Archives for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire – TSO

Roger Penske confirms commitment to Indy Lights – hints at possible involvement of INDYCAR teams

By Steve Wittich

Since TSO Ladder broke the news about the suspension of the 2020 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season, there have been numerous questions and concerns regarding the future of the series.

Off-the-record, TSO Ladder has been informed about a few possible positive initiatives between Penske Entertainment and Andersen Promotions, but we couldn’t get anybody to go public with it.

Thankfully, Mr. Penske took care of that for us by sharing one of those ideas with Jack Arute on his Brick by Brick radio show on SiriusXM. 

“We decided not to run Indy Lights this year,” explained Penske to the veteran Indy car broadcaster. “We only had six or seven cars that we thought might compete. And, we can’t be putting on a series with six or seven cars. I think that’s a detriment to the brand.

“We’re going to sit down with (Dan) Andersen and the teams that are competing, and we’re going to look at a new rule package, possibly even for (20)21. Each team that’s registered as a leaders circle team will provide at least one entry.”

“So, we can bring that back, and it will be a key part of our ladder series, where can bring these drivers up the ladder and into the Indy 500.”

Penske is not a stranger to the American Ladder system. His son Roger Penske, Jr. was a frequent visitor to Formula Super Vee (precursor series to Indy Lights) podium in the early 1980s, and the automotive magnate’s Penske Auto Centers were a regular sponsor of Clint and Casey Mears during their Indy Lights careers.

Roger Penske celebrates 2011 Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden’s second NTT INDYCAR® SERIES championship (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

Penske, who employs, 2011 Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden, understands the importance of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, saying:

“The new young drivers that have hit the pavement, (Colton) Herta has done a great job, and you’ve got two or three more coming this year. The continued route to Indy (Road To Indy) is very important with young drivers, and that will only make us stronger.”

BREAKING – Indy Lights suspended for the 2020 season.

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Catching up with Indy Lights silly season – an increased car count and some interesting names

By Steve Wittich

With 80 days remaining before the 2020 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season officially gets started at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March, it’s a little early for us to be sending out a silly-season update.

However, the teams have been busy locking down drivers, so we thought it would be prudent to get you caught up with what has been going on.

Watch for updates for all three series over the next three days. First up is the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series.

The Indy Lights teams, along with Dan Andersen and Andersen Promotion staff, have been working hard to lower the budgets and increase the entries for the top rung of the Road To Indy.

The 2019 season had 22.8% more races contested by drivers over the first 17 races of the season (we used the first 17 race because the 2018 season had 17 races). TSO Ladder expects another notable increase in car count for the 2020 season. There is a high probability that at least a dozen drivers will start the season in St. Petersburg, and an outside chance that number could be as high as 15.

As far as teams go

Andretti Autosport’s J.F. Thorman has made it clear they are planning on entering four cars again in 2020 after dropping to a three-car program last year.

Belardi Auto Racing is expected to run a minimum of two cars, with three cars possible.

New entrant Exclusive Autosport is also expected to have a minimum of two cars, and team owner Michael Duncalfe did confirm that they could 100% run a third car.

HMD Motorsports, who had two tubs last year, purchased a third car in anticipation of expansion to field a trio of drivers.

Ricardo Juncos, the team owner at Juncos Racing, told TSO Ladder that a pair of cars and crew are ready to go and that he expects to be part of the series again in 2020.

Jay Howard Driver Development purchased a pair of IL-15s but is only expected to run an extensive test program next year in anticipation of entering the Indy Lights series in 2021.

One team that TSO Ladder does not expect back in the series is Carlin. The IL-15s that the Delray Beach, Fla. team were utilizing have been purchased by Exclusive Autosport and Jay Howard Driver Development.

As far as drivers go

The signed driver

At present, only David Malukas has been confirmed by a team. The 19-year-old, who had a pair of podiums last year will return with HMD Motorsports.

David Malukas didn’t test with HMD Motorsports at Sebring, but the 19-year-old was on hand to help Lindh and Serravalle get acclimated to the team. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“We are very happy to have David back in 2020,” explained HMD Motorsports Team Manager John Cummiskey. “2019 was a great learning year for David, and he was able to gather podium results in Austin as well as on the oval in St. Louis. Returning for 2020 with renewed focus, energy and experience by his side, David will be a contender for the series title as we head towards Laguna Seca next September.”

The multitude of unsigned drivers

Yes, we have an idea of where a few of these drivers mentioned below are headed and what teams they are talking with, but until deals are signed, we aren’t comfortable putting any deals in jeopardy. Also, we expect a few other unexpected names to pop up.

It would be surprising to see Robert Megennis, a 19-year-old New Yorker and a freshman at Fordham University, anywhere but back with Andretti Autosport. Especially, with a post Sebring International Raceway test statement like this.

“I’ve never done a second year in the same car before, and now I’m able to really work on pinpointing every little mistake and get better,” said Megennis. “And [team manager] Don Lambert is awesome, as is the whole team. I’ve done a full year with them now and we can just work on improving everything. They understand what I need to go fast, so it’s all working great.”

