Strong Indy Lights Field Set for Freedom 100
Country Music Star Reba McEntire to Give Command for Series’ Premier Event
PALMETTO, Fla. – The top step of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, will host the crown jewel in its schedule – the Mazda Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires –  in front of an expected bumper crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day, Friday, May 27, as the precursor to Sunday’s historic 100th Indianapolis 500.
Adding to the excitement, country music star Reba McEntire – the mother of Indy Lights driver Shelby Blackstock – will give the command to fire the field of Mazda engines for the 40-lap, 100-mile race.
The wide-open nature of this year’s Indy Lights season is highlighted by the fact that six different winners, representing five different teams, have emerged from the opening seven races, which have taken place on a variety of race tracks ranging from the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., to the one-mile Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway oval, to the natural terrain road course of Barber Motorsports Park (Ala.) and most recently the grand prix road circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now comes an entirely different challenge on the venerable 2.5-mile oval, where last year the brand-new breed of Dallara IL-15 cars demolished the old Indy Lights track record while reaching speeds in excess of 210 mph.
As the only repeat winner, Carlin’s Ed Jones leads the championship chase – and the quest for a Mazda scholarship valued at $1M which will guarantee entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2017, including the Indianapolis 500. The Dubai-based Englishman qualified only eighth and failed to finish at Indy last year during his rookie campaign but has high hopes of being able to extend his championship lead.
“Coming into this race last year I had no prior oval experience so it was a huge learning curve,” said Jones. “I feel like we did a really good job, especially in the race as I progressed until a cut tire ended our day. This year we arrive on a roll with a lot more experience and confidence with what we are doing.
“The event is incredible,” he continued. “It’s definitely my favorite of the year and makes me imagine what it would be like to race in the Indy 500. Everything is put together to make a special event for both the drivers and spectators.”
Jones, 21, currently holds a 21-point advantage in the championship standings over both Uruguay’s Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, along with a Mazda scholarship to assist in his graduation to Indy Lights, and Californian Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing). Each has won one race already this year.
Felix Serralles (Carlin), from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing) and, most recently, Englishman Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport) also have visited Victory Lane in what is developing into a closely fought championship chase.
Belardi Auto Racing’s Zach Veach and teammate Rosenqvist topped yesterday’s test at the Speedway with Veach, who finished third in the 2014 Freedom 100, clocking an unofficial lap of 201.455 mph. Rounding out the top five were Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson) and Neil Alberico (Carlin).
An additional three hours of practice is slated for Thursday, May 26, followed by qualifying at 1:15 p.m. EDT. The green flag for the Mazda Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires will fly at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 27, soon after the conclusion of Carb Day IndyCar practice, with live coverage on NBCSN. Live timing and streaming video of all sessions will be available at and on the Road To Indy TV App.