This weekend’s Firestone Indy Lights race, with only 16 cars contesting the Husar’s House of Fine Diamonds 100 at the historic Milwaukee Mile, will feature the shortest grid since the Infineon race in August of 2006, when only 14 cars competed. This continues an unfortunate trend seen in the Firestone Indy Lights series this season. The first race at St. Petersburg featured 27 cars on the grid, but at Long Beach, there were only 25. At Kansas, the total number of entries had dropped to 24, and two more were lost for the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The drop from Kansas to Indianapolis is attributable to the loss of Guthrie Racing after a very expensive weekend, losing two chassis and a number of spare parts, and having their primary driver, Sean Guthrie, suspended indefinitely by the league for driving at speed passed safety crewmen during a yellow flag period.
The drop of six more drivers from Indianapolis to Milwaukee is far more significant of a decline and very worrisome. One of the most popular drivers in the league, Ana “Bia” Beatriz, is reportedly out of funding and Sam Schmidt Motorsports was unable to continue the #20 program. Its uncertain as to whether we’ll see Bia return to the series later in the season. I for one certainly hope we do! Bia has an enormous amount of talent, and has run very well in the series both last year during her rookie season, and this year. Others missing from this week’s grid include Jay Howard, Brian Wagner, Junior Strous, Mike Potekhen, and Ali Jackson. These drivers are not all backmarkers who have faded for lack of results. Junior Strous won the first two races at St. Petersburg, Bia has top five finishes in three of the five races, Jay Howard has two top fives including his most recent 4th place finish at the Freedom 100.
Tomorrow’s race should still be an exciting event, despite the short grid. Mario Romancini followed up his outstanding performance at the Firestone Freedom 100 by taking the pole at Milwaukee. Accompanying him on the front row is J.R. Hildebrand, and immediately behind him in the second row is his teammate and Kansas winner Sebastian Saavedra. Joining El Seb in the second row is the only driver ever to score a race win for Team USA in the A1GP series, Johnathan Summerton. Summerton had good runs at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach, and his road racing skills will serve him well on the flat short oval of Milwaukee.