Robert Megennis on track at Sebring International Raceway in the familiar No. 27 Andretti Autosport IL-15 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Megennis, who won last year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, drove four different cars – the Van Diemen\Elan DP08 & Tatuus USF-17 in USF2000, the PM-18 in Indy Pro 2000 and the Dallara IL-15 in Indy Lights – in his first four seasons of Road To Indy action.

One name that has been absent from the timesheets at the last two official tests is Lucas Kohl, but TSO does expect to see him on the Indy Lights grid in March. The Brazilian made the difficult jump from USF2000 to Indy Lights with Belardi Auto Racing last year. The 21-year-old made progress throughout the season, and it will be interesting to see how he fares if he chooses to do a second season with the Brownsburg, Ind. based team.

Toby Sowery, who contested the full 2019 Indy Lights season, winning once and collecting eight podiums with HMD Motorsports, is eager to return to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The 23-year-old has been talking with several teams.

Reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Kyle Kirkwood sat out the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October but was behind the wheel of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport machine during testing at Sebring last week. The Floridian finished the recent test at Sebring with the second quickest time in his first outing in an IL-15.

Rasmus Lindh, runner-up to Kirkwood in both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 the past two seasons, tested with Andretti Autosport during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test before sampling the No. 2 from the HMD Motorsports stable at Sebring. The 18-year-old from Sweden turned in the quickest time during that test for the Brownsburg, Ind. based team.

Rasmus Lindh led the most recent Indy Lights open test at Sebring International Raceway with HMD Motorsports (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

 

Two-time Indy Pro 2000 winner Danial Frost tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and Sebring open test for Andretti Autosport. The 18-year-old from Singapore also took part in a private test for Exclusive Autosport at Palm Beach International Raceway, the team he drove for during the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 season.

Link to Frost’s Instagram post

Nikita Lastochkin and Exclusive Autosport made their Indy Lights debut together in impressive fashion at Sebring during the series open test last week. The Russian driver and Canadian team ended the first day with the third quickest time. TSO expects this pairing to make the jump from Indy Pro 2000, where Lastochkin made 44 starts, together in 2020.

Nikita Lastochkin and Exclusive Autosport got their first taste of Indy Lights action together during Indy Lights testing at Sebring International Raceway. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Antonio Serravalle has contested 23 Indy Pro 2000 races with his family-run team over the past two seasons. The young Canadian was only a half-second off the top spot during the recent test at Sebring, impressing the HMD Motorsports team that provided him with a seat for the two-day test.

Another driver that impressed his team during the open test last week in Central Florida was third-generation driver Flinn Lazier. The Vail. Colo. native and winner of the 2019 SCCA run-offs in the Formula Atlantic class was testing with Belardi Auto Racing.

Andretti Autosport has introduced a pair of European trained drivers to the top level of the Road To Indy over the past two tests.

Egor Orudzhev, a Russian with an extensive racing background, including two wins and 22 podiums in three seasons of Formula Renault 3.5 Series action, tested with the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. TSO Ladder has also heard that the SMP racing driver, who has been concentrating on sports car racing the past two years, is exploring NTT IndyCar Series options.

Nineteen-year-old Tristian Charpentier was behind the wheel for the team that has produced the last two Indy Lights champions during the Sebring test. The Frenchman ended the test as one of four Andretti Autosport that were all within two-tenths of a second in second to the fifth spot on the timing screens.

Tristian Charpentier testing with Andretti Autosport at Sebring International Raceway (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Also, don’t rule out a return from a couple of former teammates and Indy Lights veterans. Aaron Telitz and Santi Urrutia are both rumored to be interested in, open to, and discussing with teams, another season of Indy Lights action

Belardi Auto Racing teammates Aaron Telitz and Santi Urrutia after sharing the podium together in the 2018 Indy Lights season finale at Portland International Raceway (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Urrutia, who has eight series wins to go along with a pair of second place, and third place championship finishes has been talking with several teams about a return to the United States. The Uruguayan spent 2019 in Europe and finished in third in the TCR Europe Touring Car championship, his fifth straight season of racing in which he finished top three in the championship he was contesting.

Telitz has three wins, including a dominant win on the Streets Of Exhibition Place in Toronto last year, in two and a half seasons of Indy Lights action.

Another familiar name to long-time Road To Indy fans that has been sniffing around the paddock again is Tatiana Calderón. The Colombian contested the 2010 and 2011 Indy Pro 2000 (Star Mazda at that time) with Juncos Racing before moving to Europe. Last season, the 26-year-old took part in the FIA Formula 2 Championship as well as completing duties as a test driver for the Alfa Romeo Racing Formula One Squad.

Tatiana Calderon receives guidance from Juncos Racing technical director Ernie Gonella before scoring an Indy Pro 2000 (Star Mazda) podium at Barber Motorsports Park in 2011. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back with more Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires silly season coverage over the next few days

Lindh and HMD Motorsports lead Kirkwood and Andretti Autosport in final official Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires test of 2019

By Steve Wittich

Those of us that follow the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires carefully have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the rivalry between newly minted NTT IndyCar Series drivers Oliver Askew and Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay). Maybe, it’s time to turn our focus to another pair of drivers that can’t seem to get away from each other. Kyle Kirkwood, who was testing with Andretti Autosport beat Rasmus Lindh (HMD Motorsports) to the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 titles the past two seasons, but it’s the 18-year-old Lindh who got the jump in Indy Lights.

