The annual Freedom 100 represents the most prestigious race of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season.
Taking place on the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval directly after the traditional final practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Carb Day this Friday, May 26, it is the race every driver particularly wants to win.
No fewer than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 have graduated to the pinnacle of American open-wheel racing via Indy Lights, including 10 series champions dating back to Tony Kanaan in 1997. Four of them – Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Jack Harvey and Gabby Chaves – will have an opportunity this coming Memorial Day weekend to etch their name in the record books as the first to win both the Freedom 100 and the Indianapolis 500.
This year’s 15th annual Freedom 100 is the seventh of 16 races that will comprise the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase. Four different drivers have claimed victory from the opening six races of the season, and while seven different nationalities will be represented on the starting grid, four of the current top five championship contenders are young Americans, headed by series veteran Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif. Ultimately at stake is an opportunity for the season champion to claim a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to ensure entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
The high-quality field of 14 drivers today began preparations for Friday’s Freedom 100 with a pair of 90-minute test sessions on the hallowed 2.5-mile superspeedway oval. Second-generation Indy Lights racer Colton Herta, 17, from Valencia, Calif., led the speed charts with a lap of 44.9842 seconds – an average speed of 200.070 mph – this morning at the wheel of his No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15.
All 14 drivers recorded times within seven-tenths of a second (or 2.7 mph) of Herta’s best, suggesting the possibility of another photo-finish to match last year’s race when Dean Stoneman claimed the closest margin of victory ever recorded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – by a scant 0.0024 second over eventual series champion Ed Jones (who, incidentally, posted the second fastest lap, 228.118 mph, during today’s IndyCar practice session) – or perhaps the remarkable 0.0443 second which blanketed the top four finishers in 2013.
As a measure of the series’ unpredictability, points leader Kaiser ranked only 13th on the charts today for Juncos Racing, fractionally ahead of Frenchman Nico Jamin, who already has won twice this year for Andretti Autosport and currently lies second in the standings, just 13 points shy of Kaiser.
Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., the winner of last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, posted the second fastest lap today for Belardi Auto Racing at 199.610 mph.
Rookie Matheus Leist, from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, was third fastest overall and quickest this afternoon at 199.568 mph for the Carlin team, edging out teammate Neil Alberico, from Los Gatos, Calif., and Team Pelfrey’s Juan Piedrahita, from Bogota, Colombia.
The Freedom 100 protagonists will return to the track on Thursday for a pair of 30-minute practice sessions at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. EDT, followed by single-car qualifying at 1:30 p.m. The green flag for Friday’s race – which will air live on NBCSN – will fly at 12:30 p.m. All times are EDT.
Live timing and live streaming of practice and qualifying will be available on the Road to Indy App, RoadtoIndy.TV, indylights.com and indycar.com.
Kyle Kaiser (No.18 Juncos Racing): “We didn’t really run qualifying trim. Our focus has been working on the race car. We had a lot of downforce so our trap speeds haven’t been the best, but we’re working on having a good balance in the car. Everyone wants to win this race, whether your last in points or the points leader. I’m just going in trying to build a good race car and we’ll see what happens from there. This is the most exciting race of the year with all the people here and the anticipation of the whole month leading up to this. It’s nerve wracking, especially on race day. This is my third one, so hopefully I have less nerves than everyone else but I’ll probably still be nervous.”
Colton Herta (No. 98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “That last half-hour was hectic. I think Aaron and I were side-by-side for about four laps. Now we know that we can run high or low and be competitive. The car is fantastic so to be quickest shows that we can run up front. But it’s so awesome to drive here – it makes me want to get to IndyCar even faster because now that I’ve gone 200 mph, I want to go 230! You get used to the speed here – we tested at Homestead, where you’re going 190 mph, which is pretty quick and it’s relatable. It definitely helped me adjust to the speed here. We did one run this morning in qualifying trim, but we mainly focused on race trim because as important as qualifying is, it’s more important to have a good race car. That’s what I’m mainly focused on now.”
Aaron Telitz (No. 9 Mazda/Rice Lake Weighing Systems-Belardi Auto Racing): “I had some ideas about what IMS would be like, but it was seriously a good time. Every corner is a little bit different, even though they look the same on a map. And it was fun going over 200 mph for the first time! We were pretty conservative in the beginning, with more downforce than we would usually run in order to get me comfortable going flat. Once I was, we went with race trim and started working on running in traffic. I didn’t break the 200 mph lap time mark, but I hit 210 on the straight which was cool. In practice, we were pretty courteous to each other and having a good time getting runs on each other and going three wide. In the race, it will be more challenging – but it’s still going to be a really awesome race. This will be the first time I’ll be racing on live TV, so I’m excited that all my friends and family can watch on NBCSN. And I really want to be the first driver to bring the Soul Red colors to victory lane in the Freedom 100.”
Matheus Leist (No. 26 TMA-Carlin): “When I first got out there, I thought ‘here I am, this is really big!’ We tested at Homestead back in March but this is very different. It was very strange in the beginning, with the steering wheel not being straight and the speeds being so much faster than on a road course. I got the pace pretty quickly. We did some qualifying simulations early this afternoon and I set the fastest lap so that’s good. It still feels on the edge to me, with the car moving a lot, but I’m getting used to it. I’m a bit disappointed with my run in all the traffic late in the session but it’s my first day and I think I learned a lot – and brushing the wall is all part of the game.”