Harvey has momentum as Indy Lights returns to Indianapolis
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will take to its biggest stage of the season on Friday, May 22, for the Freedom 100 Presented by Allied Building Products at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where, for the first time, a race on the iconic oval will be powered by Mazda.
The 40-lap, 100-mile event will follow immediately after the final Verizon IndyCar Series practice session as part of the traditional Coors Light Carb Day activities during the lead up to Sunday's 99th Indianapolis 500.
The brand-new Dallara IL-15 chassis, incorporating state-of-the-art safety features and the potent 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R engine, is almost certain to produce a new Indy Lights lap record - as it has on every other venue so far this season. The current IMS mark of 192.301 mph (46.8017 seconds) was set by Brandon Wagner during the race in 2011, while the qualifying one-lap standard of 190.456 mph (47.2549 seconds) was established by three-time Freedom 100 winner Wade Cunningham in 2009. The fastest lap in Indy Lights history stands to Stefan Wilson, who achieved a lap of 196.252 mph in a multi-car draft during the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.
By comparison, Englishman Jack Harvey, driving for seven-time Indy Lights championship-winning team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, set the pace with a fastest lap of 195.981 mph (45.9228 seconds) during a preliminary test session on Monday of this week. Harvey won one of the two Indy Lights races on the Indy road course two weeks ago, and has every intention of repeating the experience.
"Winning at Indianapolis is so important," said Harvey, who finished second in the 2014 title-chase. "Winning the Grand Prix was one of the proudest moments in my career, so I can imagine that winning the Freedom 100 would be even bigger, definitely a career highlight.
"I raced in the Freedom 100 last year (finishing fifth) but this is the first time we'll run the new car here. We're already going nine miles an hour quicker than the pole time last year, which takes us even closer to IndyCar, where most of us are hoping to get to. It's a big step forward in every way."
In addition to his victory May 8, the 22-year-old Englishman seemed set for a second-place finish in Race Two until an overheating engine - the result of a helmet visor tear-off lodged in the engine intake - dropped him to fifth on the final lap. Instead of taking the championship lead, Harvey currently trails fellow Briton Ed Jones by a slender six-point margin.
Jones, a 20-year-old rookie based in Dubai, has taken Indy Lights by storm this year in his Mazda Road to Indy debut, along with his Carlin team, winning the first three races of the season, but Friday will represent his first-ever non-road course race.
"The only two days I've done on an oval (prior to Monday's test) were the test days at Homestead and Chicago, but this is completely different," said Jones, who posted the fourth fastest speed Monday at 194.821 mph. "It's hard to apply any of the race craft or driving that you learn there or on road courses to an oval like this. The car is set up so differently and feels so different that to find the limit, it's a whole new thing for me. I mean, you'll never turn in at 190 mph on a road course!
"There's a fine line between being in control and being really fast and that's what I'm trying to find," Jones continued. "Obviously, the slipstream makes a huge difference. Racing at these speeds and the effect the aero has when you're following someone is another new experience. That's one of the most challenging parts: at these speeds, there's no margin for error so any small or tactical mistake would be costly.
"The Indy 500 is one of the biggest races in the world. I'm not sure if it's sunk in yet that we're finally here. I'm sure it will on Friday, with loads of people around. It will be an amazing feeling."
The third championship contender as the Indy Lights season reaches the halfway point of its 16-race campaign is American Spencer Pigot, the reigning Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion and a two-time race winner so far this season. Pigot, who trails Harvey by six points, endured a tough weekend on the road course and is determined to bounce back strongly.
Other challengers will include ex-F1 racer Max Chilton (Carlin), who was obliged to skip Monday's test at IMS due to a sports car commitment; Florida teenager RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson), who finished a fine second most recently on the road course; Felix Serralles, who posted the fastest time during one of Monday's sessions for Belardi Auto Racing, which has won the Freedom 500 both in 2013 (with Peter Dempsey, who triumphed in the closest-ever finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and 2014 (Gabby Chaves); and Georgia teenager Sean Rayhall, a former stock car racer who won Race Two on the IMS road course and launched a successful crowd-funding campaign to ensure his first-ever oval start aboard an open-wheel car with 8Star Motorsports.
The Freedom 100 Presented by Allied Building Products is part of the #MRTI FreedomFest weekend, which also includes the Pro Mazda Freedom 90 and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda Freedom 75 at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday, May 23, in the "Day Before the 500".