The Gothenburg, Sweden born driver ended the two-day test with a quick lap that was over two-tenths quicker than Kirkwood, who had the second-fastest lap.

Rasmus Lindh on track in the No. 2 HMD Motorsports machine at Sebring International Raceway during an Indy Lights test. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Note from Steve: With the full trash bin in the background, this is the most Sebring photo ever. It’s a legendary and awesome track, but it’s still located in Central Florida. 🙂

Kirkwood was the quickest of the four Andretti Autosport drivers, but not by much with only just over two-tenths of a second separating Kirkwood from Robert Megennis, Danial Frost, and Tristan Charpentier.

Antonio Serravalle (HMD Motorsports), Nikita Lastochkin (Exclusive Autosport), and Flinn Lazier (Belardi Auto Racing), in their first Indy Lights tests, were all within eight-tenths of Lindh at the top of the timesheet.

“The second session, we were able to run the car hard and were pretty competitive with guys who have had a season of running the car behind them,” said Russian Lastochkin after the first day of testing. “The car is a beast – a fantastic car – really awesome! I’m enjoying every lap – learning how to drive it and adapting to more horsepower, and more downforce. As a driver, that is all you can ask for.”

Christian Bogle, who is only testing Indy Lights this year, was within 1.7 seconds of Lindh. A solid effort considering he is jumping from USF2000.

Andretti Autosport was the team to beat on the first day of the test with a trio of different drivers, each leading one of the three sessions.

Wednesday’s morning session saw three teams at the top of the timesheet. But, it Megennis, the only veteran testing, that lead the way early with a lap timed at 57.9455 seconds.

Test session #2 was led by reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Kirkwood. Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), Megennis and Lastochkin were all within two-tenths of a second of Kirkwood’s quick lap of 57.2636 seconds.

The nine drivers turned a total of 523 laps during the two-hour test session #3. When the checkered flag flew, it was Frost with a lap of 56.8616 that was at the top of the timing sheet. Megennis, Lastochkin, and Lindh were within 0.07 seconds of Frost, making it four drivers who broke the 57-second mark on Wednesday.

Damp weather impacted the second day of the test, but before the track got slick, the HMD Motorsports duo of Lindh and Serravalle were able to put in a pair of quick laps that were separated by only three-hundredths of a second. Within one-tenth of them was Kirkwood, and within three-tenths were Road To Indy newcomer Charpentier and Frost.

The top seven in the Thursday morning session were separated by less than five-tenths of a second.

The fifth and final session on Thursday afternoon began with rain and a wet track but ended the two-hour session with a dry and blazingly fast 1.67-mile, 11-turn Sebring International Club Course.

Once again, it was Lindh and HMD Motorsports that led the way. The Swedish driver was the only pilot to break the 56-second barrier with his quickest lap timed at 55.9580 seconds.

All nine drivers set their quickest times in the fifth and final session.

Combined time sheet Sebring International Raceway Indy Lights test

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM QUICK LAP DIFFERENCE TOTAL LAPS
1 2 Rasmus Lindh HMD Motorsports 55.958 –.—- 132
2 28 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport 56.174 0.2156 147
3 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 56.307 0.3494 151
4 68 Danial Frost Andretti Autosport 56.380 0.4220 152
5 98 Tristian Charpentier Andretti Autosport 56.389 0.4313 145
6 79 Antonio Serravalle HMD Motorsports 56.525 0.5666 165
7 90 Nikita Lastochkin Exclusive Autosport 56.762 0.8040 142
8 4 Flinn Lazier Belardi Auto Racing 56.830 0.8719 192
9 7 Christian Bogle Jay Howard Driver Development 57.718 1.7596 130

Teams will be conducting plenty of private testing, but that’s it for official Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action until the annual spring training visit to the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course scheduled for March 7-9, 2020.

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TSO Ladder previews the final Road To Indy action of the year. Nine Indy Lights drivers will head to Sebring International Raceway

By Steve Wittich

The final official Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action of the 2019 season gets underway Wednesday, December 11, for two days of testing on the 1.8-mile, 11-turn Sebring International Club Course.

The ‘short course’ is often utilized by NTT IndyCar Series teams to simulate a street circuit. The circuit with the Hairpin Turn, Cunningham Corner, Tower Turn, and Gurney Bend features several 90-degree turns, surface changes, and bumps.

The nine entered Indy Lights drivers will share the track with Global MX-5 Cup series and will have just under 8-hours of track time spread over Wednesday and Thursday.

The lone returnee from the 2019 Indy Lights field is Andretti Autosport’s Robert Megennis. The Road To Indy veteran from New York City finished his rookie campaign in fifth place on the championship table, winning once at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and standing on the podium a total of six times.

Megennis will be joined at Andretti Autosport by one newcomer and a pair of drivers familiar to Road To Indy fans.

Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion, will be joined by fellow Indy Pro 2000 race winner Danial Frost. Kirkwood skipped the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October, while 18-year-old Frost turned 130 laps with the Indianapolis, Ind. based team.

