Tuesday, April 19, 2016

LIGHTS: After Downturn, Series poised to rebound...

Suffice it to say, the Indy Lights series finally appears now to be going thru much desired  growing pains, albeit I think there's a serious fly in the ointment when you don't even finish your season with the B-I-G' BOYZ, nee  Indy Cars! And instead your season finale is twinned with the Pirelli World Challenge at Laguna Seca raceway; Chirp-Chirp, Bueller?

Although I did manage to listen to a very "Scratchy" one Armed Paperhanger; Err Man webcast for Sunday's final round of the Double Header season finale via INdycar.com - As surely Y'all remember those season finale races last September, right? While hopefully IndyCar will continue the Lights Young Guns testing session later this fall...

History tends to have a way of repeating itself. As your humble No Fenders scribe is old enough to still recall this once great IndyCar Feeder Series being known as the Dayton Indy Lights, (1991-2001) which was the forbearer 'O Firestone Indy Lights, circa 2008-2014, along with having actually attended the series second iteration simply known as ARS, aka American Racing Series which ran between 1986-90.

As past champions include the likes of Jon Beekhuis, Paul Tracy, Eric Bachelartt, Brian Herta, Greg Moore, Tony Kanaan, Cristiano da Matta, Oriol Servia, Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell...

Yet with that dubious happening simply known forever as "The Split!" This once proud Firestone brand witnessed its Dayton Indy Lights fields effectively shriveling up and fading away, with CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) letting the series die in favour of having the Toyota Atlantics become its Feeder Series, while 'lil Napoleon, nee Tony George's rival Indy Racing League (IRL) created the Indy Pro Series as the equivalent Feeder Series to the road to Indy... 

Year     Driver/Country/Team
2002) A.J. Foyt IV,  USA; A.J. Foyt Enterprises
2003) Mark Taylor, United Kingdom; Panther Racing
2004: Thiago Medeiros, Brazil; Sam Schmidt Motorsports
; 2005) Wade Cunningham, New Zealand; Brian Stewart Racing
2006) Jay Howard, United Kingdom; Sam Schmidt Motorsports
2007) Alex Lloyd, United Kingdom; Sam Schmidt Motorsports

Hence, A-L-L I can say is thank goodness that the Tony George Jr. era is over! Albeit Roger Bailey ruled for an eternity with an Iron Fist; Hmm? Is that sorta like the Iron Hand of IndyCar's BillyBob Brazenheartz' - Oh Never Mind!

As Bailey grew tired of the politics, along with continuous hand-holding, singing Coom-by-ya and just wasn't able to  help Tony George Jr. lead the series to the promised land. As the series seemed to hit rock bottom in 2014 with a paltry average single digit (8) competitors. Which also Dovetails nicely with the "Brains" at Starship HC' (Hulman & Co.) wisely handing the series over to Dan Anderson!

Hence, I've harped upon this desolation previously, by noting  how it doesn't seem overly encouraging when your reigning Lights champions cannot find employment in thee B-I-G CARZ', nee Indy Cars.

Case in point was Sage "Dangerboy" Karam finding himself without a drive following his 2013 championship - making his lone start at Indianapolis for Dryer & Reinbold's satellite Ganassi operation, while apprenticing in a 2014 Development driver role with Ganassi

Yet Karam's wait paid off handsomely, upon garnering one of Chip Ganassi Racing's coveted IndyCar seats - alongside Charlie Kimball at what used to be the 'G2 Brownsburg based squad, replacing the affable 'Aussie Ryan Briscoe for the 2015 season.

Yet we now know  for this year that Karam's been replaced by ex-Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton, with "Dangerboy" having a One-off drive at Indianapolis this May...

Ditto the 2012 champion Tristan 'turbo Vautier, who was "One-and-Done" in IndyCar's after racing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports alongside countryman 'Pageantry, aka Simon Pagenaud in 2013.

As Tristan subsequently took advantage of Mazda's Sports Cars lifeline when hired to run the endurance events for the Mazda P2 Speedsource Prototype team in 2014, before Dale Coyne gave him a second opportunity to resume plying his trade in  single seater's, filling the second revolving door Coyne IndyCar entry. Most notably by qualifying James Davidson's car and then replacing
Carlos Huertas for last year's Indy 500.

Vautier looks set to focus primarily upon racing in this year's Blancpain Endurance series, alongside Swedish Indy Lights rookie Felix Rosenqvist aboard a Mercedes AMG GT3 racecar, albeit his month of May's calendar's wide open in case he can rustle up a seat at Mother Speedway...

