The Firestone Indy Lights series is a dangerous time for young drivers. Many come to the series after having experienced success in the lower formula, be it in Europe, South America, or in the USF2000 and Pro Mazda championships that are part of the Mazda Road to Indy. When they get to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights series, they are so close to their goals of being an IZOD IndyCar Series driver, that bravado and excitement can often take control of their thoughts, pushing rational thinking and all the racecraft they’d honed on their way to Indy Lights off to the side. This is exactly what we’ve seen from two normally very skilled and intelligent racers, Gabby Chaves and Jack Hawksworth. The driving-school adage that sometimes slower is faster applies to one’s thoughts and attitude as well. Boldness and aggression are requisite qualities in a racing driver, but they must be applied selectively. Calm and clear thinking will result in the best speeds. The red mist and uncontrolled aggression will only result in your race ending in tears and shards of carbon fiber.
no images were foundAt St. Petersburg, the season-opener for the Firestone Indy Lights series, Carlos Muñoz was chasing down rookie Gabby Chaves. Headed into Turn 1, Muñoz got inside of Chaves in the braking zone. Unfortunately, instead of giving his competitor room on the inside, Chaves aggressively closed the door and initiated contact between the two machines. That contact was severe enough to end Chaves’ race right there. Muñoz continued on, but had dropped a lot of spots and never made it back to his original position again. If Chaves had remained calm and thought clearly about the situation, he would have remembered that Turn 2 was a left-hander, and that squeezing Muñoz and keeping him tight to the inside would compromise Muñoz’ exit speed and position, allowing Chaves to easily retain P1. As it was, both drivers’ days were ruined.
no images were foundThe 2nd race of the season at the Barber Motorsports Park saw some clearer heads, although there was still some overly ambitious driving by some. In Turn 5, there was some incidental contact between Dempsey and Karam as Dempsey attempted an outside pass and Karam could not hold the inside line. No damage was done, although Dempsey would loose a couple of positions in the exchange. Karam would later suffer another contact incident as Juan Pablo Garcia came into Turn 5 a little hot hoping to get underneath Karam and locked up his brakes trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid contact. Both drivers again would be fine, but Juan Pablo would be invited by Race Control to do a drive through of the pit lane.
Things really went right in the crapper on the Streets of Long Beach this past weekend, however. Even before the drivers got into their racing machines, I knew that we were in for a rough start. Jack Hawksworth, driver of the #77 machine for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, said before the race start, “I’m coming out of Turn 1 with the lead or I’m not coming out!” That type of bravado sounds cool and impressive, but it’s also a foolish way to approach a race start. Going to the start of a race with that type of attitude results in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the later result (not coming out) is far more common. Sure enough, on the run down to Turn 1 after the green flag, Hawksworth tried to squeeze and intimidate Zach Veach. Veach did not lift and gave as much room as he could until he was up next to the wall. Hawksworth kept drifting to the left, however, and eventually made contact with Veach tossing both of them into the wall and then careening across the straight in front of traffic. The wreckage of Hawksworth’s car would also collect Peter Dempsey who had qualified well and was looking for his second podium finish of the year.
In a series that’s already on the ropes, with car counts in the single digits, this is not the type of racing and action the league, the teams, or the drivers need. These young drivers should have the racecraft skills by this point to know better than to go half-cocked down into a tight turn with a win-it-or-bin-it attitude. Nine times out of ten, you’re going to come off looking like a zero, not a hero, you’re going to tear up a ton of racing equipment, piss off your team owner, REALLY piss off the mechanics that have to put your machine back together, disappoint your sponsors because their clients are left watching the race asking, “So which one was your car again? I don’t see it.” and you run the risk of having one of your competitors track you down in the paddock and punch you in the face because your bravado cost them a chance to compete and thousands of dollars in crash damage.
Control! Control! You must learn control! …not that the IndyCar drivers did a whole lot better this week.