Joining the three drivers who raced in the U.S.A. in 2019, is Frenchman Tristan Charpentier. The 19-year-old has extensive open-wheel experience, including Championnat de France F4 (one win and six podiums), BRDC British F3 (two podiums), and one start in Super Formula.

Third-generation racer Flinn Lazier is slated to be behind the wheel of lone test entry for Belardi Auto Racing. The 20-year-old has some Road To Indy experience, making a pair of starts at Barber Motorsports Park in USF2000 in 2017 and taking part in the 2019 Chris Griffis Memorial Test in Indy Pro 2000 with Abel Motorsports.

Lazier, a native of Vail, Colo. is not short on other open-wheel experience joining his grandfather Bob as a Formula B/Atlantic champion at the SCCA Runoffs, winning at Virginia International Raceway in October. The elder Lazier won the 1971 Formula B championship at Road Atlanta.

Road To Indy stalwarts Rasmus Lindh and Antonio Serravalle will be piloting a pair of AER powered IL-15s for HMD Motorsports during the two days of testing in central Florida. The Brownsburg, Ind. based team has plans to run three cars during the 2020 season, including the already signed David Malukas.

The team is still working to build up a third car, so Malukas will sit out this test. The just-turned 18-year-old will be on hand to help the team and drivers.

Lindh, an 18-year-old tested with Andretti Autosport during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. The Gothenburg, Sweeden native, is coming off his second straight runner-up finish in the Road To Indy, finishing behind Kyle Kirkwood for the second straight season.

Serravalle, still only 17-years-old, has a pair of top-five Indy Pro 2000 finishes while contesting a season and a half with a family-run team.

“It’s pretty exciting to have this opportunity and with a quality team such as HMD Motorsports,” explained Canadian Serravalle. “They were arguably the turnaround team of 2019 and made a huge impression during the latter stages of the season. They have hired a pair of high-quality engineers, and I am confident they will help me get up to speed. This will be my maiden voyage in an Indy Lights car, so I will be looking to get up to speed as quickly as possible on Wednesday of next week and then push the limits more on Thursday.”

Exclusive Autosport makes it’s official Indy Lights debut at the two-day test with Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Nikita Lastochkin. The 29-year-old Russian has made 75 starts across the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 series. The Russian born Los Angeles, Calif. resident has a pair of podiums and 16 top-five finishes in his five seasons of competition.

The Canadian team that is based in Brownsburg, Ind. has a second IL-15 and is planning on being a two-car program. The second car will be part of a private test at Palm Beach International Raceway later in the week.

Christian Bogle and Jay Howard Driver Development will once again be contesting the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship together in 2020. The Westfield, Ind. based team helmed by 2006 Indy Lights champion Jay Howard purchased a pair of Indy Lights chassis during the off-season. To increase his seat-time, the Covington, La. based driver will be turning as many laps as possible at Indy Lights tests to improve his skills.

“I am super excited to be able to have the opportunity to test an Indy Lights car!” said an excited 19-year-old Bogle. “Coming from F4 and USF2000, it will be a pretty large jump, but I’m sure it will be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done to date! With the additional testing in Indy Lights, I’m hoping to see that help my performances in F4 and USF2000.”

Juncos Racing does not have any drivers entered in the test. TSO Ladder was able to check in with team owner Ricardo Juncos. He told us that the cars and crew are ready and that he expects to be part of the series again in 2020.

We’ll be back after the test with a recap.

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Chris Griffis Memorial Test – Update #1 – Notebook from the two days of testing

 

By Steve Wittich

Consider tonight’s writings the first of two updates from the ninth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test. For the seventh time, the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to all three steps on the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

TSO Ladder has made this point each time we’ve covered this event, but we’re going to make it again and go one step further. We won’t call testing times meaningless, but we will reiterate that they are one of the last things that we look at when the two days of testing are done.

Need proof? If you take nine previous years of the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and multiply it by three, you come up with 27 drivers that have led the annual end of season test. Of those 27 drivers, only five (that’s 18.5%) have won the championship the next year.

So, what do we pay attention to?

How well does the driver progress from day to day and session to session? How does a driver that is new to the Road To Indy acclimate themselves to the car and tires? How does a driver fit in well with a new team? How ready is a driver that makes the jump to the next level? How does a driver interact with their teammates? How seriously does a driver take the test? These are all questions we attempt to answer before looking at the timesheets.

We will be back with notes from each day along with timesheets tomorrow, but for now, here is a notebook of some of the other things we learned this weekend.

The ninth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was blessed with wonderful fall weather (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)


If you haven’t yet, make sure you watch Road To Indy TV Episode 11 from the finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.


So, why is Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) testing with Belardi Auto Racing?

It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

From the team side, the experienced VeeKay piloting the team’s car during the test makes sense on two fronts. First, the Dutchman helped move the Juncos Racing program forward last year and should help the Brownsburg, Ind. based team do the same. Second, VeeKay is the perfect driver to showcase how competitive your cars will be against Andretti Autosport.

