Indy Lights – Unfettered Aggression and the Failures It Causes

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.

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At 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.

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The 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.

JDC-LONGBEACH_1565-AThings 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.

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9 Thoughts to “Indy Lights – Unfettered Aggression and the Failures It Causes

  1. SayWhat???

    So you’re not a fan of Sam Schmidt Motorsports I see? You’ve wrote everything to place blame on them. Even in both incidents were IndyCar had no blame on Schmidt drivers, you saw otherwise. This type of biased journalism will quickly close the door to the access that you previously earned to drivers and teams for interviews.

    1. It’s not a matter of being a fan of a particular team or not. It’s a matter of keeping a calm focus when in the race car. As matter of fact, I’ve been very impressed with all three of Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s drivers in the past. At St. Petersburg at Long Beach, the two incidents that occurred happened to be be initiated by SPM drivers. That’s no comment on the team, but on the rookie drivers. I believe that Chaves and Hawksworth are fast and capable drivers who happened to make some significant errors in judgement in their eagerness to do well. I also expect that they will learn from their respective incidents and continue forward being the skilled drivers they demonstrated they could both be last year in Star Mazda.

      It is worth pointing out why those two incidents occurred as it serves as a cautionary tale. How long have we heard Sir Moss’s famous quote, “To finish first, you must first finish?” It’s an important lesson and one that needs to be brought up from time to time, especially with young drivers.

      If you saw those two incidents differently, then please share your take on it. I’d be happy to discuss them.

  2. I don’t see much bias when a driver says he will come out of turn one with the lead or a wrecked car. The article also addresses all drivers. Schmidt-Peterson drivers are not singled out except for their statements and subsequent actions.

  3. SayWhat???

    It simply appears that you gave the nod to the non-SSM driver in each instance. Chaves IMO was victim of a dive bomb at st Pete. Munoz was cleary much faster than the field and should have waited for a cleaner pass. Many walked away asking the same question. Indycar immediately made the correct call.
    Jack made an error based on his inability to see Veach. You make it appear as if he chopped across Veach deliberately. I can’t speak to Jack’s pre race comments. Can you identify where I can locate his comment please?
    As far as Karam is concerned you stated he couldn’t hold his line. Shame on Dempsey for attempting an ill fated pass on the outside of turn 5. Also, look at your photo of #2 locking up the brakes while he isn’t 1/3 past Karam going into turn 5. THAT appears to be poor decision making and I believe Indycar made the correct call again.
    Again, it just feels that your article was critical of the SSM drivers in my opinion. In glad you write about the ladder and enjoy your copy. But thus time I feel you didn’t get it correct. Respect my opinion as I respect yours.

    1. In Karam’s case, the incident with Dempsey was merely a racing incident, and I mentioned it as such. With regards to the contact with Juan Pablo Garcia, it was entirely Juan’s fault, and IndyCar immediately, and correctly, assessed him with a drive-through penalty, which I also mentioned.

      At St. Petersburg, I can see the argument that Munoz should have been more patient and selected a different circumstance with a higher chance of success. I still don’t think it was a bad move, though. That inside move at T1 is very common and sometimes works in favour of the inside driver, sometimes not as they go through the T2 and T3 sequence immediately after. What I’m saying is that Chaves should have been more aware of the situation and realized that trying to shut the door on Munoz would not have worked. …and it didn’t. I’ve seen Chaves drive very smartly and very quickly in Star Mazda, and I know he can in FIL as well. This just wasn’t one of those moments.

      The whole Long Beach situation is really what prompted me to finally complete this article that I’d been thinking about and hashing out in my head since Barber. The pre-race comments were made on the NBCSN broadcast, and when I heard that, my heart sank a little. Hawksworth showed such great racecraft and poise last year, and it surprised me to hear him make such a claim. After hearing that, though, it didn’t surprise me at all to see what happened at the race start. I know in the post-race he was very recalcitrant and claimed that he thought he was clear of Veach. I’m not sure that I buy that completely, however. I do think that he’s a smart enough racer to learn from this incident.

      I’m glad that you appreciate the fact that we cover the Mazda Road to Indy, and whether you agree with me or not, I thank you for the comments and discussion. I

  4. SayWhat???

    Just fired up the dvr and reviewed the Long Beach race. You are correct and Jack did apparently make that comment to the reporter. Kind of out if character actually.

  5. TimSanders

    Doug – nice article and I like the controversy just so nobody gets injured. I would like to see American Sage Karam give Carlos Munoz a run at this title yet.

  6. Bob Z.

    I think it deserves mentioning that this article seems to imply that this is the nature of the series rather than the slowness of growth and maturity in a few drivers this season, which is more likely the case. This series has produced excellent racing and graduated drivers to the top level consistently. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that the series has always been subject to what’s been happening the past couple of races this year, because it’s typically not true. And I think it’s also fair to point out that they are only 3 races in, and as the author mentions, Barber wasn’t much of an issue. Let’s wait things out before we characterize the entire series.

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