As with the Verizon IndyCar Series and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, the month of May also features a crown jewel on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires schedule with the Freedom 100 on Friday, May 25 – Miller Lite Carb Day. The race has produced three of the closest finishes in history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the 2016 finish at the top of the record books when Dean Stoneman of Andretti Autosport won by a mere 0.0024 seconds over Carlin’s Ed Jones (pictured below).
As a preamble to one of the most highly anticipated race weekends, Indy Lights heads to the Brickyard’s 2.439-mile road course this week for two key rounds in a tightly contested championship where Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward leads Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia by 16 points. In the four rounds held to date, six drivers – and all teams – have made at least one visit to the podium. While the field remains small this year, the level of competition is high.
“As I have said before, we’ve done our job too well,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Seriously, it is great to see our teams and drivers moving up to the IndyCar series. That is our goal all along. It hurt us a bit in terms of car count this season but that’s a product of the system and we feel confident the tide will change for next year. We have a lot of graduates to cheer on this month.
“In terms of competition, I think we have a terrific equipment package that really lets the drivers shine and prepares them well for the next step up the ladder. We had AER (Advanced Engine Research) work on several things during the off-season, most notably changing the wastegate, which seems to have resolved any perceived issues of non-parity. It’s in the hands of the drivers and teams to make their mark, and we look forward to an exciting championship.”
Sophomore driver Aaron Telitz of Belardi Auto Racing agrees that a level playing field is in place.
“I think AER is doing a good job in terms of engine performance and parity,” said Telitz. “The reliability is better and the past issues have been identified and fixed. They’re also good about asking our opinions. They trust the drivers and listen to us if we feel as though something is off. They’ll always look into it and either fix what’s wrong or explain why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. All a driver can ask for is a reliable, consistent engine and that no one team or driver is getting an unfair advantage and that’s what we have.”
“We appreciate how proactive the AER engineers have been, that they’ve been there whenever we needed them,” added team owner Brian Belardi. “We had some issues over the past few years, but AER has done a phenomenal job shaking the problems. We certainly can’t see them anymore, and we look at the engine data all the time. There’s no evidence of any problems now so it’s not an issue moving forward. Now it’s a matter of who has the best racecraft, which is how it should be.”
The Dallara IL-15 was unveiled at the Speedway in May of 2014 and made its competition debut the following year. It is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R engine developed in conjunction with AER. The engine was first campaigned by Mazda in sports car competition. The powerplant produces 450 HP with 50 HP available via push-to-pass and will last an entire season without a rebuild.
To date, 38 track records have been broken in the 52 races held since the debut of the Dallara IL-15.
“Starting from the beginning of the season at St. Petersburg, we have noticed that within our own stable of Indy Lights drivers, the parity among the Mazda MZR-R engines is very comparable,” said J-F Thormann, President of Andretti Autosport. “Now headed into the busiest stretch of our race season, we’re confident with the engines and think they will do just fine.”
“AER has really stepped up their customer service and support for our team throughout the past two seasons,” noted Team Owner Ricardo Juncos of Juncos Racing, the defending Indy Lights champions. “Although we have not faced any major issues in the past two years, they have always been there to assist us if we have any kind of issue or question. Each year we have noticed the quality of service getting better and the communication is more efficient. I look forward to continuing our great relationship and success with AER in the Indy Lights series.”
Of the 35 drivers entered for the Indianapolis 500, five are Freedom 100 winners – Ed Carpenter, Gabby Chaves, Jack Harvey, Matheus “Matt” Leist and Josef Newgarden – and 19 of the 35 drivers have contested a Freedom 100 race. Only two drivers – Jack Harvey and Dean Stoneman – have won on both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and oval in Indy Lights.
Following a test and practice day on Thursday, May 10, the double-header Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis in support of the Lupus Foundation of America will take place on Friday and Saturday. After a week’s break, Indy Lights will return to the Speedway for an oval test day on Monday, May 21, followed by practice and qualifying on Thursday, May 24, and the Freedom 100 on Friday, just after final IndyCar practice for the 500.