Rinus VeeKay provides feedback to Belardi Auto Racing engineer Kent Boyer at the 2019 Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

From the driver’s side, testing is so limited in modern racing that any extra seat time is beneficial.

VeeKay is coming off his second successful test with Ed Carpenter Racing. From all accounts that TSO Ladder has heard, the day-long outing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was very successful.

Look for news on the Dutch teenager’s future sooner than later.


Experienced newcomer?

TSO had a chance to chat with experienced newcomer Raoul Hyman, who is testing in Indy Pro 2000 with Exclusive Autosport.

Hyman was impressed with the PM-18’s torque and enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere in the paddock and especially with Exclusive Autosport. He hasn’t entirely made up his mind on where he will be racing next year but did tell us that he was leaning towards a switch to the U.S.A.

Raoul Hyman relaxes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before getting in an Exclusive Autosport Indy Pro 2000 car for the Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Hyman spent this past season in the FIA Formula 3 Championship, finishing a disappointing 22nd in the championship. TSO doesn’t put much stock into that result. Last year was the first year for the new Dallara F3 2019 car, and the South African’s Sauber Charouz Racing System team didn’t have a handle on a car they’ve never run before.

The 23-year-old won the 2018 F3 Asian Championship, finished fourth in the 2019 Toyota Racing Series, and was a race winner in GP3 and BRDC Formula 4 Championship.

He’d be a great addition to the Road To Indy.


Lights car count and another test for the top rung of the Road To Indy

We’ve had some questions about why the Lights field is only five cars for the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. There are several factors. Brand new team Exclusive Autosport is still prepping their cars. HMD Motorsports is focusing on getting their restarted USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 programs sorted.

Unfortunately, the FIA Formula 3 Championship post-season test is taking place at the same time in Valencia, Spain. That series, with a similar budget to Indy Lights, has 31 drivers entered across the three-days of testing.

Also, there will be another official Indy Lights test in a few months. The top level of the Road To Indy will join the Global MX-5 Cup and the Lucas Oil School of Racing Karting Shootout for a two-day test.

With surface changes, bumps, heavy braking zones, and 90-degree turns, the 1.6-mile, 11-turn short course does a great job of mimicking a street circuit.


Safety addition for the ‘kids’

Before next season, the USF-17, PM-18 and IL-15, will all be fitted with the Advanced Frontal Protection device. The AFP is designed to keep debris from the cockpit of the car and was added to the cars of the NTT IndyCar Series before the Indianapolis 500 last year.


IndyCar driver sighting

NTT IndyCar Series championship contender Alexander Rossi was in the USF2000 paddock on Sunday. Pieter Rossi, the 7-time IndyCar race winners father, helps guide the careers of several Road To Indy drivers. This weekend, the Rossi’s were working with Pabst Racing’s Yuven Sundaramoorthy.

The Oconomowoc, Wisc. is coming off a successful first year of USF2000 action where he was one of only three drivers to complete every lap.


Road To Indy alum making good

At last year’s Chris Griffis Memorial Test, Igor Fraga spent Saturday wrenching on the Exclusive Autosport program in exchange for an opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Canadian team’s Indy Pro 2000 car.

This year, the Brazilian was at Autodromo Nazionale Monza, where he won the final two races of the 2019 Formula Regional European Championship season. Fraga won four races and stood on the podium in ten races on the way to finishing third in the series that utilizes the Tatuus F3 chassis mated to a 265+ HP Alfa Romeo power plant.

Fraga earned his seat by winning the FIA Gran Turismo Nation’s Cup along with the McLaren Shadow Project by beating over 500,000 contestants around the world.

Fraga, who just turned 21-years-old spent the 2018 racing season with Exclusive Autosport, collecting three podiums and finishing fourth in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.


New Town of Speedway denizen 

Juncos Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, and Dallara will soon have more racing company in the town of Speedway. The walls are currently going up on the new home of Abel Motorsports. The building is being built by ABEL Construction and is a partnership between team owner Bill Abel and Bob Lazier.


Speaking of Laziers

Third-generation racer Flinn Lazier spent the test in the second Abel Motorsports PM-18 alongside Jacob Abel. The Vail, Colo. native experienced mechanical gremlins on Saturday but rebounded to turn a lap within one-second of the quickest lap of the weekend on Sunday.

The Chris Griffis Memorial Test was the first time the 20-year-old had been behind the wheel of an Indy Pro 2000 car, but he is not short of open-wheel experience. Lazier joined his grandfather Bob as a Formula B/Atlantic champion at the SCCA Runoffs, winning at Virginia International Raceway last weekend. The elder Lazier won the 1971 Formula B championship Road Atlanta in 1971.

Joining Lazier at the historic track where his grandfather, the 1981 Championship Auto Racing Teams Rookie Of The Year and his father Buddy, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion.

Third-generation racer Flinn Lazier on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the ninth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

That’s it for us tonight. I’ll be back with more tomorrow.

Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires at Laguna Seca – VeeKay goes wire-to-wire again.

By Steve Wittich

For the sixth time in the 2019 Indy Lights season, Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) stood on the top step of the podium. Similar to Saturday’s race, VeeKay led from the green flag to the checkered flag in a demanding fashion.

