Archives for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire – TSO

Previewing Indy Lights at Circuit of The Americas – 2019 – the series returns to the Lone Star State for the first time since 2013

By Steve Wittich

For the first time since 2013, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series will race in the Lone Star State. Sage Karam won on the Streets of Houston in 2013.

Travis Gregg celebrates an Indy Lights win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2005. That was the last time the top run of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires raced in the Lone Star State (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR – Ron McQueeney)

The pair of races will be the seventh and eighth the state has hosted since Casey Mears won the first state of Texas Indy Lights race on the Houston Street Circuit in 2000.

Other Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires winners at the Texas Motor Speedway include Damien Falkner, A.J. Foyt IV and Thiago Madeiros (twice).


Some things we will be watching

Too early.

It’s way too early to be talking about the championship and the three-race NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that comes with it. However, that won’t stop us from giving you the 411 on who is leading.

Veteran Zachary Claman won the first race of the season and backed that up with a solid second place finish in the second race to earn a 9 point lead going into the third and fourth race of the season.

Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) and Toby Sowery are both within ten points and the top eight are within 30 points of the Canadian veteran.


Sowery returns, Malukas impresses and BN Racing leads

For the second straight event, the Indy Lights entry list includes a joint BN Racing and Team Pelfrey car for English driver Toby Sowery. Sowery finished on the podium twice in his Indy Lights debut and will attempt to extend his personal Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires podium streak to five.

Sowery, who is part of the Lamborghini GT3 Squadra Corse Junior Programme tested at Circuit Paul Ricard with Team Lazarus in the days after the St. Petersburg season opener.

TSO Ladder Opinion: Sowery has other commitments that are career based. It’s understandable that the 22-year-old would stick with those. However, I (Steve) would love to see him back as much as his schedule permits. Sowery is the consummate “pro,” and his presence will only help David Malukas and BN Racing get better.

Toby Sowery will be returning for the second weekend of Indy Lights action in the Gap Guard / Rich Energy sponsored No. 2 entered by BN Racing / Team Pelfrey (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The 17-year-old Malukas did precisely what he needed to on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Log laps, learn and gather solid finishes. His three-wide pass of Robert Megennis and his teammate is the early contender for the move of the season and could be hard to beat.

In the course of three years, BN Racing has gone from karting to leading the Indy Lights team championship. An impressive feat.


Which team learned the most during the Circuit of The America’s test in February?

With three of the top four laps turned by Andretti Autosport drivers, Belardi Auto Racing, Juncos Racing and BN Racing had a lot of homework to do in the past month.

The Belardi Auto Racing No. 13 of Claman ended the February test on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course in the fifth spot, almost a full second behind Askew, but that hasn’t changed the focus for the 20-year-old.

“Super excited to head to COTA, for me the focus is the same as the first race weekend, and that is to win races,” said Claman. “I can’t wait to get the race weekend underway, and seeing how we stack up at a new track for us!”

We’ll be watching closely to see what changes engineers Tim Neff and Kent Boyer made to give their drivers a better chance to fight with the Andretti Autosport trio. The addition of Falchero, who tested with Andretti Autosport at Circuit of The Americas should help provide the Brownsburg, Ind. based team with more data.

Juncos Racing rookie VeeKay was only two-tenths of a second off the quickest time set by Oliver Askew set during the test in February. The addition of Dalton Kellett’s veteran feedback can undoubtedly help the team push their team forward.


Speaking of Askew and VeeKay

The duo has shared the podium a total of 14 times over the past two seasons and before the second race at St. Petersburg, had been mainly drama free. That all changed with a Lap 1, Turn 2 incident in the second race of the weekend at St. Petersburg.

Both drivers are even-tempered, so it will be interesting to see how this impacts what has quietly become an intriguing Road To Indy rivalry to watch.

Rookie Oliver Askew will look to put a difficult race on Sunday at St. Petersburg behind him and focus on moments like a pole-winning lap. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“In general, I think St. Pete was a solid opening weekend for us,” said Askew headed into this weekend’s pair of races at Circuit of The Americas. “Leaving with a podium in race one and a pole position for two shows that we’re here to stay and fight all season long. It was unfortunate to be taken out in race two, my team and everyone on the 28 car work too hard to retire that early in the race. I’m taking all preventative measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’d like to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport for their dedication to this program and my sponsors Index Invest, the Stellrecht Company, Wavelength Images, Bell Helmets and Sparco USA.”


Tire degradation

If you were looking for a drinking word in both the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and NTT IndyCar Series this weekend, it would most likely be “degradation.”

“There is quite a bit of degradation,” explained VeeKay after the February test. “I don’t think there will be issues, but it will be necessary to manage. I think it will be hard for every driver to manage that. I think it will be extra fun.”


Bounce back and continue to learn

Topping preseason testing and leading the first Indy Lights practice session in St. Petersburg, Fla. didn’t bring Andretti Autosport veteran Ryan Norman the desired results. The 21-year-old finished seventh and sixth in the first two races of the season, but is excited to quickly get back behind the wheel of the EVO sponsored No. 48 AER/Dallara IL-15.

“I’m really excited to get to COTA,” exclaimed Norman. “We didn’t have the best weekend in St. Pete, so I’m looking forward to turning things around in Austin. We were fast in testing and we should be right at the front of the grid come race day.”

Ryan Norman during testing at Circuit of The Americas in February (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Julien Falchero, a rookie with Belardi Auto Racing, had a solid start to his Indy Lights career. After finishing eighth in his first street course race, the Frenchman moved from his eighth start spot to finish fifth on Sunday. The 22-year-old was the second quickest driver during the February test at Circuit of The Americas and expects better results this weekend.

“My goal this weekend is to fight for a victory,” said the pilot of the No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing machine. “I know the track, and I like it. During the pre-season test, I had a really good rhythm, so I am expecting to be quick and expect to be fighting for good results all weekend long.”

Robert Megennis ended his second Indy Lights race against the concrete barriers, but that doesn’t mean that the Andretti Autosport driver didn’t have a successful opening weekend. A clean sixth-place finish on Saturday was followed by an inside second row starting place on Sunday, racing inside the podium and setting the quickest lap of the race.

“I’m so excited to be heading to COTA next week,” said the 18-year-old, who is scheduled to make his 50th career Road To Indy start on Saturday. “The track was a blast to drive in spring training, and I know it’s going to generate some great racing. We showed good speed at St. Pete, my first two Indy Lights races, even running the fastest lap of Race 2. I learned an immense amount about these Indy Lights cars, and I feel so much more prepared to show everyone what I’ve got at weekend number two. Thanks to CyberArk, Optiv, Palo Alto Networks, SailPoint, and of course Andretti Autosport for getting me on track!”

Dalton Kellett’s first Indy Lights race with Juncos Racing ended a string of 68 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts with Andretti Autosport. That change is going to take some adjustment, and the 26-year-old should be more comfortable this weekend.

We recommend watching this video from this graduate of Engineering Physics program at Queens University in Kingston Ontario if you want to learn more about the AER/Dallara IL-15.

Making the jump from USF2000 to Indy Lights means a big adjustment. Belardi Auto Racing rookie Lucas Kohl handled it like a pro. The Brazilian ran every lap in St. Petersburg, Fla. and also got quicker in each session.

