb, who has seven Indy Pro 2000 victories, is still looking for his first Indy Lights win.

“The goal right now is to win,” said Robb when asked how he could close down the championship gap to Lundqvist. “We’ve been so close so many times now. I’m glad that we’re back on the podium again (at Road America). We’re strong, getting better every weekend, and qualified on pole.

“I’m gonna keep working hard, and I’m not really focused on Linus. I’m just focused on getting myself better. I know the wins will come, and maybe the championship will come with that.

“At this point, Linus has a good lead. He did well in the first half of the season, and I expect to do well in the second half. So, I guess we’ll see how things shake out. Motorsports is an interesting sport to be in, as we all know. Anything can happen! I’m just giving all the glory to God and focusing forward.”

With Andretti Autosport’s dominance at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course over the past five seasons and Lundqvist’s ‘struggles’ in the first three of four Indy Lights races at Mid-Ohio last year, the door might be open a little for Robb to put some more pressure on Lundqvist. The Swede won the final race of the 2021 Indy Lights season in challenging conditions in the rain but finished off the podium in the three previous races the series contested at Mid-Ohio. In 2020, the 23-year-old won two Formula Regional Americas Championship races from the pole.

Robb has a pair of Indy Pro 2000 wins, including the first in his career, and nine top-five finishes at the sixty-year-old road course in Lexington, Ohio.

While Robb is looking forward, he’ll need to watch the rearview mirror closely. Only 35 points separate the following five drivers.

Benjamin Pedersen, who sits third in points, 97 points behind Lundqvist and only 15 points behind Robb, is in his second year of Indy Lights with Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports. Like Robb, the Dane is still looking for his first Indy Lights win. The driver who just completed his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES test has stood on the Indy Lights podium nine times, the most of any Indy Lights driver that does not have a victory.

Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports) will have circled the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on his calendar since the beginning of the year. The Singaporean finished on the Indy Lights podium twice at Mid-Ohio last year and has two poles and seven top-five in American open-wheel junior formula action at the road course.

Veteran Andretti Autosport driver Matthew Brabham enters the weekend only one point behind Frost and three points behind Pedersen. The American-born Australian has a pair of Indy Pro 2000 wins at Mid-Ohio and was busy at the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Mid-Ohio Road Course last weekend, winning a 45-lap Trans Am Series Race.

“I think we’re pretty confident that we’ll be good at Mid-Ohio because we’ve always had really fast cars there. That was part of the strategy in not testing there; we thought we don’t need to test because the cars are so good there. You never know, but I think there’s some confidence there that the team is going to do well. It’s just a matter of the drivers getting up to speed because we only have two short practice sessions, then qualifying and the one race. There’s only four sessions for the whole weekend and we’re going to have to be up to speed pretty quick to figure out if the cars do need some adjustments. We were super fast at Road America right, and that was a road course too so I don’t see why we won’t carry that momentum as a team.

“It’s just about having confidence that we’re good and we’re not going to have to throw the kitchen sink at it, it’s just everyone is really close. It always comes down to those final adjustments and focussing on driving rather than developing an entire set-up. We’ve always had the cars working and in the window which is a confidence thing.”

The latest series winner Christian Rasmussen (Andretti Autosport) had a disappointing start to the season, but with an average quickest lap of the race of 2.7, the best of all of the drivers has had the pace all year. He has a long way to go to win the championship but should have confidence headed to Mid-Ohio. The Danish driver has nine wins across his 15 F4 United States Championship, USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 starts at the Lexington, Ohio track.

Hunter McElrea, who is tied for the third most podiums this season, is seventh on the points table but is only 35 points behind his teammate Robb for the second position. The 22-year-old’s qualifying average is 2.9, the second-best among the drivers. However, three finishes outside the top ten leave the Andretti Autosport rookie with much ground to make up.