Today’s 32 point haul marked the fifth time this season that the Dutchman took home ‘max points’ for winning from the pole and leading the most laps.

Rinus VeeKay is interviewed after his sixth Indy Lights win of the 2019 season (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“The Juncos team gave me a great car, and I had a good start, though Oliver was good with the push-to-pass,” said VeeKay after the final race of the 2019 season. “I’ve learned a lot about tire management and that really came into play today. It was great to win the little battle with Oliver today, to end up with more Road to Indy wins than he has. But the Road to Indy has taught me so much. Everything I’ve learned is what I will take to IndyCar, and I can show them what the Road to Indy means to drivers. I’m so happy; it is the best way to end the Road to Indy for me. I knew the championship was not to be this weekend, so to take both wins means a lot. It shows the IndyCar teams what I can do.”

VeeKay, who won for the 16th time in the last three seasons, now leads Askew by one win across their concurrent 48 race Road To Indy careers.

The win is the fifth in the last six Indy Lights races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for Juncos Racing.

Askew didn’t quite have enough pace for VeeKay and Juncos Racing this weekend but ended his Road To Indy career with his 31st career podium.

“My engineer, Doug Zister, came on the radio and said it was my last stint of the season – and I gave it all I had,” explained Askew after the race. “We just didn’t have the speed this weekend; Juncos was strong. But I’m happy with our performance, today and all year long. I’m humbled and privileged to have raced for Andretti Autosport all year and hopefully our paths will cross again in years to come. And Rinus – it’s been an honor to race against him. We’ve made each other better drivers, and I can’t wait to have more battles with him in IndyCar.”

Askew joins Patricio O’Ward (2018), J.R. Hildebrand (2009) and Raphael Matos (2008) as the fourth Indy Lights champion for Andretti Autosport.

HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey rookie Toby Sowery finished on the final step of the podium, solidifying a third-place championship finish for the Cambridge, England driver. It was the eighth time that the distinctive Gap Guard/Rich Energy sponsored No. 2 finished in a podium position.

Toby Sowery on track at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The command to fire the turbocharged 2.0L AER engines for the last time in 2019 was given at 9:09 am.

After two pace laps to get their Cooper Tire slicks up to temperature, the front row of VeeKay and Askew brought the field to the green flag.

The Soul Red No. 21 of VeeKay was the first car to get to the corner, but behind him, things weren’t so simple. Sowery was able to get to the inside of Askew, but the newly crowned champion was able to out-brake the HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey driver, grabbing the second spot back around the outside.

The biggest loser in the Andretti Hairpin was Megennis, who dropped from his fourth starting spot to sixth. The Andretti Autosport rookie was able to get back past Kellett for fifth on the run up the Rahal Straight.

The running order at the end of the first lap was: VeeKay, Askew, Sowery, Norman, Megennis, Kellett, Malukas, Kohl.

VeeKay’s lead when they crossed the line to start the third lap was 0.5 seconds, but Askew has already used his push-to-pass four times.

The front three started to pull away from the rest of the field.

On Lap 5, Andretti Autosport teammates Megennis and Norman banged wheels at the turn-in of Turn 2, with Norman holding off the Cybersecurity sponsored No. 27.

On Lap 7, Megennis got to the inside of Norman in the same spot. This time, the New Yorker was able to muscle his way past the Three Chord sponsored No. 48.

To begin Lap 9, VeeKay had a 1.475 second lead over Askew, just within push-to-pass range. Sowery was 2.0 seconds behind Askew, outside of the push-to-pass zone.

At the one-third pole, VeeKay’s gap to Askew had grown to 1.7 seconds, putting the Dutchman outside of the 1.5-second push-to-pass range. The rest of the running order was Sowery, Megennis, Norman, Kellett, Malukas, and Kohl.

At the half-way point of the 30 lap race, VeeKay’s lead over Askew had stabilized right around the 2-second mark. After hanging onto the front pair for the first five laps, Sowery fell back five seconds. His grasp on the final spot of the podium was a safe 6.2 seconds.

With ten laps remaining, VeeKay’s lead had grown to 3.5 seconds over Askew. Behind them, the closest battle was between Norman and Kellett for fifth. The Canadian, who was the only driver to start on sticker Cooper Tires was able to stay within one second of Norman. The Andretti Autosport veteran was able to hold off Kellett

VeeKay took the white flag 5.7 seconds ahead of Askew, leading all 30 laps for the second day in a row.

After the race, championship winner Askew stopped in Turn 2 to celebrate by roasting his Cooper Tires and creating a smoke show.

Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products Race #2 results

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM DIFFERENCE
1 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 30 LAPS
2 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport -5.2942
3 2 Toby Sowery HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey -17.6197
4 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -24.6287
5 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport -37.8798
6 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing -38.8016
7 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports -46.5417
8 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing -69.7772

Final 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires standings

RANK DRIVER TOTAL BACK
1 Oliver Askew – R 486
2 Rinus VeeKay – R 465 -21
3 Toby Sowery – R 367 -119
4 Ryan Norman 359 -127
5 Robert Megennis – R 355 -131
6 David Malukas – R 301 -185
7 Dalton Kellett 275 -211
8 Lucas Kohl – R 253 -233
9 Aaron Telitz 133 -353
10 Zachary Claman 124 -362
11 Julien Falchero – R 66 -420
12 Jarett Andretti – R 23 -463
13 Chris Windom – R 17 -469

Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires at Laguna Seca – Saturday – VeeKay wins the day in dominating fashion – Askew clinches 3-race IndyCar Scholarship

By Steve Wittich

Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) won the day and the first Indy Lights race of the weekend. But, it was Oliver Askew that won the season and the 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Championship and the three-race NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that goes with it.

