Never in the history of the Indy Lights series have so many drivers been so close to each other this late in the season. We’ve had seasons where a couple of drivers may still be duking it out toward the end, and there’s even been a few where there’s been three drivers with a shot at the championship, but never four and never so close! With two races left, a street race in Houston and the superspeedway in Fontana, the championship will likely fall to the driver with the broadest skill set. To see how we got to this point, let’s take a look at the season thus far.
Jack Hawksworth, who won the 2012 Star Mazda Championship in dominating fashion, looked ready to do the same after a strong drive and win on the Streets of St. Petersburg for Schmidt Peterson Racing. Muñoz retaliated quickly and decisively taking maximum points in the next rounds at Barber and Long Beach. The middle of the schedule including Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Iowa, and Pocono took a heavy toll. With a DNF at Indianapolis, finishing dead last at Milwaukee, a third-place finish at Iowa behind Karam and Chaves, and a disappointing fifth at Podono, Hawksworth’s season looked all but done.
Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Muñoz, however, looked to be in control. A fourth at Indy, second at Milwaukee, finishing last at Iowa but getting a bonus point for pole, and taking maximum points from Pocono put him in the lead by four points over Sage Karam, 41 points ahead of Gabby Chaves, and a devastating 61 points ahead of Hawksworth. Two missed opportunities, one at Toronto and one at Mid-Ohio, for both Sage and Carlos pulled them back to the field.
At Toronto Carlos came in fourth while Sage finished in sixth. Meanwhile, Chaves scored his sixth podium of the season finishing in third while Hawksworth took full advantage and left Canada having swept a maximum of 53 points from the Toronto streets. Sage and Carlos had similar results at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and Hawksworth picked up a few more points while Chaves took all he could from the race after an amazing weekend for the young Columbian. Carlos still had the lead, but things were becoming uncomfortably close.
Last weekend, while the ALMS and IndyCar drivers were doing their best to bolster the carbon fiber fabrication industry, the Indy Lights drivers put on a great show with aggressive yet respectful and clean racing. Jack Hawksworth showed that he wasn’t out of the running yet and completely dominated the weekend! Carlos Muñoz was slated to extend his lead on the rest of the field starting alongside Hawksworth in P2, but a rear lock-up going into Turn 5 ended his day and threw the doors wide open for Karam and Chaves.
“I don’t really know what happened. I just braked and needed the car just to stop for the wall. I’m not sure if the car broke or just snapped. You know, I had a great car even though the weekend qualifying yesterday was bad. I feel really bad right now. What can I say? We still have two races to go. Everyone in the championship is really close from each other, but that’s another thing we expect. I have to go racing these last two races. I don’t know how many points the other guys behind me, but I have to go change my mentality and go for a win.” — Carlos Muñoz, #26 Andretti Autosport
Sage Karam, who qualified fourth, made the pass of the race on Lap 3. Going into Turn 1 after getting a great exit out of the infamous chicane on the front stretch, Karam out broke both Muñoz and Chaves and went from fourth to second. He would keep that position through to the checkers, fighting hard to fend of his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Gabby Chaves.
“My engineer, we were joking around before the race, he’s like, You better have the lead. Turn three on the first lap, we came close. Got up to second from fourth. I managed to slot into the inside in turn one in front of Dempsey which set us up. Able to get a good run through turn one. Gabby and Muñoz, I don’t know if they hit. They didn’t have as good of a run. I was able to close a little bit, ran down the inside, took second. Really Gabby was pushing me hard throughout the whole race. I had to defend a little bit. He’s a great competitor. He knows how to pass. But I know there’s no team orders or anything. Every man for himself. He was a tough guy to hold off. We missed the setup just a little bit. I think we had a little bit too much understeer to start the race. Didn’t have anything for Jack. Once I knew that, it was pretty much secure as many points as we could, try to get second.” — Sage Karam, #88, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Jack was in a class by himself this weekend. He took pole position by nearly half a second, and won the 35-lap race by over 13 seconds!
“It was the perfect weekend for us from start to finish. We rolled off the truck, we were quick straight from the off. When it’s like that it makes your life a lot easier. We did the hard work yesterday in qualifying putting ourselves on the pole. These guys were racing behind. Sage had a look at me on one of the restarts certainly. I was able to hold him off. After that, it was getting consistent laps. The car was hooked up, I could push when I needed. It was just a perfect weekend for us. It was an important one, as well. Got the points to 13 now. Certainly momentum is with us at the minute. I feel good, feel I’m driving well. They’re giving me a good car. Happy days. Try to get up to it in the next few as well.” — Jack Hawksworth, #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
The Championship Standings
Sage’s second-place finish combined with Muñoz’s DNF, gives the native of Nazareth, PA a two-point lead in the championship. Chaves and Hawksworth also made huge gains on Muñoz. The four drivers are now only separated by eleven points.
I still think Muñoz is the driver to beat and is the favourite for the championship, but he MUST avoid mistakes at Houston. With only a two-point lead, and Karam being strong on both street circuits and ovals, Muñoz cannot be satisfied with just making the podium. Chaves has shown great pace this season, and he’s really improved over last season, but he’ll need to finish ahead of both Sage and Carlos in both races if he’s to have a chance at the title. Hawksworth has made an impressive run to get as close as he has, but he will need another max-points weekend at Houston in order to take the championship as his chances of a victory at Fontana are not great. He’s improved on ovals, but he’s still not the match for Sage or Carlos.