The 22-year-old has plenty of past success at Mid-Ohio to use to his advantage. In 11 starts, the Kiwi’s average finish is 4.0, with four poles, two wins, five podiums, and zero finishes outside of the top ten.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points standings after seven of 14 races

1 Linus Lundqvist HMD Motorsports 315
2 Sting Ray Robb Andretti Autosport 233 -82
3 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group w/HMD 218 -97
4 Danial Frost HMD Motorsports 215 -100
5 Matthew Brabham Andretti Autosport 214 -101
6 Christian Rasmussen – R Andretti Autosport 200 -115
7 Hunter McElrea – R Andretti Autosport 198 -117
8 Kyffin Simpson – R TJ Speed Motorsports 169 -146
9 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 166 -149
10 Antonio Serravalle Abel Motorsports/HMD Motorsports 162 -153
11 Ernie Francis, Jr. – R Force Indy 154 -161
12 Christian Bogle HMD Motorsports 146 -169
13 James Roe, Jr. – R TJ Speed Motorsports 142 -173
14 Ryan Phinny Abel Motorsports 77 -238
15 Manuel Sulaiman HMD Motorsports 48 -267

Veteran Indy Lights teams, HMD Motorsports/Global Racing Group, and Andretti Autosport have been the dominant teams this season, starting on pole seven times, celebrating in victory lane seven times, and placing drivers on all 21 steps of the podium so far.

Will this be the weekend that rookie teams, Abel Motorsports, TJ Speed Motorsports, or Force Indy, breakthrough and stand on the podium? It could be.

With the backing of the Abel Motorsports squad led by team manager John Brunner and engineer Kent Boyer, Jacob Abel has been making gains.

The Butler University student is coming off his best finish of the year, a fifth place at Road America, and he has had some success at ‘Mid-O’ in the past. The 21-year-old won a Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered By Honda race at this circuit last year and has four podiums in American open-wheel junior formula action at the iconic road course.

TJ Speed Motorsports owner and engineer Tim Neff had plenty of success at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, engineering Santi Urrutia and Jack Harvey to multiple wins. In addition, one of Neff’s Formula Regional Americas Championship drivers, Raoul Hyman, won the three races at Mid-Ohio last weekend.

Kyffin Simpson, the reigning Formula Regional Americas Champion, is due for a breakout. If the Barbados-born driver can find a few tenths of a second, he has an excellent chance to add to his three previous American open-wheel junior formula podiums at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The pilot of the Topcon Positioning Systems sponsored No. 12, James Roe, has been finding more pace every time he gets in his IL-15. The Irishman, who had made the USA his home, has three straight top-ten finishes and is coming off his best finish of the season (seventh) at Road America. In addition, Roe has good memories from his last visit to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, winning the final Indy Pro 2000 race of the 2021 season under challenging conditions in the rain.

Don’t overlook Force Indy and Ernie Francis, Jr.; what they’ve accomplished as a one-car rookie team, with a driver that just transitioned to open-wheel last year, is impressive. Francis, Jr. has been making pace gains and has completed 220 of 221 laps, which is essential to his development.

While a win would come as a surprise, a move into the mid-pack at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a track that the 24-year-old pilot of the No. 99 has just a modicum of success at Mid-Ohio. Francis Jr. got his first American open-wheel junior formula win in the Formula Regional Americas Championship at Mid-Ohio last year. If our math is correct, he’s won ten times with a roof over his head.

Francis, Jr., won in the TCB, TCA, and TC classes of the Pirelli World Challenge between 2013 and 2015 and won seven straight Trans-Am Series races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course between 2014 and 2020.

HMD Motorsports’ Christian Bogle will have to rebound from his scary wreck in Turn 5 at Road America. The driver from Louisiana had made up three spots when the accident happened and was having his best weekend as an Indy Lights driver, leading a practice session and qualifying with eight-tenths of a second of his championship-leading teammate Lundqvist. Bogle continues to work hard and is poised to make a move up the grid.

“So far we have made some pretty good progress through the season,” said Bogle. “We have had ups and downs but we are trending in the right direction, just need to put it all together. Now it’s head down for the second half of the season to keep the progression going. Looking to take that next step by the end of the season.”

This weekend’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires schedule

Friday – 12:30pm – 1pm Indy Lights Autograph Session (Fan Village)
Friday – 2:20pm – 3:10pm Indy Lights Practice #1 INDYCAR Live! / INDYCAR Radio
Saturday – 8:35am – 9:15am Indy Lights Practice #2 INDYCAR Live! / INDYCAR Radio
Saturday – 1:45pm – 2:05pm Indy Lights Qualifying INDYCAR Live! / INDYCAR Radio
Sunday – 10:35am – 11:35am Indy Lights Race (35 laps or 55 minutes) Peacock Premium / INDYCAR Radio