VeeKay’s dominant 9.9 second green to checkered flag victory is his fifth victory of the year and the 15th in his Road To Indy career. That means the two long-time rivals are tied with 15 wins each.

Rinus Veekay and his Soul Red No. 23 were so fast they were a blur. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The win was the fourth in the last five Indy Lights races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for Juncos Racing, moving them out of a tie with Tasman Motorsports and PacWest racing as the winningest Indy Lights teams at the iconic road course.

For the fourth time this season, Toby Sowery finished on the second step of the podium. His points he gathered for his sixth podium of the year, moved the HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey rookie past Ryan Norman into third in the championship. That means three different teams represent the top three in the championship.

Sowery leads Norman by three points and Megennis by nine points in the entertaining battle for third place in the championship.

Robert Megennis was able to get past his championship-winning teammate on the opening lap and was able to hold Askew off for the next 29 laps.

“It feels good to be back on the podium,” explained the New Yorker to TSO Ladder. “It feels like we are getting back in the swing of things. This is the best I’ve driven since Road America. It’s nice to finish off the season on a strong note and let’s go get another one tomorrow.”

Askew’s fourth-place finish was enough to clinch the Indy Lights championship and three-race NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that goes with it. Unfortunately, it brought an eight-race podium streak to an end.

We’ll have more on Askew’s impressive championship run over the next couple of days.

The first Road To Indy race of the weekend, the 30-lap Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products, began immediately after an exciting NTT IndyCar Series qualifying session. The ambient temperature was 79F, and the track temperature was 114F.

VeeKay was the first driver to get to the Andretti Hairpin, getting through the 190-degree corner before the rest of the field. Behind him, Megennis got a great start, getting past his teammate Askew and looking to the outside of Sowery in Turn 2. Sowery got a better drive off the corner and held the spot.

Belardi Auto Racing rookie Lucas Kohl had a moment on the run up the Rahal Straight, dropping the seventh place that he had gained at the start.

The running order at the end of the first lap was: VeeKay, Sowery, Megennis, Askew, Kellett, Malukas, Norman and Kohl.

On the second lap, Kellett dropped his left side Cooper Tires off track at the exit Turn 4, dropping the fifth spot to Malukas.

VeeKay was the only driver to start the 30-lap race on sticker tires, and he put them to good use. He was able to build a push-to-pass safe gap of just under two seconds after the first three circuits of 30 lap race.

“It would be pretty evident that is was,” explained Sowery to TSO Ladder. “We kind knew it would be because it is a high deg(radation) track for the tires, but we didn’t realize how much it would be. We were pushing at the start with push-to-pass, but it was just shooting in the dark.”

On Lap 5, Malukas started to put pressure on Askew for fourth place but wasn’t able to get around the Index Invest sponsored No. 28.

VeeKay continued to push his Soul Red No. 23, turning the quickest lap of the race to that point and building his lead to 3.6 seconds over Sowery.

On Lap 8, it became evident that VeeKay was not taking it easy, bouncing wildly over the pyramid curb at guarding the inside of Turn 8 and sliding sideways into the second half of The Corkscrew.

The running order after one-third of the race was complete was VeeKay, Sowery, Megennis, Askew, Malukas, Kellett, Norman and Kohl.

The drivers settled in to take care of their Cooper Tires, and at the halfway point of the race, VeeKay’s lead over Sowery was 5.61 seconds. Sowery had a substantial 6.3 second lead over Megennis, who was less than a second ahead of his teammate Askew.

Askew continued to pressure Megennis for the next five laps, and with ten laps remaining he was 0.75 second adrift.

VeeKay’s lead upfront with one-third of the race remaining was an extremely comfortable 8.1 seconds.

With five laps remaining, Askew took a look to the inside of Megennis in Turn 2, but Megennis defended effectively. Not long after that, Askew was out of the extra 50 horsepower push-to-pass activations.

VeeKay took the white flag 9.3 seconds ahead of Sowery, but behind the front pair, the battle for third, fourth, and fifth was covered by less than two seconds. The drivers were nose-to-tail as they reached the iconic Corkscrew, but they held station, crossing the line within 1.1 seconds of each other.

Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products Race #1 Results

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM DIFFERENCE
1 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 30 LAPS
2 2 Toby Sowery HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey -9.8874
3 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -23.1222
4 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport -23.9875
5 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports -24.3501
6 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing -47.3334
7 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport -47.9062
8 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing -1 LAP
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Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires at Laguna Seca – VeeKay uses last minute flyer to grab his 7th pole of the season

By Steve Wittich

Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) might need a miracle to win his second straight Road To Indy, but the Juncos Racing rookie isn’t going down without a fight. The Dutchman turned the quickest lap of the weekend, timed at 75.671 seconds, to grab pole for the second straight day at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. It will the seventh time this season that the 19-year-old will start an Indy Lights race from the pole.

