The final round of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Series takes place this Sunday at the Las Vegas Motorspeedway, but the calamity from Kentucky has left a few cars and one driver on the sidelines. David Ostella, primary driver for Jensen MotorSport, is out. The team was not able to repair his car in time for the transport out to Las Vegas leaving the team with only one entry, newcomer Oliver Webb. This is a pretty brutal situation for Ostella who has scrapped and fought well for Jensen MotorSport all season long. I can’t help but feel that he’s being wronged by the team in this situation, but the carnage at Kentucky was pretty severe and although Ostella may be their primary driver, Webb has a contract. Although the decision is understandable, it doesn’t make it easier to swallow.
There have been a few emergency car swaps, but no other drivers have been booted. With the car counts in Indy Lights already bordering on abysmal, it’s good that everyone else was able to find a car to drive. The current count for Sunday’s finale is 13. That’s it. 13. There’s been some speculation that a couple of current teams may be trying to field additional cars, and there are other teams looking to enter the series, but there certainly isn’t enough buzz about the series right now to make me think that car counts will be significantly different next year than they are now. While the USF2000 National Championship is posting record grid sizes, Star Mazda and Indy Lights are certainly in ebb. If the Mazda Road to Indy program is to continue and be successful, things must improve, but this is a topic for another post. Back to Vegas.
Yesterday, the Indy Lights drivers had two practice sessions and it was a bit of a surprise to see who was leading in both sessions. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars have been strong for several seasons now, and they’ve been especially strong this year. Josef Newgarden doesn’t even have to compete this weekend to be officially crowned the 2011 champion. None of the SSM drivers, including Josef, posted the fast times of the two sessions. With four cars out of 13-car grid, including the 2011 champ, you’d think that the odds were pretty good. The SSM cars would seem to struggle in Thursday practice. Esteban Guerrieri lead the squad’s efforts in both sessions posting respectable 3rd and 2nd fastest times in the morning and afternoon sessions, respectively. Pending series champ, Josef Newgarden, would struggle back in P8 and P9 in the two sessions.
Winner of the Kentucky race and second in the points standings, Stefan Wilson, ran fastest of all in the morning practice session, but struggled in the second session posting only the 9th fastest time.
“The season finale weekend started out really well for Team Citizenre. It’s great to have them on board. We were fast in the first practice and ended up P1. We just worked on the car constantly to make it faster every time we went back out. For the second session we mainly concentrated on the qualifying setup while most seemed to work on their race mode, so I think we’ll still have some speed tomorrow to put us in a good spot for the race Sunday.” — Stefan Wilson, #5 Andretti Autosport
The real performer in the two sessions was Team Moore Racing’s Gustavo Yacaman. Gustavo, driving backup-car since his car was also destroyed at Kentucky, was second fastest in the first session and on top of the charts in the second session. His second session speed was a 194.118 mph! The Las Vegas track appears to have insane amounts of grip, allowing the drivers to reach speeds they can’t even touch at Indianapolis where the best speed was a little over 192 mph. In spite of his being in a backup-car, Gustavo has to be the favorite for the win. We’ll see what qualification brings later today. Be sure to follow along at http://racecontrol.indycar.com/. Final practice is at 0945 PDT and qualification begins at 1415 PDT.