No doubt that the Watkins Glen and the Toronto IndyCar races were pretty good, but the oval products has definitely suffered this season. This is certainly NOT the case with the IRL’s feeder series, the Firestone Indy Lights (FIL). On all types of tracks this year, super speedways like IMS, short ovals like Iowa, road courses, street courses, the racing in the Indy Lights series has been fantastic. Sadly, the car count has diminished as the season has worn on, but with a strong core of highly talented drivers, the on-track package has been extremely entertaining and in my not-so-humble opinion, some of the best racing on the planet.
Right now, the series is in the middle of its two-race swing through Canada. Last weekend was the first race on the Toronto street course for the Indy Racing League, although many of the drivers and teams were certainly not new to the course, and next weekend, the league will make its second trip ever to Edmonton to race on the City Center Airport circuit. The race last weekend in Toronto was outstanding and marked a first for the Firestone Indy Lights: pit stops. A brief, but very heavy, downpour prior to the race start left the course wet enough to mandate a start on rain tires. Once the racing began, the track quickly developed a solid dry line and teams had to come in to change from rains to slicks. This was the first ever green-flag pit stop for the series, and it showed. Teams were only allowed two air guns and three crew over the wall for stops. Some teams were relatively efficient, many were not. Not unsurprisingly, Andretti Green Racing was the quickest, their long experience in CART and ICS serving them well in this circumstance. Most other teams struggled and recorded pit stops that were in the 90-second range. In the end, it really wouldn’t have mattered since the two AGR cars piloted by Sebastian Saavedra and J. R. Hildebrand, who finished 1/2 respectively, clearly had the dominant cars of the weekend. Saavedra’s win was his second of the season, matching his teammate’s victory count, but it was not enough to gain significant ground in the championship. Sebastian still trails J.R. by 51 points. Certainly his poor results in Iowa and Watkins Glen did nothing to help his championship efforts.
Next weekend, both the ICS and FIL are off to Edmonton, Alberta to race at the Edmonton City Centre Airport, although the track is now officially called the Rexall Speedway. Like most airport circuits, this is a fast course with some very wide straights and great sight lines for the fans. However, unlike most airport circuits there is a true permanent road course section to the circuit as well. Edmonton will play well into the fast and aggressive style of drivers like Saavedra and the young Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who claimed his third podium of the season last week in his hometown of Toronto. The road course section between Turns 2 through Turn 8 won’t allow for much passing, but it will allow a skilled driver to close a gap to those ahead, or stretch out a lead on those behind. A good exit out of Turn 9 will enable drivers to attempt to overtake in Turn 10, but the most critical turn on the circuit is Turn 12. A driver getting a good exit from Turn 12 will be able to out maneuver a competitor leading into Turn 13 and 14. The Turn 13/14 complex is a simple right/left that can be taken flat out, but racing line through it is very narrow. If a driver can secure the right side of the track coming out of Turn 12, they’ll have a serious advantage going into Turns 13 and 14 and be able to carry more speed down to Turn 1. Look for a LOT of action all along the front stretch from the exit of Turn 12 and into Turn 1 next weekend. Be sure to keep a sharp eye out for the two AGR/AFS cars of Saavedra and Hildebrand and for quick, aggressive drivers like Hinchcliffe.
Be sure to watch these young talented drivers race. It really is the best kept secret in all of motorsports. You can see the Firestone Indy Lights race online at IndyCar.com, or wait for the TV broadcast 4pm EDT on Versus.