The original Indy Lights series, sanctioned by CART, ran from 1986 to 2001. In 2002, the Indy Racing League revived the series as the Menards Infinity Pro Series until the title co-sponsors withdrew and the series was renamed the Indy Pro Series. In 2008, with the merger between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series, Firestone came on board as a title sponsor and the old name “Indy Lights” was resurrected. The series now known as the Firestone Indy Lights Series celebrated its 100th race sanctioned by the Indy Racing League, and what a way to celebrate! The race was amazingly good. Actually, given how the races have gone this season, that really shouldn’t be a surprise. Right from the beginning of the race, the competition was wheel-to-wheel, front-to-back and side-by-side amongst the top 5 cars. The biggest positive mover of the race was Ana “Bia” Biatrice who advanced from P10 to finish on the podium in third, including leading several laps. The biggest negative mover was pole sitter and championship points leader, JR Hildebrand. JR came into the pits on the pace lap after his oil pressure alarm went off on the back stretch. The team, after some mechanical issues during practice, installed a used bell housing that apparently wasn’t cleaned thoroughly enough. The oil filter clogged up causing the drop in oil pressure, thus ending Hildebrand’s day before it even got started. Fortunately for Hildebrand, he’d already built up a 69-point lead. Certainly, Saavedra made some significant headway, but JR still has a strong lead for the championship.
With Hildebrand’s exit, Saavedra started from pole and led for twenty laps until James Hinchcliffe finally made it around him. The lead was hotly contested for several laps amongst four drivers throughout the remainder of the race: Saavedra, Hinchcliffe, Biatrice, and former IndyLights champion Wade Cunningham. These four drivers were often 2-by-2 and nose-to-tail coming across the line battling and jockeying for position. To their credit, although the racing was extremely close, no one got into the side of anyone else. All four drivers lead the race at one point in time, but it was Cunningham who emerged at the end, taking the lead for good from Saavedra on Lap 55. Saavedra was trying to mount a challenge in the final laps until the race’s second caution came out for Hinchcliffe. Hinch got sideways coming out of turn 2, gathered himself up, and continued on with no contact. There was no reason for the yellow to have been waved for that incident, but it was and the field cross the line under the yellow and checkered flags.
Saavedra cut 29 points off of his teammates 69-point lead, and with four more races to go, he has a real chance of overcoming that 40-point deficit to claim the championship. Hildebrand can all but wrap up the championship with a win at Mid-Ohio, but he absolutely need to finish the race. Another disastrous weekend like he had at Kentucky, and his lead will evaporate almost completely. Be sure to check out this week’s race live online at IndyCar.com on Sunday at 10am EDT, or catch the broadcast on Versus on Monday at 4pm EDT. This series offers some of the most entertaining racing you’ll find anywhere in the world. Definitely set aside some time and watch these young men and women race their hearts out. You won’t be disappointed!