The 20-year-old was less than a second behind Askew’s race two pole time after beginning the weekend over two seconds off the pace.


Road To Indy alum wins in Sebring

Shelby Blackstock, a recent Indy Lights grad and driver coach for Indy Pro 2000 team Abel Motorsports, cruised to a 7.2-second victory in the TCR class of the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 which is part of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

Blackstock and co-driver Tom O’Gorman, who also won the season-opening race at the Daytona International Speedway, started fourth in their Honda Civic Type R and led 17 laps, including the final 16 circuits. The pair have a 16 point advantage after two of ten rounds.


Race weekend basics

Race name: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products

Race #1 length: 20 laps (
Race #2 length: 40 laps or 55 minutes

Each entry can utilize four new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from St. Petersburg. 

Each driver will have 20 activations of the 50 horsepower push to pass (PTP), with each activation lasting 10 seconds

PTP is not functional during starts and restarts, and a driver must be within 1.5 seconds of the car ahead of them for the system to become active

Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty

Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty

Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap

Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and they will not be able to leave pit road for the remainder of the session

Track limits at Circuit of The Americas will be enforced. The penalty for exceeding track limits will be the loss of the time from the lap that track limits were exceeded.

Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, and to the driver who leads the most laps – note that no point is given for the quickest race lap because of the use of PTP


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VeeKay wins after clash with Askew in Indy Lights Race #2 – Claman and Sowery nab second podiums

By Steve Wittich

For the 11th time in his Road To Indy career, but first time in Indy Lights, Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) stood on the top step of the podium.

VeeKay is the eighth member of an exclusive club that includes drivers that have won on all three steps of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

VeeKay has now won in 34.4% of his 32 starts, has stood on the podium in 71.9% of his starts and has only finished outside of the top five on two occasions. A truly astounding display of race-craft and consistency.

The native of Hoofddorp, Netherlands also extended his impressive record on the unforgiving streets of St. Petersburg, where he is now six-for-six in terms of top-five finishes.

Race #1 winner Claman had a goal of winning every race this season but wasn’t too disappointed in a drive that saw him improve two spots to finish second and take a nine-point championship lead over VeeKay to the next pair of races at Circuit of The Americas.

“The goal was to win both races and leave here with the points lead, so I’m happy to have the latter but disappointed not to get the win today,” said the 20-year-old veteran after his second straight Indy Lights podium. “I was like a kid in a candy shop near the end because I had plenty of push-to-pass left and I was going to use them to get by Rinus, but he did a good job to keep me back there. I had a few big moments through Turn Four and almost lost it, but I gave it everything I had. I haven’t raced since Toronto (in 2018) and haven’t done much testing, so as the season goes on, I’ll get better and I’ll learn how to manage the tires better.”

For the second straight day, Toby Sowery wheeled the No. 2 Team Pelfrey/BN Racing machine, sporting the familiar yellow and black Pelfrey livery, to the podium. The 2019 event in the “Sunshine City” is the fourth straight year that livery has visited the podium during the season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It was the Cambridge, England driver’s fourth straight Road To Indy podium and after the race, he told TSO Ladder:

“I’m proud of the team’s performance this weekend. The other teams have been here before in this car and we haven’t, so it was a learning curve for all of us. For us to get two podiums, and to have David fighting for a podium as well, it’s great for the team. They’ve done a fantastic job; it’s been a pretty nice weekend.”

After a waved-off start, the front row featuring a pair of Road To Indy scholarship winners, pole sitter Askew and VeeKay brought the Indy Lights field to the green flag to start the 40-lap Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires on Sunday morning.

Askew and VeeKay were both on the gas quickly, and the duo went side-by-side through Turn 1 and kept their foot in the gas as the pair got to the narrow end of the Turn 2 funnel. The drivers made side-by-side contact with Askew’s No. 28 AER/Dallara IL-15 from the Andretti Autosport stable ending catching some air and making substantial contact with the concrete barriers on driver’s left.

Rinus VeeKay on the outside of Oliver Askew in Turn 1 right before the pair made contact. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The 2017 USF2000 champion and 2018 Indy Pro 2000 champion have shared the podium 14 times over the past two seasons and have spent countless laps racing near each other but had never made contact until today. Naturally, they both differing opinions on what happened.

“Veekay was on my left corner going in to Turn 2 and I thought I gave him enough room,” explained Askew after the incident. “I felt him clip my rear tire and I went into the wall. It’s really unfortunate, and I feel really bad for the No. 28 crew, Index Invest, the Stellrecht family, and everyone at Andretti Autosport.”

“I knew I could go way deeper going into Turn One at the start because I was in the clean line, so I went super-deep and was next to Oliver but we both ran out of road, said VeeKay after the race. “I didn’t want to take too much curb in Turn Two because I knew I could bounce off and that could end up bad for both of us, and I thought we had enough space. I feel sorry for Oliver but I was happy to come out with the lead.”

No action was taken by race control regarding the Lap 1, Turn 2 incident.

The field was forced to circulate under yellow for five laps while a forklift was retrieved to put the barriers back into place.

The running order just before the green flag came back out was: VeeKay, Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Claman, David Malukas (BN Racing), Sowery, Julien Falchero (Belardi Auto Racing), Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing) and Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing).

Toby Sowery, who lost a few spots on the start was able to pass Malulkas, his teammate for the weekend, on the first full lap of racing under green.

Out front, VeeKay pulled out to a comfortable lead while the next six battling hammer and tong for the final spots on the podium.

On lucky Lap 13, the No. 13 of Claman made a daring outside pass of Megennis stick in Turn 1, which caused the rookie Andretti Autosport pilot to compromise his line exiting Turn 3. Sowery and Malukas quickly pounced and the trio went three-wide in the long, bumpy run down to turn four.

Malukas surprised his teammate with his bold move to grab the final step of the podium.

“It was a fun battle with my teammate,” said Sowery. “I honestly didn’t see him when we both went around Robert, so was surprised to see it was David alongside me going into Turn Four. It was a fantastic move on his part, especially on a street circuit. I left him enough space because I might not be here for the entire championship and he is, so I’m not going to affect that.”

At the halfway point of the race, VeeKay was able to gap Claman by a comfortable three-second margin with Malukas holding off his teammate for the final spot on the podium.

With 15 laps remaining Sowery was able to get by Malukas again and within five laps was starting to put pressure on Claman for second place.

Toby Sowery navigates the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit in Race #2 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Sowery continued to hound Claman, using the 50hp push-to-pass system to attempt a pass in Turn 1 on Lap 34, but the veteran from Montreal was able to hold the newcomer off.

Later on that lap, Megennis brought out the second full-course caution of the race when his No. 27 Andretti Autosport AER/Dallara IL-15 ended up against the concrete barriers at the exit of Turn 10.