But at least 2011 Lights Champion Josef 'STUD! Newgarden has blossomed in Indy Cars, while fortunately being allowed time to develop his race-craft with the now defunct Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) side of the short lived (Ed) Carpenter Fisher Hartman CFH Racing organization.

As Newgarden wisely signed on the dotted line for 2015, becoming one half of CFH Racing's two Gunslingers. As Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) and SFHR had merged that season; seeing 'FAST EDDIE (Ed Carpenter) continuing his Ovals only program, while relative newcomer Luca Filippi took over driving duties for the No. 20 during the "Twisty's" portion.

Obviously I-T was hugely enjoyable seeing Newgarden finally "Break-his-Duck" last season, which he did emphatically by scoring two victories - including leading the team to its maiden 1-2 finish on the streets of Toronto!

Yet due to the faltering Oil prices, Wink Hartman decided to abandon his continuing financial support with the team reverting back to Ed Carpenter Racing this season with currently only one Fulltime entry, now the No. 21 for Newgarden with Ed joining him on the Ovals, while hopefully the team will find somebody else to take over the Twisties' portion?

As I understand the need for the cash infusion, but seriously, does ECR really want to give Sir Crashalot the keys to their idle racecar? Especially when there's names such as Hildebrand, Chaves and Harvey available...

Meanwhile 2010 Champion Jean-Karl Vernay has long since disappeared from the Lights scene. Sadly never even getting a proper chance in Indy Cars after briefly testing one. Even after having beaten some Dude known as thee "Mayor 'O Hinchtown" (James Hinchcliffe) for the title.

Vernay subsequently won the 2012 French Porsche Carrera Cup for Sebastian Loeb Racing and the 2013 Le Mans 24hrs GTE-AM class and then contested the Super GT500 series in Japan two years ago.

While '09 Indy Lights champion J.R. Hildebrand is still trying to recessitate his once impressive IndyCar career; as Y'all know how Oh So tantalizingly close he came to winning the 2011 Indy 500; as I can still vividly see what I perceived to be sparks flittering about my obscured vision that May from my front-row vantage point!

John Barnes then un-excusably fired the driver known as "Captain America" from the Nat'l Guard car after spinning into the wall just 4-laps into the 2013 I500 classic - wrecking in the same place as 2011? And it's been slim pickings ever since; Blarney!

"Captain America" subsequently has managed a "One-off" ride with ECR the past two 500-miler events at Mother Speedway. First as 'FAST EDDIE'S (Ed Carpenter) Wingman in 2014, before finishing the remainder of the post Indy 500 season at BHA. Where Bryan Herta was evaluating both Hildebrand and (Luca) Filippi for the seat potentially in 2015.

But the seat was ultimately filled by 2014 Lights champion Gabby Chaves instead, who got a very unwelcome 'Uber late Valentines Card informing him his seat would be taken by Alexander Rossi this year, after reportedly a sponsor failed to put their cheque in the mail to Bryan Herta - for his 2015 IndyCar Rookie Of the Year driver Chaves.

Meanwhile, Hildebrand ran a second Indy 500 as the third Hombre in an All Norte Americano CFH Racing assault upon Thy Brickyard and appears hopeful of racing in this year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 - with final entries being announced after the April 11th deadline.

Although we already know that Hildebrand's been confirmed for the Indy Double this May; Hildebrand back with  ECR for Indy Double

And then there's 2013's Freedom 100 winner Peter Dempsey now totally absent from the scene after winning the closest finish in the Speedway's history with an unprecedented Four-Wide at the stripe, as the Irishman came somewhat virtually out of nowhere, being fourth going onto the front straight for the final time before calling "SLINGSHOT!" With the crowd going BONKERS over that amazing finish!

Actually, the last three years Freedom 100 winners are A-L-L currently missing from Indy Cars, as Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey, the 2014-15 winners respectively hope to find their way onto the IndyCar grid shortly...

2008: Raphael Matos; Brazil, 2009: J.R. Hildebrand; USA,2010: Jean-Karl Vernay; France, 2011: Joseph Newgarden; USA, 2012: Tristan Vautier; France, 2013: Sage Karam; USA, 2014: Gabby Chaves; Columbia, 2015: Spencer Pigot; USA.

Whilst Y'all know by now, that reigning Indy Lights champion, Californian Spencer Pigot has made his way up Thy MRTI ladder by winning both Pro Mazda and Lights titles  to vault himself into currently a three-race deal  paid for by Mazda to race Indy Cars at St Petersburg and the Double at Indy, and hopefully will find ways of filling his Dance card at more IndyCar events this season...