The effectiveness of Indy Lights is well proven. No fewer than 25 of the 33 starters in last month’s 102nd Indianapolis 500 had graduated from the top step of the Mazda Road to Indy.
But in some ways the series has become a victim of its own success.
This year three drivers – 2017 champion Kyle Kaiser, Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman DeMelo – and one prominent team, Carlin (which fielded four cars in 2017), have moved on to the Verizon IndyCar Series, leaving a significantly smaller field than usual.
Nevertheless, both the quality and level of intensity remain high, as confirmed by a sensational six-car battle for supremacy during the recent Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Second-generation racer Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., emerged narrowly on top at the conclusion of the frantic 40-lap race, marking his third successive victory for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Herta thereby leads the points table by a slim, six-point margin over Andretti Autosport teammate Patricio “Pato” O’Ward and is seeking to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bryan Herta, who secured the title in 1993.
Fellow teenager O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, who finished second at Indy, will seek to emulate the form that took him to the top step of the podium in three of the first four races, while Uruguayan Santiago “Santi” Urrutia, third in the championship table for Belardi Auto Racing (after finishing second in both 2016 and 2017), hopes to repeat the race victory he claimed at Road America in 2016.
Teammate Aaron Telitz, from Rice Lake, Wis., also has high expectations after sweeping both races at his home-state track in 2016 en route to the Pro Mazda Championship.
“I always look forward to my home race at Road America the most,” said Telitz, who won twice during his rookie Indy Lights campaign in 2017 and has a pair of recent podium finishes to his name after a difficult start to his season.
“For me, it’s the biggest race of the year. I get my family and friends to come out along with my biggest supporters from Rice Lake Weighing Systems. We made some serious gains at the series’ test last week and I feel really good about my Belardi Auto Racing car heading into the race weekend.
“I’ve been building momentum since my St. Pete crash and even though I had a gearbox issue at the Freedom 100, I feel like we’re really coming on strong as a team halfway through the year.”
Franzoni, too, carries some momentum into the weekend after topping the charts during last week’s open test.
“This is the kind of track I really like,” said the Brazilian. “We’re working on a car that’s fast and really suits me well, so I’m very confident going into the race.”
The Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires will commence with a 45-minute practice session at 9:15 a.m. on Friday, June 22, followed by 30 minutes of qualifying later in the afternoon at 4:55 p.m. to set the grid for Race One. A second qualifying session for Race Two will start at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.
The green flag for Race One is set for 12:05 p.m., with Race Two scheduled for 9:50 a.m. on Sunday, June 24. All times are CDT, and Sunday’s Indy Lights race will feature same-day coverage on NBCSN at 10:00 p.m. EDT.
Content and images courtesy of the Mazda Road to Indy.