“It was kind of a disappointing race,” said Megennis after the race. “We had really good pace, started in third and got up to second on the first lap. After the restart, we just couldn’t get the car underneath us. It was super loose for the first eight laps and we fell down to fifth. From there, the car kind of came alive. We had a really good race car, made the fast lap of the race. I was running in fifth until I made a mistake and ended up in the wall. There are a lot of positives to take away from it. I’m disappointed with the results – I shouldn’t really be making mistakes like that, but I am excited to go to COTA with a better understanding of the car and learning from our mistakes. I know we have good race cars and a lot of pace to be contenders at our next event and bring home Palo Alto Networks, CyberArk, Optiv, and SailPoint a podium or race win.”

The two laps behind the pace-car erased a four+ second lead that the Dutchman had built up and brought Claman back to within 1.5 seconds and his remaining application of push-to-pass.

The winner of race #1 was able to put pressure on VeeKay but was not a serious threat to snatch the victory.

Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 Results

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM DIFFERENCE
1 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 40 laps
2 13 Zachary Claman Belardi Auto Racing -0.6328
3 2 Toby Sowery BN Racing/Team Pelfrey -3.0406
4 79 David Malukas BN Racing -4.1102
5 4 Julien Falchero Belardi Auto Racing -4.9477
6 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport -6.0376
7 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing -13.5252
8 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing -17.6521
9 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport – 8 Laps
10 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport -39 Laps

Zachary Claman gives Belardi Auto Racing “St. Pete” wins in four straight years – Toby Sowery and Oliver Askew podium in Indy Lights debut

By Steve Wittich

Zachary Claman’s second career trip to Indy Lights victory lane extended a Belardi Auto Racing’s St. Petersburg, Fla. win streak to four years.

The 20-year-old joins Felix Rosenqvist, Aaron Telitz, and Santi Urrutia as winners on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.

The Montreal, Quebec native led every lap, but that doesn’t mean he had a comfortable drive with newcomer Toby Sowery finishing only seven-tenths of a second behind Claman.

Zachary Claman gets congratulated by Belardi Auto Racing team manager John Brunner (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Claman after the race. “I pulled a good gap early, but he (Sowery) came on late. I did just find out he had new tires to start, so that gives me some relief. We have some work to do for tomorrow, and all my focus is on tomorrow now.”

Sowery, who only got the call to drive the No. 2 BN Racing / Team Pelfrey entry while he was at work two days before he needed to be on track for testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway never dreamed a situation could happen.

“No really, no,” said the 22-year old when asked if he could dream up this situation. “It was similar in Road America, but in that situation I got a weeks notice, whereas here it was a phone call, catch a flight to get here ASAP. I didn’t think I’d be here at all.”

The Cambridge, England native has three straight second-place Road To Indy finishes gave the BN Racing / Team Pelfrey crew credit for giving him a competitive car, saying:

“It was pretty dialed in. The team has done a remarkable job of putting a reliable and comfortable car underneath me. The car has been really good.”

Toby Sowery wheeled the familiar yellow and black Team Pelfrey livery to a second place finish in the Englishman’s first Indy Lights race (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Andretti Autosport rookie Oliver Askew started third and finished third in his first Indy Lights race. The Jupiter, Fla. native now has three career Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires poles in his home state and was happy with his result.

“A podium was the goal, said the 22-year-old, about his 17th career Road To Indy podium. “I was happy to get through cleanly because this track can really take away points, but I didn’t have much for the guys at the end. We had a good day today – P3 in the race and pole for tomorrow’s race, so I think we made a statement today, and we plan to keep the momentum going into the future.”

The first Indy Lights race of the 2019 season was run in the heat of the day, and that is likely what led to a relatively uneventful 35 lap race.

Claman, who was starting on pole for the first time in 34 previous Indy Lights races got a fair but good jump on outside front row starter Sowery, who has only made four other rolling starts in his career, in the previous Road To Indy starts.

David Malukas was able to get past Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) on the first circuit on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, which ended up being the only pass for position.

The first ten laps featured spirited battles between Malukas and Askew for the final spot on the podium, as well as VeeKay and Megennis for the fifth spot. The trailing drivers made spirited pass attempts but were not able to complete them.

After the race, podium finisher Askew told TSO that the warmer ambient and track temperatures were likely to blame for a change in balance, lower downforce and race lap times that were over a second slower than last year.

Conditions for the second race of the weekend, which rolls off at 10:05 a.m. on Sunday morning should be more conducive to exciting racing.

The top eight drivers had race lap times within a second of each other, proving that field is close.

Ryan Norman ended the race in seventh, but it could have been much worse. The championship contender made massive Turn 9 contact in qualifying only hours before the race. The Andretti Autosport Indy Lights crew worked hard and was able to get the No. 48 EVO sponsored car to the grid.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products Race #1 Results

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM DIFFERENCE
1 13 Zachary Claman Belardi Auto Racing 35 LAPS
2 2 Toby Sowery BN Racing/Team Pelfrey -0.7271
3 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport -4.3757
4 79 David Malukas BN Racing -8.1375
5 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing -10.6064
6 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -21.4424
7 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport -23.4315
8 4 Julien Falchero Belardi Auto Racing -26.9144
9 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing -54.3808
10 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing -1 LAPS

The second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend roles off at 10:05 a.m. on Sunday.

 

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Zachary Claman wins his first Indy Lights pole – the top 8 were within a half-second.

If the first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires qualifying session of 2019 is any indication, Road To Indy fans could be in for a fantastic season with close competition throughout the field.

Zachary Claman led a group of eight drivers within a half-second of Claman’s lap of 65.808 seconds to capture his first career Indy Lights pole. A quintet of talented rookies were led by Toby Sowery (BN Racing/Team Pelfrey) and followed by Oliver Askew (Andretti Autosport), David Malukas (BN Racing), Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport) and Juncos Racing’s Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay).

Zachary Claman captured his first career Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires pole in qualifying for the first of two Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires on the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

TSO Ladder had the opportunity to catch up with the first-time poles sitter after the session, and he described his car on his pole-winning lap as “comfortably” loose. The Montreal, Quebec native is working with championship winning engineer Tim Neff who gave his driver full credit for the pole lap, saying Claman was “wheeling it.”

The fourth was made up of veteran Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), and Belardi Auto Racing rookie Julien Falchero were the final two drivers within that half-second.

“I’m pretty disappointed with qualifying,” said veteran Norman, who led the first practice session. “The car was a little loose going through the corners, so it was really hard for me to roll speed. I hit the wall two times because we rolled in then it would break free. We just need to make a couple changes to the car and come back stronger tomorrow. Everything is there, we just have to dial it in right.”

The final row will consist of Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing) and Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing)

The pole is the fourth in the last six Indy Lights qualifying sessions on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for the Brownsburg, Ind. based Belardi Auto Racing, and the fifth overall. Claman joins Gabby Chaves (2014), Felix Rosenqvist (2016) and Aaron Telitz (2107 & 2018) as pole sitters piloting Belardi Red Cars.

The first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires qualifying session of the 2019 season got underway at 1:35 pm with bright sunshine and the air temperature at 74F.

There were no red flags during the session, but a few drivers visited the run-off in Turn 4, and Kohl nosed his red IL-15 into the tires in Turn 4.

At the halfway point of the 30 minutes, session veteran Zachary Claman with a lap of 66.1955 seconds was on provisional pole but was chased closely by a quartet of drivers. Askew, VeeKay, Malukas, and Sowery were all within four-tenths of a second of Claman.