Askew, who will start third in today’s Indy Lights race, improved by one spot and the presumptive champion will begin Sunday’s finale beside rival VeeKay.

Starting on the second row is Portland International Raceway Race #2 winner Toby Sowery and Askew’s Andretti Autosport teammate Robert Megennis.

After a quiet first half of the 30-minute session, the timing sheet was as follows: VeeKay, Askew, David Malukas, Sowery, Dalton Kellett, Lucas Kohl, Megennis and Norman.

With five just over three minutes remaining, Sowery turned the quickest lap of the session, briefly grabbing the provisional pole before presumptive champion Askew went to the top of the timing screens. It wasn’t by much. Askew’s lap was only three-hundredths quicker than the HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey rookie.

Askew went even quicker on his next lap, breaking the 76 second barrier for the first time in the session. But, his time on the provisional pole didn’t last long. VeeKay was able to go two tenths quicker on his final flying lap of the session.

Askew took a lap to cool down his Cooper Tires and was on a flyer that had to be aborted when the Jupiter, Fla. driver came across a local yellow in The Corkscrew.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Qualifying #2 Results

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM QUICK LAP DIFFERENCE
1 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 1:15.671 –.—-
2 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport 1:15.849 0.1777
3 2 Toby Sowery HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey 1:16.104 0.4328
4 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 1:16.228 0.5574
5 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 1:16.393 0.7218
6 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing 1:16.471 0.7999
7 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 1:16.500 0.8292
8 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing 1:16.823 1.1518
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Exclusive Autosport expands into Indy Lights – race winners in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 planning to run two cars

 

Perennial Road To Indy race winners, Exclusive Autosport will be making a move into the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. The Michael Duncalfe led team has purchased a pair of IL-15s and is planning on fielding a couple of entries for the 2020 season.

“This is truly a dream come true,” explained Duncalfe. “When I started Exclusive Autosport in 2013, competing in the Road to Indy was always the goal; however, it seemed like a distant reality. To be sitting here, announcing that we are expanding to Indy Lights and have a four-tiered ladder system after seven years of competition, is one of the proudest moments of my career. This transition is a natural fit for the Exclusive Autosport program. Dan Andersen and the entire Road to Indy organization have been incredible to work with from day one. They have been very supportive of our efforts. We are thrilled to be a part of it. I want to thank my wife and children for all of their support and my incredible crew led by Mirl Swan. We are looking forward to what 2020 will bring.”

Exclusive Autosport’s entry into the top level of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires means that the list of teams expecting to take part in the 2020 season will grow to five.

Like most, I had aspirations to be an IndyCar driver.” Duncalfe told TSO Ladder. “Obviously, that wasn’t realistic for me, because I didn’t understand the business side of things early on. I’m absolutely thrilled to still be in a sport that I absolutely love and that I’m very passionate about. It’s been an incredible journey.”

The team is headquartered in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, and the Road To Indy portion of the team will be based in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Exclusive Autosport will be one of two teams with seats available on all three rungs of the Road To Indy ladder. HMD Motorsports recently announced that their goal in 2020 is to run cars in all three series.

Exclusive Autosport will also continue their successful F1600 effort where the team has won 17 championships in Canada. That includes the 2019 Toyo Tires F1600 Championship and Formula 1600 Super Series Championship with driver Olivier Bedard.

“Running at every level of the North American open-wheel ladder gives drivers the ability to graduate within our program from F1600 to USF2000 to Indy Pro 2000 to Indy Lights,” said Duncalfe when TSO Ladder asked him about the benefits of having cars in all series. “We establish a great relationship with a driver and a family giving them confidence in the team and staff that they are working with. That only helps the driver to continue that relationship instead of having to build a relationship with a new team every year.”

Exclusive Autosport is an off-shoot of former racer Duncalfe’s driver development and management entity Exclusive Management; moving into racing and importing race cars in 2013.

The team expanded into the USF2000 Championship in 2017, running full season programs for fellow Canadian Parker Thompson and Dev Gore. Success came almost immediately with Thompson standing on the podium in the squad’s first weekend of Road To Indy action. Thompson ended the team’s rookie season in third place in the championship, collecting three wins and three pole starts along the way.

The team’s USF2000 success continued in 2018 with Igor Fraga fighting for top honors among the drivers not named Kyle Kirkwood.

Last year, the team also moved into the Indy Pro 2000 series, once again entering a new championship with Thompson. Thompson won three races, falling just short of the championship after a season-long battle with eventual winner Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay).

This year, Rookie Danial Frost extended the team’s Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires winning streak to three years, winning on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway Park and the Exhibition Place street circuit in Toronto.

“The biggest thing is our ability to recognize what makes a driver tick and our ability to understand that every driver learns differently,” explained Duncalfe when asked what separates them from the other teams in the Road To Indy paddock. “We can adapt our program to what they need every year.”

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