The first oval race of the year for the Indy Racing League, as you saw in earlier articles here at Openpaddock.net, was held at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS. Oval racing with high-speed open-wheel cars is unique to IndyCar racing, and the league has two levels of competition. First is the series with which everyone is familiar, the IndyCar Series (ICS). This is the series that contests the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race every Memorial Day Weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And yes, I do get goosebumps every time I hear or talk about that great race. There is another level of competition within the Indy Racing League that is all to often overlooked, the Firestone Indy Lights (FIL) series. This is the driver development series for the IndyCar Series, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that racing is any less entertaining. There is no shortage of outstanding talent among the FIL grid, and all of these drivers are very eager to prove their worth to teams in the ICS in hopes of moving up to the big cars and getting a chance to compete in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. (there go the goosebumps again). What happens when you mix outstanding talent, high levels of motivation, youth and bravado, and 450 hp 190 mph racing machines? You get some of the best racing on the planet. This year at Kansas was no exception. In fact, I’d contend that the FIL race was far more entertaining, exciting, and filled with racing action than the ICS race. Granted the 30+ mph winds had a lot to do with the ICS race being a bit processional, but still the FIL race was outstanding.
Make no mistake, even though FIL is a development series to the ICS, this doesn’t mean that there’s a shortage of talent. Many of the drivers in FIL have already been racing for a decade beginning in karts and are champions and race winners in other series. However, although the field is deep in talent and road racing experience, for many in the series, they are very inexperienced on oval tracks. The inexperience of the drivers and the challenging conditions made for a very exciting, and sometimes scary, race to watch. Inexperience leads to driver errors, and driver errors often lead to overtaking opportunities. As much as the ICS race was a parade, the FIL race was a slice-n-dice fest. There was lots of great racing action all through the grid, with tough battles for position happening from flag to flag. These talented hot shoes seem able to pounce on every little miscue, and through their karting experience, have learned outstanding car control. Ana “Bia” Beatriz definitely gets the “Save of the Day” award with an incredible display of car control after getting sideways in Turn 4 during an attempt to overtake eventual race winner Sebastian Saavedra and pulling the car back in line. She lost a couple of positions, but she kept the shiny side up and the rubber side down.
Sadly, not everyone had the type of car control skills as Bia. Ali Jackson ended up costing his team a ton of money, totaling two cars, one in first practice on Saturday morning, and another during the race on Sunday. That’s on top of repairable damage he did in 2nd practice. Granted the wind was treacherous, but junking two $250k race cars in one weekend can’t be good for either the team budget or for Ali’s job security. His final meeting with the wall during the race on Sunday, cost two other drivers dearly as well. Both Rodrigo Barbosa and Sergey Mokshantsev were collected, with Sergey suffering from the incident the worst. Sergey’s car, after colliding with the rapidly slowing Rodrigo, became airborne and hit the wall nearly flat, helmet-side first. That’s the worst possible way for a driver to crash. Amazingly, and thankfully, Sergey walked away on his own power from the incident. Its absolutely amazing how well designed modern race cars are. There were three other incidents throughout the race, all in Turn 4 as drivers turned back into the wind and their cars regained front grip and became loose. Through it all, lots of carbon fibre, metal, and electronics were destroyed, but all of the drivers were just fine.
In the end, mad props go to Sebastian Saavedra, both for winning in convincing fashion in his very first oval-track race and for being a real classy, humble, and entertaining guy. After his victory, Sebastian came over to the IndyFan Zone and spoke with members of the IndyCar fan club, Downforce, and was very enjoyable. Look for this young Columbian to also be very quick at the next Firestone Indy Lights race, the Firestone Freedom 100 on Carburetion Day, Friday, May 22nd. Admission is only $10 for the entire day to see the Firestone Indy Lights race, final practice for the IndyCar Series before the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the Pit Stop Competition, and various musical guests. One of the best parts of Carb Day is that there is no assigned seating. Were you ever curious if those Stand B Penthouse seats are really worth it? Now you can find out for $10, and see some fantastic young racing talent plying their craft at one of the most historic race tracks in the world.