Just before that 15 minute part of the session, the field came to pit lane for adjustments and fresh Cooper Tire Rubber.

The first driver to get their tires up to the proper operating temperature and improve on their scuffed tire lap was Megennis.

Not long after, Askew turned his quickest lap to that point and knocked Claman from the provisional pole.

Askew’s time on the provisional pole was short lived as a minute later Claman was to retake the top spot on his 15th lap of the session with a lap timed at 65.808 seconds.

Megennis, Malukas, and Askew all made a run the Belardi Auto Racing driver in his third Indy Lights season, but it was newcomer Sowery, who came the closest ending the session just over a tenth-of-a-second behind Claman.

Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires Qualifying #1 Timesheet

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM FAST LAP DIFFERENCE TOTAL LAPS
1 13 Zachary Claman Belardi Auto Racing 1:05.808 –.—- 19
2 2 Toby Sowery BN Racing/Team Pelfrey 1:05.923 0.1148 22
3 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport 1:05.988 0.1795 21
4 79 David Malukas BN Racing 1:06.046 0.2375 22
5 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 1:06.069 0.2610 23
6 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 1:06.178 0.3696 23
7 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 1:06.262 0.4537 21
8 4 Julien Falchero Belardi Auto Racing 1:06.299 0.4908 22
9 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing 1:07.074 1.2659 23
10 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing 1:07.169 1.3610 19

Indy Lights is back on track at 8:30 am for their second qualifying session of the weekend, and the green flag flies for Race #1 at 1:15 pm on Saturday.

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Norman and Oliver Askew go 1-2 in tight Indy Lights practice

By Steve Wittich

Andretti Autosport veteran Ryan Norman began the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires session the same way he ended pre-season testing. As the fastest driver.

The 20-year-old was the only driver to turn a lap of under 66 seconds topping his Andretti Autosport Oliver Askew by just over a tenth of a second.

The first official Indy Lights session of the 2019 season began on time under bright blue skies and comfortable temperatures.

The ten entries compete for a three-race NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that includes a shot at qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

The entire 45-minute session was run under green flag conditions, and the drivers were able to complete 287 total laps. Rookies Oliver Askew and Lucas Kohl each made 32 circuits, the most of any driver.

Veteran Belardi Auto Racing pilot Zachary Claman, who is back in Indy Lights after a stint in the NTT IndyCar Series last year was the quickest driver one-third of the way through the session. The Canadian was joined in the top five by David Malukas (BN Racing), Askew, Toby Sowery (BN Racing/Team Pelfrey) and Norman.

Claman remained on top of the timing screens at the two-thirds point of the session with Belardi Auto Racing rookie Julien Falchero replacing Sowery in the top five.

The top eight drivers were all within one second of Norman, with six of them within a half-second.

Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires Practice 1 Timesheet

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM FAST LAP DIFFERENCE TOTAL LAPS
1 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 1:05.966 –.—- 30
2 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport 1:06.106 0.1393 32
3 13 Zachary Claman Belardi Auto Racing 1:06.323 0.3566 28
4 79 David Malukas BN Racing 1:06.463 0.4968 27
5 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 1:06.469 0.5030 31
6 2 Toby Sowery BN Racing/Team Pelfrey 1:06.518 0.5518 27
7 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 1:06.726 0.7599 22
8 4 Julien Falchero Belardi Auto Racing 1:06.792 0.8260 29
9 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing 1:07.507 1.5404 29
10 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing 1:08.004 2.0380 32

Previewing the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season and opening event in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season opener on the Streets Of St. Petersburg will mark the 11th straight year that top level of American Open Wheel racing gets underway in the “Sunshine City.”

When the green flag flies for the first race of the weekend, the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit will surpass the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval as the track that has hosted the most season openers.

This weekends visit will be the 22nd time in 34 seasons that Indy Lights begins their season in Florida. The 11th season opener by the St. Petersburg Street Circuit breaks a tie with the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, which hosted the Indy Lights opener on ten occasions.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race winners on the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Year Driver Team
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

Zach Veach celebrates his first Indy Lights win in 2014. He will starting his second full-time NTT IndyCar Series season this weekend (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)


Winning the season opener.

In the 33 previous seasons of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires action, the winner of the first race of the year only won the championship on 13 occasions.

The winner of the 2018 Indy Lights scholarship, Patricio O’Ward was the first driver to win the title after visiting victory lane in the first race of the year.

YEAR DRIVER
1989 Mike Groff
1990 Paul Tracy
1991 Eric Bachelart
1995 Greg Moore
1996 David Empringham
2000 Scott Dixon
2002 A. J. Foyt, IV
2003 Mark Taylor
2007 Alex Lloyd
2010 J. K. Vernay
2011 Josef Newgarden
2012 Tristan Vautier
2018 Patricio O’Ward

Since the introduction of the AER powered Dallara IL-15 four seasons ago, the winner of the first race has had an average championship finish of 4.0 and twice has finished outside of the top five in the title chase.

In 33 seasons of Indy Lights action, the average championship position of the season-opening race winner is 4.4, and that winner has finished tenth or worse on five occasions.

Junior Strous, who won the first race of the 2009 season in St. Petersburg, Fla. only took part in one-third of the races that year and has the ‘distinction’ of being the lowest finishing driver to win the opening race. The Dutch driver ended up in 20th spot.


Does previous experience matter?

The 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season-opening event features ten entries with three veterans and seven rookies.

The three veterans in the field are representing three different teams and combined, Dalton Kellett (53), Zachary Claman (34) and Ryan Norman (34) have 121 Indy Lights starts. That number is equivalent to seven seasons of experience.

History tells us that a rookie has a slightly less than 40% chance of winning the scholarship for three NTT IndyCar Series races including the Indianapolis 500.

In 33 previous seasons, true rookies (drivers with no previous Indy Lights experience) have won the title on 13 occasions. The last true rookie to win the championship was Spencer Pigot in 2015. (Note – Patricio O’Ward was considered a rookie in 2018, but had competed in four previous Indy Lights races.)

However, that number doesn’t tell the entire story.

Championship Auto Racing Teams sanctioned the Indy Lights Series for 16 seasons, and in that era, only four rookies won the championship, giving rookie 25% title-winning percentage.

In 17 years of INDYCAR sanction that began in 2002 over 50% (nine times) of the titles have been won by rookies.


