The level of intensity in this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase stepped up several notches during the most recent pair of races at Road America, with all three leading contenders being placed on probation until the end of the season.
It will be interesting to see how each of them handles the additional pressure as the 18-race campaign continues this weekend with its third and final oval race taking place on Sunday, July 10, in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series at Iowa Speedway.
Ed Jones, driving for vastly accomplished British team Carlin, currently leads the quest for a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1M which will guarantee entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2017, including the Indianapolis 500. The Dubai-based Englishman holds a 19-point edge over fellow Briton Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), 213-194, with Uruguayan Santiago “Santi” Urrutia just five points further adrift for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Each has won two of the opening 10 races. A total of 33 points will be available at this weekend’s 11th round, including single bonus markers for qualifying on pole, leading most laps and recording the fastest lap of the race.
Misconduct leading up to and including the last round at Road America has led Race Director Tony Cotman to place all three under notice that any additional incidents including unsportsmanlike conduct and dangerous or over aggressive driving will result in the loss of a minimum of 10 championship points.
“The notices issued do not preclude a driver from racing hard but serve as a reminder on how to race over the final eight rounds of the championship,” said Cotman.
Jones is the only one of the three main protagonists with previous Indy Lights experience on the tricky, high-banked 0.894-mile oval having finished second last year behind Carlin teammate Max Chilton, although Urrutia qualified on the front row and claimed a fifth-place finish en route to winning the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Stoneman, a former champion in British Formula 2 and runner-up finisher in the 2014 GP3 Series in Europe, is undertaking his first season in North America but has already proved himself to be a quick study, as evidenced by his victories at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road circuit and in the Freedom 100, when he edged Jones by just 0.0024 seconds in the closest ever finish at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The field for this weekend’s Indy Lights Iowa Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires boasts several other potential winners, including Californian Kyle Kaiser, who finished fourth at Iowa last year and dominated the opening oval race of this season at Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona for Juncos Racing; Felix Serralles (Carlin), who claimed his first Indy Lights win last year at Milwaukee and triumphed also this spring at St. Petersburg, Fla.; the most recent race winner Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), from Stockdale, Ohio, who qualified third for the Indy Lights race at Iowa in 2013 and won on the Milwaukee Mile oval in 2014; and Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), who is earning a fine reputation on the ovals after finishing second in 2015 Pro Mazda competition at Iowa and securing his first Indy Lights podium with a third-place run at Indianapolis in May.
Following a pair of practice sessions on Saturday, qualifying will take place at 11:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, July 10, followed by the 100-lap race at 2:15 p.m. Live timing and streaming video of all sessions will be available on the Road to Indy TV App and at indylights.com and indycar.com. The race will air on Wednesday, July 13 on NBCSN at 6:00 pm EDT.
• Eight Indy Lights races have been held at Iowa Speedway, the first in 2007 which was won by Alex Lloyd who still holds the race lap record of 19.7912 (162.618 mph). Past Indy Lights winners also include Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Max Chilton (2015) and Josef Newgarden (2011).
• All Indy Lights teams tested at Iowa Speedway in June.
• 45 points separate the top six in the championship title chase with the top three of Ed Jones, Dean Stoneman and Santi Urrutia covered by only 24 points.
• Ed Jones, Dean Stoneman and Santi Urrutia are the only three drivers to score more than one win this season; additional race winners include Felix Serralles, Felix Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser and Zach Veach.
• Five different teams have won races and all six have recorded at least one podium finish.
• 11 different drivers have earned podium finishes; Andre Negrao scored his first career Indy Lights podium finish with a second-place drive at Road America.
• Santi Urrutia is the only driver to qualify in the top 10 in all 10 races held to date.
• Ed Jones has started on pole in six of the last seven races.