Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire preview

After a one-year hiatus, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series returns to the 0.894-mile variably banked Iowa Speedway oval with a number of great story lines to follow.

The title fight:

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire points leader Jack Harvey heads to Iowa focused on winning the championship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire points leader Jack Harvey heads to Iowa focused on winning the championship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Championship leader Jack Harvey travelled to The Milwaukee Mile with a slim 12 point lead over Spencer Pigot, his closest rival, and left the Badger State with a slightly larger, 15 point lead. But… that doesn’t tell the entire story of the condensed Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire weekend at Milwaukee.

For the first 90% of the weekend it looked like reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire Champion Pigot would at the very least make a dent in eat or quite possibly completely erase Harvey’s lead. Pigot, the Juncos Racing rookie, took pole (and the bonus point that goes with that) and appeared to be on his way to erasing Harvey’s lead when a Lap 46 spin by teammate Kyle Kaiser changed the course of the race.

With Pigot running comfortably in second and Harvey back in sixth, Kaiser looped his No. 18 machine in Turn 4 bringing out the only caution of the day. It was on that restart that Pigot lost fifth gear and fell back to seventh place, which, combined with his teammates spin allowed Harvey to move into fourth. In the course of four laps the championship contenders were part of a 15 point swing.

Ed Jones, the early championship leader has fell into a bit of a slump and the 20 year-old finds himself in a bit of a slump, but still only 31 points behind Harvey. Carlin, as a team has lacked some pace on ovals and will need to find some speed this weekend so that Jones doesn’t fall too far behind heading into the final four road course races of 2015.

 

A win is around the corner.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie driver RC Enerson led the first 88 of 100 laps in the Milwaukee Grand Prix before giving up the lead to a charging Felix Serralles with the checkered flag in sight.  It was the second runner-up finish and seventh top of the year for the 18 year-old who has been the series biggest surprise after making the move straight from the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda series.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie goes around the outside of Spencer Pigot to lead his first laps in Indy Ligths (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie goes around the outside of Spencer Pigot to lead his first laps in Indy Ligths (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The New Port Richey, Florida native sits comfortably in fourth place on the championship table and has said he will approach the last five races of the season in the same manor he has the first eleven; help his teammate Harvey win a championship, while learning everything he can from the veteran Harvey.

Belardi rising

The Brownsburg, Indiana based Belardi Auto Racing squad scored their 24th and 25th career team podium finishes in Milwaukee, and will be looking to continue that momentum during the final oval event of the season.  The team was very quick in testing at the Chicagoland Speedway and both drivers should once again contend for the podium this weekend.

Belardi Auto Racing rookie Felix Serralles celebrates his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Belardi Auto Racing rookie Felix Serralles celebrates his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Felix Serralles, the Grand Prix of Milwaukee winner certainly had a great week. First, the Ponce, Puerto Rico native gained five spots and passed race leader RC Enerson with 12 laps to win his first Indy Lights race.  Second, the exclusion from the first race in Toronto for a technical issue with the rear wing was rescinded and the No. 4 S&S Tire Mazda/Dallara was credited with a last place finish.  The 23 year-old entered Milwaukee in the eleventh place in points and enters this weeks race at Iowa Speedway with a slim hold on fifth.

Series sophomore Juan Piedrahita, coming off his first career Indy Lights podium at Milwaukee, is the only driver in the Indy Lights field to have turned laps in anger at Iowa Speedway.  The 22 year-old took part in a 2012 Pro Mazda race; starting eleventh and finishing fourteenth.    The Bogata, Colombia native is only eight points behind his teammate in the fight for fifth.  There are currently seven drivers within only 27 points of Seralles.

What to watch for:

1) Tire degradation.  After some early issues with tires during early testing at Iowa Speedway, Cooper Tire has worked hard to improve their tire for the high banked bull-ring and by all accounts they have been successful.  But like most Mazda Road To Indy oval races tire depredation will still be a factor over the 115 lap event.  The driver that can manage tire wear for the first 60 laps stands a good chance of going to victory lane.

2) Unloading quick.  With this being the first experience at Iowa for most of the drivers, having a stable car from the outset will be a key to going fast.  With track time fairly limited, catching up when falling behind is a tough task.  Watch for the drivers that are quick early to remain up-front all weekend.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire weekend schedule:

Thursday, July 16

  • 5:30pm-7:00pm – testing

Friday, July 17

  • 10:15am-11am – practice
  • 2:00pm-2:45pm – practice

Saturday, July 18

  • 2:00pm-2:45pm – qualifying
  • 5:20pm – Indy Lights Iowa 115

 

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire preview

It’s fitting that the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire drivers are heading to farm county during the summer stretch of their season, since what not long ago looked like a two “horse race” between Santiago Urrutia and Neil Alberico has become quite the barn-burner involving five pilots.

The 2015 Pro Mazda Iowa 100 will be the fifth time that middle step of the Mazda Road To Indy has visited the 0.894-mile bullring at Iowa Speedway, and it will be the first visit since 2012.

Previous winners include: Sage Karam (2012 – Andretti Autosport), Sage Karam (2011 – Andretti Autosport), Conor Daly (2010 – Juncos Racing) and Peter Dempsey (2009 – AIM Autosport).