Race weekend basics

Race name: Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented By Cooper Tire

Race #1 length: 35 laps or 55 minutes
Race #2 length: 40 laps or 55 minutes

Each entry can utilize four new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from the test at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Each driver will have 20 activations of the 50 horsepower push to pass (PTP), with each activation lasting 10 seconds

PTP is not functional during starts and restarts, and a driver must be within 1.5 seconds of the car ahead of them for the system to become active

Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty

Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty

Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap

Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and they will not be able to leave pit road for the remainder of the session

Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, and to the driver who leads the most laps – note that no point is given for the quickest race lap because of the use of PTP


Watch the 2018 races

Race #1

Race #2


Other notes

  • More than half of the NTT IndyCar Series entries this weekend are Indy Lights alumni. That list includes Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Matheus Leist, Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach.
  • Patricio O’Ward set the qualifying (65.0392 seconds) track record in 2018 and Colton Herta set the race (65.4946 seconds) track record in 2018.
  • There are no previous Indy Pro 2000 race winners or pole sitters in the field this year.
  • The last time that the same team won both races was in 2015 when Carlin and Ed Jones took home the checkered flag in the first two races of the IL-15 era.
  • Andretti Autosport leads in poles won (seven) and laps led (273) at St. Petersburg. However, the team trails Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in trips to victory lane (seven to five) and podiums stood on (18-12)
  • The team with the most podiums at St. Petersburg during the four seasons of Dallara IL-15 competition is Belardi Auto Racing. Three of those podiums came in the form of victories by drivers Felix Rosenqvist, Aaron Telitz, and Santi Urrutia.
  • Less than 50% of the pole sitters, ten in 22 races, on the Streets of St. Petersburg have won after starting on the inside of the front row. The average finishing position of the pole sitter in all 22 races is 4.0, and for the eight races with the Dallara IL-15, the average is almost twice as high at 2.1.
  • Only three of the 22 Indy Lights races in St. Petersburg, Fla. have run caution free, including the first race in 2018, and eight times the caution flag has waved on the first lap, including the second race in 2018.
  • Only three of the 22 Indy Lights races have run caution free, and there have been eight first lap cautions.
  • Santi Urrutia’s 11.741 margin of victory is the largest at the event that has finished under green all but one time.
  • Only one of 22 Indy Lights races on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit has finished under yellow.

2019 team-by-team and driver-by-driver season preview

 

Andretti Autosport

When Patricio O’Ward clinched the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship at the Portland International Raceway he became the third Andretti Autosport driver to accomplish the feat and the first since J.R. Hildebrand in 2009.

The Indianapolis, Ind. based team was the dominant team in 2018, winning 14 of 17 races.

The team has had plenty of success in St. Petersburg, Fla. as well, winning five times with five different drivers. Marco Andretti won the first Indy Lights races on the street circuit in 2005, and he is joined by Colton Herta, Rafa Matos, Patricio O’Ward and Zach Veach as winners for the team at this event.

The team leads the way with seven poles, and 273 laps led and with 12 podiums, only trails Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

The team will field three cars for the 2018 season.

Leading the charge is veteran Ryan Norman, the pilot of the EVO sponsored No. 48. The third-year driver that recently became a local after moving to Tampa, Fl. has made 34 Indy Lights starts over the past two years and has collected a win, a pole, and four podiums.

The 20-year-old, who is working with engineer Joe D’Agastino for the third straight year stood on his first Indy Lights podium in the second race in St. Petersburg, Fla. last year.

Norman, who had a good winter of testing and led the final preseason test at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this week, wouldn’t call himself the favorite for the title. Instead, he is taking a workmanlike race-by-race outlook on the upcoming season.

“I’m going race by race and try and try and get the best possible result that I can get every time,” explained Norman to TSO Ladder. “I definitely want race wins, and I’m shooting for podiums every single race. The goal is to stay consistent and be there at the end.”

Norman will also get a chance to help a pair of rookies get acclimated to the top rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“I think for sure,” said Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport Chief Operating Officer when asked if Norman was ready to take on the role of team leader. “He won a race last year and finished last year on a high with pole position at Portland. Very much so.”

The first of Norman’s rookie teammates to sign on with the championship-winning team was New Yorker Robert Megennis, who can’t wait to get his fourth season of Road To Indy competition started.

“I’m so excited,” exclaimed the 18-year-old. “Testing has gone really well. The car is fun to drive. I’m so excited about everything in Indy Lights.”

Megennis will be behind the wheel of the No. 27 sponsored by CyberArk, Optiv, Palo Alto Networks, and SailPoint will be working experienced engineer Len Paskus.

The driver with one win and nine podiums in 47 Road To Indy starts has the distinction of driving four different cars in his four seasons. (Van Diemen USF2000, USF-17, PM-18 and IL-15)

Megennis and his fellow Andretti Autosport rookie teammate both finished their 2018 Indy Pro 2000 seasons on a high, tying for the second most points scored throughout the final five races.

Askew, the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner, will be taking part in his third Road To Indy season in as many years.

Askew, who worked with different engineers in his two previous Indy Lights test worked with Doug Zister, his engineer for the season for the first time during the Homestead-Miami Speedway test. Zister engineered Colton Herta to six wins the past two seasons and won the Indy Lights title with Josef Newgarden in 2011.

Andretti Autosport rookie Oliver Askew and his engineer Doug Zister debrief at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The 22-year-old Askew has started 30 Road To Indy races and has collected eight wins, 11 poles, 16 podiums, nine fastest race laps with only a single did not finish (DNF).

After spending two years as part of the Cape Motorsports family, Askew is comfortable with his move to the larger Andretti Autosport and compared the two organizations favorably.

It will be the same approach,” explained Askew when TSO Ladder asked if he’ll change his approach this year with a different team. “I feel I’m in a better position now than I have been in the past couple of years based on experience. Some people think maybe I should stay in Indy Pro 2000 for another year, but I think I’m more than ready to race this car.

“I think my environment now is amazing. The people here are very , and the environment is very positive.”

The 2019 campaign will also be the first time that Askew will have teammates that can push him, telling TSO Ladder:

“That’s something that I haven’t had in the past, a quick teammate. Nothing against Cape Motorsports, but it was just the situation we were in there. I do believe that those guys prepared me very well for this opportunity. The operation that they run and their work ethic and how they do things is pretty much spot on to how Andretti Autosport works.”

In four previous races on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, Askew has one win, one pole, three podiums and a worst finish of sixth.


Belardi Auto Racing

It’s been four seasons since Gabby Chaves won a championship for the Brownsburg, Ind. based Belardi Auto Racing, but stating that only tells part of the story.

Over those four seasons, the team’s pilots have won 13 races and finished second (Santi Urrutia – 2017), third (Urrutia – 2018) and fourth (Zach Veach – 2016).

The Brian Belardi owned, and John Brunner managed team has won one of the two races at the season opener each of the past three years and their seven podiums in the IL-15 era is the most of any team.

Zachary Claman, who had one win, four podiums, ten top-five finishes, and five fastest race laps while contesting the 2016 and 2017 seasons of Indy Lights will be back in the series with a singular objective.

“I’m excited to be back, and hopefully I can win the scholarship,” said the 20-year-old to TSO Ladder. “That’s the only goal. I’m definitely not coming back to finish second. I’m here to win, and that’s it.”

The Montreal, Quebec native has enjoyed working with the team so far, telling us:

“I really enjoy working with (engineer) Tim Neff. He’s won the championship a few times and worked with some good drivers. I’m still constantly learning stuff, even after being in IndyCar, and I’m going to improve throughout the year and put in a good enough effort to win.”

“ZCD,” who has dropped the DeMelo this year, has made four previous starts on the Streets surrounding the Albert Whited Airport with a best finish of seventh in 2017.

Lucas Kohl is a familiar face to Road To Indy fans, taking part in 44 USF2000 contests over the past three seasons.

