The Firestone Indy Lights Series will be racing tomorrow in support of the IZOD IndyCar Series on the famous Streets of Long Beach, and today’s qualifying session was very exciting. Before we get to the qualifying results and the implications for the race, first let’s look at some very positive news for the series that broke this week. Two new drivers join the Firestone Indy Lights ranks, and if you’re a regular reader of OpenPaddock, you’ll know that the car count in this step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has been a deep concern of mine for the past couple of seasons.
New Additions to the Grid
A new team joins the grid at Long Beach. Brooks Associates Racing brings Ryan Phinny to the Firestone Indy Lights series as part of a partial season effort for the team. Ryan has raced multiple types of karts and racing machines including Formula BMW cars, and competing in the Rolex Grand Am GT and ALMS GT2 classes. Although this will be Ryan’s first time in a single-seater this powerful, this won’t be anything new to the team. Brooks Associates Racing has a long history competing in the Atlantics Championship, including a series championship in 2008, and they’ve been a long-time participant during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for many years.
“Every driver dreams of being approached by a team owner asking to drive their car. When John Brooks contacted me this week and said, ‘we have a sponsor and want you in the car,’ I was overjoyed. It’s truly an honor to be driving for a team with such a great history in the sport. The Long Beach Grand Prix has been on my ‘to-do’ list for as long as I’ve been driving, in part due to the history this event has for my family. My mother and father’s first date was at the ’86 Grand Prix when my father was racing Super Vee’s.” –Ryan Phinny, #8 Brooks Associates Racing.
The second addition to the Firestone Indy Lights series is a well known name to followers of the Star Mazda Championship, Rusty Mitchell who will be racing Team E as they return to the 2011 grid. Rusty has competed in the Star Mazda Championship for the past three years with mid-pack results, and competed very successfully in the SCCA Formula Enterprise.
“I can’t wait to compete at one of the most prestigious events in North America with such a great team. Neil and all the guys at Team E have shown they have the personal and equipment in place to win races in the (Firestone) Indy Lights series. I think this is a great opportunity for myself, as well as my sponsors to get our feet wet in the series, and hopefully put together a multi-race package later in the season, and possibly a full year in 2012. I want think my sponsors Motorola and Petro Communications, as well as Neil Enerson and the guys at Team E for getting this deal put together in such a short amount of time.” — Rusty Mitchell, #17 Team E
Qualifying Results and Analysis
Not surprisingly, the two new additions to the Firestone Indy Lights, Mitchell and Phinny, qualified near the back of the field. This will likely be a shakedown event for both the drivers and the teams as its the first race of the season for both. Also, there’s no surprises, save for one, at the other end of the grid with the top spots going to Team Moore and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. O2 Racing Technology’s Peter Dempsey would qualify on the front row in P2 with a 1:14.001 after sitting on the pole for most of the final minutes of the session showing that the young team has found some serious speed this year! They’re coming off of two consecutive podium finishes in St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, and it looks as though they’re well poised to make it three-for-three. Dempsey’s teammate, Mikael Grenier lost 3rd gear midway through the session and could not continue. He’ll start back in P13 and have a tough day of racing facing him tomorrow. Dempsey’s hope for pole was dashed in the closing minutes by Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Esteban Guerrieri as he took the #7, nicknamed “La Gringa”, and posted an impressive 1:13.696. Dempsey now finds himself as the meat in a SSM sandwich as Guerrieri’s teammates Newgarden and Daly fill the second row. Belardi Auto Racing had another good qualifying session with Anders Krohn slotting up in P5. Here’s how the rest of the grid qualified.
|9||Juan Pablo Garcia||0.8021||1:14.498|
The key to tomorrow’s race will be control. Who has it? Who can’t see past the red mist? The Streets of Long Beach are unforgiving for the impatient, and as we saw at Barber, there are a lot of impatient drivers on the grid this year. Fortunately, this week is a Versus weekend, so we will get to see the Firestone Indy Lights race live beginning at 2:00pm EDT. It should be an interesting race, I just hope that FCY’s don’t end up ruling the day.