This will be the first trip to The Hawkeye State for all 14 drivers entered in the 100 lap (89.4 mile) undercard for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The top 5: 

Heading into the first oval of the season at Lucas Oil Raceway Park (LORP), Urrutia held a 24 point lead over second place Alberico, a 42 point lead over third place Timothe Buret, a 65 point lead over fourth place Weiron Tan and 75 point lead over fifth place Pato O’Ward.

Heading into the second oval of the season, Urrutia has been able to slightly stretch his lead over Alberico to 30 points, but third through fifth place have been able to make inroads on his large lead in the past three race.  Third place Timothe Buret (35 points back), Weiron Tan (43 points back) and Garett Grist (49 points back) have all raced themselves into the championship discussion.

Urrutia will be making only his second career oval start and to build on his points lead, will need to improve on his tenth place qualifying and fifteenth place finish in his only oval start of the year at LORP.

Alberico is coming off a forgettable two race event in Toronto that saw two DNF’s turn a manageable eight point championship deficit into a 30 point shortfall.  The 22 year-old Cape Motorsports with /WTR sophomore will need to muster all the practical experience he has gained in his five previous oval starts (1 win, 2 podiums) to make a dent in Urrutia’s lead.

Rookie Juncos Racing Frenchman Timothe Buret used two solid results in Toronto make up ground on Urrutia and Alberico, but will have to improve on his results in his lone career MRTI oval start.   The 20 year-old qualified in a disappointing thirteenth at LORP and contact with Dalton Kellett relegated him to a twelfth place finish.

The driver to watch at Iowa Speedway could very well be Malaysian rookie pilot Weiron Tan.  The 19 year-old Formula 3 alum dominated his only career oval start at LORP and his team, Andretti Autosport has won the last two Pro Mazda races contested at Iowa Speedway.   Despite having led the most laps (126), scoring five poles, three wins and five podiums in eleven races, Tan has only completed 82% of the 272 laps that the series has run in 2015.  A win at owa combined with a poor showing by GP3 grad Urrutia will vault Tan into contention for the MAZDASPEED scholarship package and an Indy Lights seat in 2016.

Grist, the 20 year-old sophomore pilot for Juncos Racing is currently one of the hottest drivers in the series and has not had a problem completing laps.  The Grimsby, Ontario native is the only Pro Mazda driver to have completed all 100 laps so far in 2015.  After lacking some pace early in the season, Grist and his engineer Peter Dempsey (Pro Mazda and Indy Lights race winner) have really started to click, moving up three spots in the championship, reeling off eight straight top eight finishes, winning the last race in Toronto AND most importantly have gained 30 points on leader Urrutia

Others to watch:

Pato O’Ward, the 16 year-old Team Pelfrey rookie who is currently sixth in the championship had a solid oval debut at LORP.  The Monterey, Mexico native struggled early and only qualified twelfth, but was able to race his way to a respectable seventh place finish.

Reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda Champion Florian Latorre will be making his fourth career oval start and only turning left hasn’t been the young French drivers strong suit.  His best oval result of sixth came in a USF2000 car at LORP in 2014.

Juncos Racing sophomore Will Owen heads to Iowa searching for the momentum that the 20 year old lost when he made the trip north of the border to Canada.  The last time the Plano, Texas native was on an oval at LORP in May he finished second.

Owen’s Juncos Racing teammate Jose Gutierrez will be making his fourth Pro Mazda oval start, and the 19 year-old will be looking to improve on his fifth place (career best oval) finish he scored at LORP in May.

Raoul Owens, the 20 year old Team Pelfrey rookie pilot is coming off his most successful Pro Mazda weekend in Toronto and will try to continue that momentum when he travel to Iowa.

A pair of Canadians, Dalton Kellett and Daniel Burkett are both coming off a forgettable trip to the homeland.  Both have shown pace this year, but they have also been the victim of bad luck.

English rookie Alessandro Latif had a solid tenth place finish in his first ever oval outing as the 19 year-old sports-car veteran looks to continue his formula car education in Iowa.

Bobby Eberle and his No. 13 World Speed Motorsports machine are the only Expert Class entries this week, as the Chicago, Illinois looks to extend his Expert Class championship lead.

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire weekend schedule:

Friday, July 17

  • 9:15am-11am – practice
  • 1:00pm-1:45pm – practice

Saturday, July 18

  • 1:00pm-1:45pm – qualifying
  • 4:15pm – Pro Mazda Iowa 100

 

For your view pleasure:

Indy Lights highlights from 2013, the last time the series race at Iowa:

 

Indy Lights highlights from 2009:

The entire Pro (Star) Mazda race from 2010:

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire points (top 10)

  1. Jack Harvey (261)
  2. Spencer Pigot (246)
  3. Ed Jones (230)
  4. RC Enerson (192)
  5. Felix Serralles (165)
  6. Juan Piedrahita  (157)
  7. Scott Anderson (156)
  8. Kyle Kaiser (153)
  9.  Ethan Ringel (144)
  10. Max Chilton (141)

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire points (top 10)

  1. Santiago Urrutia (234)
  2. Neil Alberico (204)
  3. Timothe Buret (199)
  4. Weiron Tan (191)
  5. Garett Grist (185)
  6. Pato O’Ward (181)
  7. Florian Latorre (172)
  8. Will Owen (161)
  9. Jose Gutierrez (149)
  10. Raoul Owens (122)