That giant groan of despair that you heard was the rest of the Firestone Indy Lights grid finding out that they’re all just competing for 2nd in the championship this year as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) signs Gabby Chaves to join his formal Star Mazda rival Jack Hawksworth for 2013. With Chaves and Hawksworth as teammates on the outfit that has won six Indy Lights championships, more than any other team, including winning the championship for the past three years running, the rest of the field is looking at pretty long odds at winning races, let alone contesting the championship.
Hawksworth, racing for Team Pelfrey, and Chaves, racing for JDC Motorsports, dominated the 2012 Star Mazda Championship scoring 397 and 360 points, repsectively. Andretti Autosport’s Sage Karam scored more wins than Chaves, three to two, but inconsistent results set him in a tie for third in points with Juncos Racing’s Connor De Phillippi at 325. The key to Chaves’ success in 2012 was the fact that he, and he alone, completed every lap of every race throughout the entire season. He was the only driver in the series to run the full year without a DNF. Furthermore, he only had two out of seventeen races in which he didn’t finish in the top-five. He scored ten podiums over the season, including his two wins at Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta to finish off the season.
Last year in Firestone Indy Lights, the two Sam Schmidt drivers, Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri, won seven of the twelve races and scoring 461 and 453 points, respectively. Their closest competition came from Team Moore’s Gustavo Yacamán who managed to score two wins during the season and accumulate a total of 394 points, well back of the two Schmidt racers. Carlos Muñoz also scored two wins for Andretti Autosport, but was even further back with 375 points.
Given Hawksworth’s and Chaves’ demonstration of racing prowess last season in Star Mazda and being on the undoubtedly strongest team in Firestone Indy Lights, I think the only question for the 2013 season is which team comes in 2nd, and which driver comes in 3rd in the championship points. Andretti Autosport will score at least a couple of wins with Chaves, and if they’re able to get a deal with Sage Karam signed in time, he could pose a challenge for the occasional race win as well. Team Moore has yet to announce their driver for the #2 machine, and although I’m keen on seeing Juan Pablo Garcia in the TMR #22 machine, I’m not sure that he’ll be able to pose a substantial challenge to the Schmidt operation.
So you’ve heard my take on the coming Firestone Indy Lights season, what’s your’s? Agree with my assessment? Think I’m full of crap? Either way, let us know your opinion in the comments section below.