Indy Lights Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Preview
Fifteen cars will take part in the season finale weekend for the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in the largest entry list since May’s Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Before speaking about the championship contenders, let’s look at the new/returning drivers.
Team Pelfrey has two cars on track with Georgia’s Sean Rayhall joining Garett Grist for the last two races of the year. Rayhall drove for the team back when it was known as 8Star Motorsports and won a few races last year while driving part-time for the team.
Meanwhile, Davey Hamilton Jr. will make his debut in Indy Lights for McCormack Racing. Hamilton was supposed to do a full season with McCormack, but the deal fell through before the season was to start. Heaven Choi will also rejoin Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after having last raced for the team at Iowa Speedway.
Six drivers are still in contention for the Indy Lights championship and the scholarship to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series that comes with it. The first two drivers couldn’t be much closer to each other in points but how they got there are two separate tales.
Santiago Urrutia leads Ed Jones by one point heading into this weekend’s races, and the Uruguayan started off the season with two fourth place finishes and two finishes outside the top ten. Meanwhile, Jones started his season with a tenth, a seventh, a second and a win to be the only driver to improve his finishing position in each of the first four races of the season.
Jones maintained a points lead through the vast majority of the season after Phoenix, but four events in a row of finishing fifth or worse have crippled the Dubai-based Brit’s chances, especially after crashing at Mid-Ohio.
Urrutia, however, managed to pick up the points lead by sweeping Mid-Ohio, but a tire failure at Watkins Glen and Jones’s runner-up finish at the upstate New York track brought the gap down to one point.
Dean Stoneman is third in the championship hunt. The Andretti Autosport driver has two wins on the year, both at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with one of them on the road course and the other on the oval.
Stoneman had drawn the ire of several competitors for some hard racing, so much so that himself, Urrutia and Jones were all placed on probation after the Road America races. However, Stoneman is 23 points behind Urrutia with two races to go.
Felix Serralles is fourth in points, 38 points behind Urrutia. Serralles won the first race of the year at St. Petersburg for Carlin and had several good results of note including an opportunistic win at Iowa after leader Zach Veach got held up late in the race. Serralles had a dreadful second race at Mid-Ohio where he placed tenth but came back at Watkins Glen to finish seventh.
Kyle Kaiser is fifth in points, 40 behind Urrutia and the Juncos Racing driver was hamstrung by two DNFs earlier in the year. A mechanical failure took Kaiser out of the first race at Barber Motorsports Park while hitting the wall in the Freedom 100 left Kaiser with a last place result there.
Kaiser had three sixth-place finishes following the Freedom 100, but three top-fives in the last five races have helped the Californian find his stride.
Zach Veach is the last driver eligible for the championship hunt, one point behind Kaiser. Veach is coming off of a dominant win at Watkins Glen in which he led every lap, but a post-race technical infringement meant that Veach lost ten valuable points which have him on 278 instead of 288.
Veach would have had a win in the first race of the season, but a failing ECU parked him despite turning the race’s fastest lap and leading the most laps. Veach then turned around and scored a podium in the second race of the year, but the next win was elusive for the Ohioan until Road America, where Veach gave in a masterful drive to give Belardi Auto Racing their second win of the season.
With six drivers still capable of winning the Indy Lights championship, this will be a pivotal race weekend for many drivers as they attempt to move their way into the Verizon IndyCar Series or try to show they have the capability to win on a consistent basis.
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