Last year we were treated to the most spectacular finish in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Indy Lights drivers Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chavez, Sage Karam, and Peter Dempsey ran four-wide down the front stretch and across the yard of bricks. Every year, I try to convince people that as much fun as the 500 is, and in recent years as good of as the racing has been, that the best racing action at the Speedway is really seen on Carburetion Day when the Indy Lights Series puts on their show after the IndyCar Series final practice. If last year didn’t convince them, then I don’t think anything will.
Can we expect another history-making finish for this year’s Freedom 100? Probably not, but I do think we can expect a close race and a close finish. After the Indianapolis Grand Prix at the beginning of the Month of May, the Indy Lights season championship changed complexion is a sigificant way. Both of the drivers that had been dominating the series so far, Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach, had very disappointed races on the Infield Road Course. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsport duo of Luiz Razia and Jack Harvey, and Andretti Autosport’s Matthew Brabham took full advantage of the stumbles.
Until this month, Chaves and Veach had been swapping race wins with Veach winning at St. Petersburg and Race #1 at Barber, and Chaves winning at Long Beach and Race #2 at Barber. Veach never missed the podium in those first two rounds, giving him the slight edge over Chaves. The weekend on the newly reconfigured Indianapolis Infield Road Course did not go well for the championship leaders, as Chaves came away with 8th and 11th place finishes and Veach with a marginally better 9th and 7th. Meanwhile Razia and Harvey took full advantage with both of them finishing on the podium in both races. This made the championship battle much closer with current standings as Veach (229), Razia (224), Chaves (215), Harvey (207).
Now we head to the first oval race of the year with two drivers looking to regain their momentum, and two others chomping at the bit to take over the championship lead. While a rookie winning the Freedom 100 is certainly not uncommon, experience DOES matter at the Speedway, and so even though Veach and Chaves had a rough time of it during the road course races, they have the advantage of having raced here before. I do think the favourite for Friday’s race has to be Chaves, but it will be a close race with Veach and Razia. I’d like to put Brabham and Harvey up there with the other three, but while it’s likely that they could score a podium finish, a race win would be a challenge.
In the end, whomever gets the race win, it will be hard fought and those of us watching will certainly be treated to three-wide racing down the Front Stretch. Will we see the epic type of finish like we saw last year? Probably not. Will we see magnificent racing between some seriously hungry and talented drivers? Absolutely! See you at the track on Friday. Look for us on the top stands just south of the Pagoda. Best seats in the house.
Official Preview from the Indy Lights Series
Wide-Open Field Set for 12th Annual Freedom 100 at Indianapolis
Palmetto, Fla. – Equality is one of the talking points as the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field heads back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week for its signature event, the Freedom 100, on the historic 2.5-mile oval. Four drivers already have tasted the fruits of victory during the opening six races – Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves, Matthew Brabham and, most recently, Luiz Razia – and several other contenders, including highly rated Europeans Jack Harvey and Alex Baron, have their sights firmly set on adding their names to that roster as the 14-round campaign marks its halfway point with the first of three visits this season to oval tracks.
Last year’s Freedom 100 was settled only in the final few inches of a spectacular race when Peter Dempsey, who was running fourth on the entrance to Turn Four on the last lap, drafted to the outside to claim the victory for Belardi Auto Racing by 0.0026 second in a blanket four-abreast finish – the closest in the storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This year’s championship chase was thrown wide open earlier this month at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on a reconfigured and widely acclaimed 2.439-mile road course. Rookies Brabham and Razia earned their first-ever victories to vault into championship contention, while early season pacesetters Veach and Chaves both endured weekends to forget.
Veach, 19, from Stockdale, Ohio, still leads the points table for Andretti Autosport, but only by a scant five-point margin over Brazilian Razia, who all but erased a 49-point deficit with a breakthrough weekend which also included a second-place finish in Round Five. Razia, a veteran of GP2 in Europe, took a little while to become properly acclimated to the Indy Lights machinery but has taken full advantage of the vast knowledge base at four-time defending champion team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian to reap an unbroken string of top-five finishes.
Teammate Harvey, from England, has matched Razia’s streak of top-fives. The former British F3 Champion and front-runner in the 2013 GP3 Series currently lies fourth in the points table, 22 markers shy of Veach and just eight adrift of Colombian-American Chaves, who won two of the first four races for Belardi Auto Racing and, after posting the fastest speed, 187.819 mph during a May 4 test session, has every intention of improving upon his second-place finish in last year’s Freedom 100.
Third-generation racer Brabham (Andretti Autosport) and rising French/British talent Alex Baron (Belardi Auto Racing) also will be among the contenders looking to follow in the footsteps of the fastest qualifier for next week’s 98th Indianapolis 500, Ed Carpenter, who won the inaugural Freedom 100 in 2003.
Two drivers will make their seasonal debut in Indy Lights – Chase Austin, from Eudora, Kan., who will pilot the #0 UNAIDS/Starting Grid/BAR entry for Belardi and Emerson Newton-John (Team Moore Racing), from Los Angeles, Calif., who will carry the colors of the cancer awareness charity, Pink and Blue for Two.
Official practice for the Freedom 100 will take place from 9:00 until 12:00 on Thursday, May 22, followed by single-car qualifying at 1:15 p.m. The race, which will start at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 23, immediately following Carb Day final practice for the Indianapolis 500, will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network with live commentary on the IndyCar Radio Network. Timing and Scoring will be available via the series and indycar.com websites.