Indy car veteran Roberto Moreno mentors the 20-year-old who understands that making the jump over Indy Pro 2000 to Indy Lights will be a tough one.

“To learn as much as I can,” said Kohl to TSO Ladder when asked what his expectations were for this year. “The team has a lot of experience, so they are really helping me with that transition. The car a lot more horsepower, so it’s a lot different to drive than the USF2000 car. The team has been really helping me make that transition smooth. The more time I get in the car, it’s going to get better and better, and I’m looking forward to the season.”

The Brazilian who calls Miami, Fla. home finished third in the USF2000 championship last year and has made six starts in St. Petersburg. His best finish was a third place in the second race of 2018.

After testing with Andretti Autosport over the off-season, Julien Falchero is joining Belardi Auto Racing for the 2019 season.

The 22-year-old has five seasons of racing experience in Europe including the last two in GP3 and will be working with experienced engineer Kent Boyer.

After five season racing in Europe, Frenchman Julien Falchero will be making the move to the U.S. to contest the 2019 Indy Lights Championship with Belardi Auto Racing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Falchero had the second quickest time in testing at Circuit of The Americas in February and ended this weeks test at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the third-best lap. The Valance, France native, is excited about making the move racing in the United States.

“I think already before the test at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) I was thinking about doing it,” explained Falchero about his move from Europe to the U.S.A. “When I saw the IndyCars and the atmosphere I decided this was the thing I wanted to do. I like everything. I like the car. The American spirit is great, and after COTA I decided I wanted to do this championship.”


Juncos Racing

Speedway, Ind. based Juncos Racing has won two of the last four Indy Lights championships and will field a car for the reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion for the second year in a row.

The Ricardo Juncos led team is still looking for their first win in the season opener but has shown pace on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit the past. Kyle Kaiser started on pole in 2016, and Kaiser along with Spencer Pigot have split four podiums.

In 30 races of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action, reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay), has ten wins, seven poles, 22 podiums and has finished with a top-five result in an astonishing 93% of his starts.

The 18-year-old recently won his second championship in six months, beating some of Europes best open wheel talent to win the F3 Asian Winter Series Championship.

The Hoofddorp, Netherlands driver is returning to Juncos Racing to fight for another championship after testing with Andretti Autosport and will be working with engineers Yancy Diotalevi and Juncos Racing technical director Ernie Gonella.

Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) will be looking to continue his impressive march the NTT IndyCar Series with a familiar team, Juncos Racing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“It’s nice to be with the same team,” said VeeKay to TSO Ladder. “It’s the same way of working. It’s like coming home with these guys. It’s really nice to be with this team, and we can challenge for the championship this year.”

VeeKay has two wins, one pole and four podiums in four previous starts on the shores of Tampa Bay.

Dalton Kellett, who has three years of experience in Indy Lights was a late signee and with a strong engineering background and three straight Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval podiums, should be able to help the team move their technical program forward.

The Toronto, Ontario native, who lives in Indianapolis, Ind. has made 111 Road To Indy starts including 53 in Indy Lights will be working with the experienced Tom Brown as his race engineer.

The 26-year-old with a degree in engineering physics from prestigious Queen’s University is looking for more consistency this year, telling TSO Ladder:

“Hopefully my expectations and goals are within a reasonable line of each other. I expect to be consistent; I expect to be competitive and would like to win and be consistently in the top five and top three.”

Kellett has made 14 Road To Indy starts in St. Petersburg across USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights.


BN Racing

A chance meeting at a Las Vegas Nevada Starbucks has led BN Racing, driver David Malukas and the do-everything team manager, mechanic and engineer Bryn Nuttall from karts to Indy Lights in four years.

BN Racing and David Malukas are both rookies in Indy Lights, but have had success on the other steps of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Malukas has three wins, four poles and seven podiums in 25 Road To Indy starts with Nuttall at his side the whole way.

“It’s big,” explained Malukas when asked how important it was to move up the ladder with Nuttall. “I started with Bryn in karting, and we’ve always had a connection. When you start that young, you have the jokes, and you have the inside language. It’s just good times.

“Even if we’re down and we’re slow, we still somehow make it fun and enjoyable and figure our way around it. I’ve tried other teams (at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and in Europe), and I never had that connection. I always felt a bit lost, like an introvert in the team and you have to make those connections again. To have a big connection with Bryn and the team, it makes a big difference.”

A Friday phone call led to Toby Sowery becoming the tenth Indy Lights entry for the Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented By Cooper Tire in a joint BN Racing/Team Pelfrey entry. For now, this is a one-off entry.

The 22-year-old has made four previous starts in the Road To Indy, two each in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000, including a pair of podiums in the later at Road America while driving for BN Racing earlier this year.

Sowery spent the majority of 2018 racing a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in International GT Open, but the Cambridge, England born driver has a ton of open-wheel experience, finishing winning a total of six times in the ultra-competitive BRDC British Formula # Championship finishing third and fourth in the 2015 and 2016 championship standings.

“It’s always nice to get a call,” said Sowery about this last minute opportunity. “Obviously, we’ve made a step up each time, so maybe next year (laughs) maybe you’ll see me in an IndyCar.”

When TSO asked Sowery what his goals were for this weekend he told us:

“Obviously, everything I do is to help the team but I have my ambitions as well, and I want the best results that I can get. It’s always tough limiting race expectations to reality. These boys have been testing. I’ve not been in any car since September, and the last single seater I drove was Indy Pro 2000 at Road America.”


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

Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires testing notebook from Homestead-Miami Speedway

By Steve Wittich

Does this test set the stage for the upcoming season?

That would be an empathetic maybe in Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 and a more likely in USF2000.

Last year Santi Urrutia led the Indy Lights portion of the test, and the two title combatants, Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta were third and seventh, respectively.

In 2017, the eventual series champion Kyle Kaiser had the third quickest test, while Herta led the way and finished third in the championship. The winner of the first race in St. Petersburg, Fla., Aaron Telitz was only eighth quickest.

In Indy Pro 2000, 2018 champion Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay), was only the eighth quickest during testing while his closest contender for the title Parker Thompson was fifth fastest.

The year before that, Anthony Martin led testing and finished second in the championship. Eventual scholarship winner Victor Franzoni didn’t take part in the Homestead-Miami Speedway test.

Last year in USF2000 the testing results mimicked the final championship standings with Cape Motorsports Kyle Kirkwood leading Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh and Lucas Kohl.

In 2017, eventual USF2000 champion Oliver Askew was the quickest driver while his closest championship contender VeeKay was the third fastest.


However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be learned by the drivers and teams.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway road course is an excellent venue for a driver and engineer to work together to implement meaningful changes, something that is particularly important for rookies and drivers with new teams and engineers.

Inevitably a team has some new crew members, and testing gives team managers a chance to work on cohesiveness.

Due to an abrasive track surface and a high number of slow speed corners, tire wear on the 14-turn circuit is significant. The test provides an excellent opportunity to learn how to save your tires and also how to keep a consistent pace on worn tires.


I had a chance to catch-up with Dominic Cape from Cape Motorsports. The team decided to shutter there Indy Pro 2000 team this year, selling those cars to Abel Motorsports and expanding their championship-winning USF2000 team from one car to three entries.

