IndyCar – Road to Indy Well Represented in 500 Field

The Mazda Road to Indy has been a very successful program since it’s inception. We’ve certainly done our best to document that here at OpenPaddock.net and to follow the progress of many of the drivers that have come through the Road to Indy, but admittedly, we’re fans and a bit biased. There is objective evidence of the program’s success, and it can be seen in the list of the 33 drivers who will contest the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Although the formal program has only been around since 2010, the pieces of the Mazda Road to Indy, USF2000, Pro Mazda (originally Star Mazda), and Indy Lights have all been around for much longer. Two of this year’s drivers have raced in the USF2000 series, four have competed in Pro Mazda, and 18 have turned race laps in Indy Lights. If anyone wonders whether the program works or not, ask over half of this year’s 500 drivers. Here’s the Indy 500 Starting Grid along with the various Road to Indy series in which they’ve competed.

Pos Car # Driver Engine Time Avg Speed Indy Lights Pro Mazda USF2000
1 20  Ed Carpenter  Dallara-Chevy  02:35.7992 231.067 x    
2 27  James Hinchcliffe  Dallara-Honda  02:35.9528 230.839 x    
3 12  Will Power  Dallara-Chevy  02:36.0488 230.697      
4 3  Helio Castroneves  Dallara-Chevy  02:36.0812 230.649 x    
5 77  Simon Pagenaud  Dallara-Honda  02:36.1049 230.614      
6 25  Marco Andretti  Dallara-Honda  02:36.1526 230.544 x    
7 34  Carlos Munoz  Dallara-Honda  02:36.4224 230.146 x    
8 67  Josef Newgarden  Dallara-Honda  02:36.5946 229.893 x    
9 21  JR Hildebrand  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.3938 228.726 x   x
10 2  Juan Pablo Montoya  Dallara-Chevy  02:35.8396 231.007      
11 9  Scott Dixon  Dallara-Chevy  02:35.8930 230.928      
12 26  Kurt Busch  Dallara-Honda  02:35.9913 230.782      
13 98  Jack Hawksworth  Dallara-Honda  02:36.1779 230.506 x x  
14 19  Justin Wilson  Dallara-Honda  02:36.3480 230.256      
15 7  Mikhail Aleshin  Dallara-Honda  02:36.4881 230.049      
16 10  Tony Kanaan  Dallara-Chevy  02:36.5750 229.922 x    
17 11  Sebastien Bourdais  Dallara-Chevy  02:36.6259 229.847      
18 16  Oriol Servia  Dallara-Honda  02:36.6905 229.752 x    
19 28  Ryan Hunter-Reay  Dallara-Honda  02:36.7132 229.719      
20 15  Graham Rahal  Dallara-Honda  02:36.7756 229.628 x x  
21 18  Carlos Huertas  Dallara-Honda  02:37.0328 229.251      
22 63  Pippa Mann  Dallara-Honda  02:37.0521 229.223 x    
23 14  Takuma Sato  Dallara-Honda  02:37.0671 229.201      
24 68  Alex Tagliani  Dallara-Honda  02:37.1038 229.148      
25 6  Townsend Bell  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.1990 229.009 x    
26 83  Charlie Kimball  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.2376 228.953 x    
27 5  Jacques Villeneuve  Dallara-Honda  02:37.2400 228.949      
28 33  James Davison  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.2977 228.865 x x  
29 41  Martin Plowman  Dallara-Honda  02:37.3333 228.814 x    
30 8  Ryan Briscoe  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.4028 228.713      
31 22  Sage Karam  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.5931 228.436 x x x
32 17  Sebastian Saavedra  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.8335 228.088 x    
33 91  Buddy Lazier  Dallara-Chevy  02:37.9501 227.92      

Most of these drivers have only driven in the Indy Lights series, but the person in this year’s 500 Mile Race that exemplifies what the Mazda Road to Indy program was intended to do is Sage Karam. Sage began racing in USF2000 for Andretti Autosport in the year of the series rebirth in 2009 and won that championship. He then moved up to Star Mazda with Andretti Autosport and raced for a couple of seasons, taking some race wins, and finishing high in the championship standings. In 2013, he moved to Schmidt Peterson Motorsport to compete in the Indy Lights series. Having won the championship this year, he was awarded scholarship money to move to a partially fund a full-time ride in IndyCar or to nearly cover a full Indy 500 program. On Saturday, Sage had decent speed, but on Sunday, the car had set-up issues resulting in his qualifying on the back row. During Monday practice, however, it seems that the speed was back.

“Things went really well today. Obviously yesterday we just missed something in the setup, and today we made some changes for that and the car was a hell of a lot better. We were really fast today. I was able to run with traffic, run up on guys, and make a lot of passes. Today was a really encouraging day for me and for the team as well because it shows we can get to the front and we can pass anybody. Because of that I’m really looking forward to next Sunday, I think we still have a good shot at this thing.”

This coming Sunday, Sage will become the first driver to have competed at all four levels of INDYCAR, and demonstrate the value of having a clearly defined and well run development ladder. While things aren’t perfect for INDYCAR, especially for the IndyCar Series, other top racing series could certainly learn from the effectiveness of the Road to Indy program.