Dominic and his brother Nicholas have also been busy with their “hobby,” The Cape Brothers Speed Shop where they build hot rods and rat rods.

Check out the Cape Brothers Speed Shop Facebook Page for photos of their unique creations. I might be a little bit in love with the ’54 Buick Wagon.

And, if you are at the race in St. Petersburg, check out the 1950 Cadilac and 1957 Chevrolet they will have on display.


A few of the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 teams have stuck around to use the garages at Homestead-Miami Speedway to get their cars prepped for St. Petersburg. Those two series are on track just after lunch on Thursday, giving them only a few days of prep.

The teams that didn’t stick around are headed to The Florida International Rally & Motorsports Park, colloquially known as The FIRM in Starke, Fla to utilize the 1.6-mile road course that does an excellent job of mimicking a street circuit.


T here are some former Road To Indy, IndyCar and Formula One drivers serving as coaches in the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires this year.

Here is a partial list so far:

  • Rubens Barrichello with USF2000 driver Eduardo Barrichello
  • Shelby Blackstock with Indy Pro 2000 driver Jacob Abel
  • Matthew Brabham with the Cape Motorsports USF2000 drivers
  • RC Enerson and Michai Stephens with USF2000 rookie Nate Aranda
  • Darren Manning with Indy Lights driver Dalton Kellett
  • Roberto Moreno with Indy Lights driver Lucas Kohl
  • Ozz Negri with USF2000 driver Darren Keane

Steve’s travel and social report

I (Steve) flew into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday afternoon, the first of ten straight days in the Sunshine State. My pair of flights were completely uneventful and we arrived as scheduled.

I have a love/hate relationship with Ultimate Choice at Hertz. I love being able to choose my own car, I hate actually deciding when there is more than one interesting choice like was the case on this trip. I ended up with a Toyota 4-Runner and so far, I’m happy with that choice.

The 55-mile drive to my Air BnB in Homestead, Fl. quickly reminded me why I don’t think I would like living in Florida. The 55-mile drive on a Friday afternoon took almost two hours.

My Air BnB is a self-contained unit in the garage of a 1980’s ranch. Sounds weird right? It’s actually perfect for what I need. The room has a private bathroom, a fridge, a sitting area with a table, a TV and most importantly a comfortable bed. It’s also one-third of the price of the hotels in the area.

***Advertisement*** If you haven’t yet given Air BnB a shot, I highly recommend it. There are options for all budget levels and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. My one tip is to make sure the property has at least five reviews. Someone has to be the guinea pig, but it doesn’t have to be you. If you use any of links I’ve included to sign up, you’ll receive a $40 credit towards your first stay. (In full disclosure, I’ll also receive a $25 stay credit).

After getting settled in, I decided to head out for some Cuban food. I chose Mario’s Family Restaurant and had the traditional Churrasco (charbroiled skirt steak) with rice and beans. It was a great way to start my trip to South Florida.

On Saturday night, I asked friend and colleague Bruce Martin for his dining choices in Homestead and he suggested Richard Accursio’s Capri Restaurant. The old school Italian Restaurant has been in business since 1958 and it was a tremendous recommendation.

I started off with a glass of Chianti followed by an appetizer of crabmeat stuffed mushrooms. Then came a classic Caesar Salad with swimmers (anchovies) followed by my main course.

I decided on the Italian Sampler which consisted of Cheese Ravioli, Chicken Parmigiana, and Eggplant Rollatini. The portions were a perfect size, I left full but not stuffed and the red sauce was outstanding.

On Sunday night, Mexican food was the call and I decided to try El Rincon de Jalisco with a friend.  I went with a combination plate featuring a tostada, taco, and enchilada and he went with the Carne Asada. We were both happy with our orders.

Morning’s have consisted of a stop at one of the many traditional Cuban bakeries for a café con leche and pastry.

(so much for the 25 pounds I lost in the off-season)

Ryan Norman leads a tight final Indy Lights test before the season begins in five days.

By Steve Wittich

Ryan Norman, one of three veterans in the 2019 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series field, ended the final warm-up of the pre-season with the quickest lap of the day.

The 20-year-old turned in a lap of 75.1962 seconds on his 44th of 47 laps, which was 0.17 seconds ahead of his rookie teammate Robert Megennis.

Andretti Autosport’s veteran Ryan Norman led the final test before the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season gets under in St. Petersburg in just five days. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

When we saw Norman after the session, we mentioned that ‘you won the test,’ and he quickly fired back – “Now, we have to go win the race!”

That is the perfect response after a successful test.

All ten drivers were covered by only just over a second and the four were within a half-second of Norman.

The Indy Lights Series took part in an official test at Circuit of The Americas less than one month ago, and it was Andretti Autosport rookie Oliver Askew who ended the day with the quickest time.

The 22-year-old followed that up by leading the first session in the final tune-up to the 2019 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The top five drivers were all within one second of Askew. That group included Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), David Malukas (BN Racing), Zachary Claman (Belardi Auto Racing) and Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport).

The ten drivers turned a total of 290 laps of the 2.1-mile, 14-turn road course.

Askew, Megennis, Malukas, Claman, and Sowery all ran one set of new tires, while Norman, Falchero, VeeKay, Kohl, and Kellett remained on a carryover set.

Much like their USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 brethren, track time is just part of the final official test before the season-opening race in St. Petersburg. While the lower level series was on track Sunday, the Indy Lights driver were going through presentations, photo-shoots, and interviews with NBC.

The highest level American open-wheel ladder series began their final tune-up with a 90-minute session starting at 11 am. The sky was sunny, the ambient temperature was 83F, and the wind was 8mph from the Southwest.

Series returnee Claman, who is driving the No. 13 car from the Belardi Auto Racing stable was the first of the ten entries on track.

After the first 60 minutes of the 90-minute session, it was Andretti Autosport veteran Ryan Norman that was leading the way with a lap of 76.847 seconds. Claman (Belardi Auto Racing), Oliver Askew (Andretti Autosport), Julien Falchero (Belardi Auto Racing) Megennis and Malukas.

Toby Sowery is testing in a combined BN Racing / Team Pelfrey entry in a deal that came together quickly and at the last minute.

Sowery got a call from the team on Friday, and team manager Nigel Tuckey picked up the Team Pelfrey IL-15 on the same day. The No. 2 was last utilized at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September, and the BN Racing crew had to thrash to get it prepared to be on track today.

Sowery’s last open-wheel experience came with the same team at Road America last year in Indy Pro 2000 where he finished second in both races to his teammate then and now, Malukas.

Toby Sowery found out about his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires opportunity on Friday. The 22-year-old will be contesting the St. Petersburg round of the series with a joint BN Racing and Team Pelfrey entry. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The track reopened at 1:30 pm, but was quiet until 2:30 pm when VeeKay hit the 2.1-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course. The 2018 Indy Pro 2000 ran a few more laps on that set of scuff tires before bolting on a fresh set of Cooper Tire slicks and turned his quickest lap of the test at 76.466 seconds.

Norman was the second driver to head out in the heat of the day with the sun beating down, the thermometer at 85F and the track temperature above 120F.

The track was consistently busy over the last 90 minutes with the field turning a total of 396 laps (831.6 miles) in the afternoon stanza.

Each team received three sticker sets of Cooper Tire slicks for the test and all ten entries saved on set for the final fifteen minutes when the track had cooled down a little.

That was when Norman and Megennis traded quick laps a couple of times before the veteran came out on top.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Homestead-Miami Speedway test combined timesheet

RANK CAR NO. DRIVER TEAM FAST LAP DIFFERENCE TOTAL LAPS
1 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 1:15.196 –.—- 79
2 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 1:15.366 0.1699 78
3 4 Julien Falchero Belardi Auto Racing 1:15.497 0.3004 68
4 13 Zachary Claman Belardi Auto Racing 1:15.751 0.5544 61
5 28 Oliver Askew Andretti Autosport 1:15.863 0.6665 77
6 21 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 1:15.987 0.7903 72
7 67 Dalton Kellett Juncos Racing 1:16.133 0.9371 70
8 79 David Malukas BN Racing 1:16.227 1.0309 50
9 2 Toby Sowery BN Racing/Team Pelfrey 1:16.472 1.2755 49
10 5 Lucas Kohl Belardi Auto Racing 1:16.494 1.2977 82

Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) begins 2019 with a hard fought F3 Asian Winter Series Championship

By Steve Wittich

Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) began his 2019 racing season the way last season ended. By winning a championship.

VeeKay held a solid lead heading into the final event of the F3 Asian Winter Series Championship at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, but like if often does in racing, his title chase went sideways during the first race when VeeKay’s Autotecnica powered Tatuus made contact with a teammate early in the first race of the event.

The unflappable VeeKay was able to finish that race, and a pair of hard-fought podiums in the final races secured his second championship in six-months.

“It was a stressful weekend,” noted VeeKay, who is supported by Jumbo, La Place, and the Dutch KNAF Talent First program. “I now realize that a weekend where the championship has to be decided is totally different from a regular race weekend. But I’m extremely happy with this title. I learned a lot, and it was great to gain some more experience. I would also like to thank Hitech GP for all of their hard work.”

Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) celebrates his second championship in six-months (Photo Courtesy of Rinus Veekay)

The 18-year-old won four times and stood on the podium in eight of nine F3 Asian Championship Winter Series races to win the championship by a convincing 29 points.

The Dutch driver beat a highly touted group of junior open-wheel drivers including:

  • Yi Yifei, who won the 2016 Championnat de France F4 championship and finished third in last year’s Eurocup Formula Renault Series.
  • Alessandro Ghiretti, who has previous track experience at the host tracks of Sepang International Circuit (six races) and Buriram International Circuit (3 races) while dominating the Formula 4 South East Asia (SEA) Championship in 2018.
  • Red Bull Racing driver Dan Ticktum who is coming off a second-place finish in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship.
  • The most recent Eurocup Formula Renault Champion Max Fretwell.
  • Ralf Schumacher’s son David.

This off-season is the third straight year that VeeKay has contested a winter series. The previous pair of off-seasons had the 10-time Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires contesting the MRF Challenge Series.

Indy Lights testing from COTA – notebook, car count and a bunch of photos

By Steve Wittich

A few more notes from the two-day Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires testing at Circuit of The Americas.

It’s only a test, but don’t think that ending up on top of the timesheets isn’t important to the teams and drivers.

Andretti Autosport Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards told TSO Ladder: “It’s always important. It’s all competition. You all want to be up there. Obviously, we had two exceptional drivers last year. I think to show the depth of the team, that we can bring new drivers in and basically pick up where we ended up last year is very important. It’s always important, that’s where you want to be.


The term tire degradation doesn’t just apply to the NTT IndyCar Series, the drivers from the Indy Lights series are also experiencing fairly significant fall off with their Cooper Tire rubber. Most drivers we chatted with told us that the tires start to fall off after three or four laps.

Reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Rinus VeeKay told us:

There is quite a bit of degradation. I don’t think there will be issues, but it will be necessary to manage. I think it will be hard for every driver to manage that. I think it will be extra fun.


Another common refrain is that even a small mistake, especially in a crucial corner, can quickly ruin a lap.


After the final session, Marco Andretti called Oliver Askew aside to counsel him.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Askew about the opportunity to race for Andretti Autosport. “Just walking into the shop you feel the amount of experience and passion that the team has for it. All of these guys and girls work really, really hard. It means a lot, and hopefully, I can represent them well.”

Oliver Askew receives counsel from his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Veteran Dalton Kellett was using the No. 67 during the test. The 26-year-old told us that number was chosen because it’s the year that his primary sponsor, K-Line Companies, was founded. The company is in the very high voltage (think power lines) business was started by Kellett’s grandfather.


Indy Lights car count

The most common question we are asked about Indy Lights is: “how many cars will there be?” Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.

Seven of the drivers that are participating in the two-day test are signed for the 2019 season. That list includes Oliver Askew (Andretti Autosport), Zachary Claman (Belardi Auto Racing), Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing), David Malukas (BN Racing), Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport) and Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing),

Julien Falchero (Andretti Autosport), Dalton Kellett (Carlin) and Logan Sargeant (Carlin) are all “just” testing this week.

We talked to a team official from Carlin who told us that they are still evaluating an Indy Lights program for 2019 but made sure to emphasize that the team thinks it is essential to be a part of the series.

The last time we talked to Michael Andretti, he was reasonably confident they would have four cars.

When we asked Brian Belardi about a third car, he certainly wasn’t quick to say no. The veteran team owner did say that running a partial season with a third driver was a possibility.

Juncos Racing team owner Ricardo Juncos and BN Racing principal Bryn Nuttall both told TSO Ladder they would only be fielding a single Indy Lights car.

Larry Foyt told TSO that A.J. Foyt Racing was close to putting together an Indy Lights team, but ran out of time. The former “Road To Indy” driver did say that a ladder team is still something the team is interested in starting.

When we talked to Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt in October, he still wouldn’t rule out a return to the series where the Indianapolis based team made their name. However, the last IL-15 departed the shop and made its way to BN Racing.

We are also hearing rumors that another team might be joining the series for a limited schedule.

Where does that leave us?

Somewhere between 9 to 11 full-time entries and a few other drivers/teams contesting a few races.


Indy Lights are back on track (officially) on March 4, 2019, on the 2.21-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course before the season begins four days later in St. Petersburg, Fla.


Here are some pictures from testing at Circuit of The Americas.

Oliver Askew begins the 133 foot climb up to Turn 1 at Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Dalton Kellett waits in his Carlin No. 67 before the delayed start of the session (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Wooly hats and winter coats were on full display in a sub-32F start to testing at Indy Lights Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Zachary Claman heads down Circuit of The Americas pit-lane under the watchful eye of an AMR INDYCAR Safety Team member (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


David Malukas focuses on pit road at Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


The helmet of Julien Falchero on pit road at Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


David Malukas and Lucas Kohl on the 3.427-mile, 20-turn road course at Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


A smoke show from Dalton Kellett (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Robert Megennis debriefs with veteran Indy Lights engineer Len Paskus (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Ryan Norman exits pit lane at Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)


Logan Sargeant tested with Carlin (Photo Courtesy Of TSO Ladder)

 

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