Indy Lights – The Year of the Veterans

The 2014 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship is underway and has it’s first two races are in the books. The series started with a increase in participants over the last season with a total of twelve entrants at both of the opening street races. I know it’s not a large of a field as we’d like to see, but it’s an improvement over the single-digit fields of last season. As usual, there are a number of European drivers coming over from the multitude of formula series that abound, some recruits from South America, some graduates of the Mazda Road to Indy, and some veterans. Let’s take a look at the current grid.

Drivers Country Previous Series No. Team
Zach Veach USA IndyLights 26 Andretti Autosport
Matthew Brabham USA ProMazda 83 Andretti Autosport
Alexandre Baron France Formula Renault 2.0 / USF2000 4 Belardi Auto Racing
Gabby Chaves Columbia Indy Lights 5 Belardi Auto Racing
Lloyd Read UK Pro Mazda 28 Bryan Herta Autosport
Scott Anderson USA Pro Mazda 24 Jeffrey Mark Motorsport
Luiz Razia Brazil GP2 / International GT 7 Fan Force United
Juan Pablo García Mexico Indy Lights 10 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Jack Harvey UK GP3 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Juan Piedrahita Columbia Pro Mazda 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Zack Meyer Canada Pro Mazda 2 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Vittorio Ghirelli Italy GP2 / Auto GP World Series 22 Team Moore Racing

Normally, we’d see a rookie signed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, or two, duking it out for race wins and the overall championship. Afterall, that’s how the championship has played out for the past four seasons, a SPM rookie battles his teammates and wins the championship. That’s not a condemnation, that just the fact of the matter, so this year when SPM announced their line-up, I thought that this might be the right season for another team to step up and offer a serious challenge. It’s not that the current quartet of SPM divers aren’t capable drivers. They certainly are, but with the exception of Jack Harvey, the team doesn’t have anyone that is ready to offer a continuous challenge race after race.

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The rookie with the most potential, who in the past has gone to SPM, has instead signed with Andretti Autosport. Matthew Brabham won the 2012 USF2000 championship, graduated to Pro Mazda in 2013 and dominated that championship, and now sits in his #83 United Fiber and Data Andretti Autosport machine with the potential of becoming the first driver to win the championship in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy program. Unfortunately, his first race at St. Petersburg did not end well as a mistake in Turn 3 put his Dallara in the wall relegating him to a meager P9 finish. Not the way the young hot shoe wanted to make his debut.

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His teammate, Zach Veach, on the other hand, ran a remarkable race! Zach has always been a solid racer in his career in the Mazda Road to Indy, but has never been a race winner. As dynamic as he is off-track, his on-track performance was always above average and good enough for some podium finishes, but never strong enough to put him on that top step. That is until this year! At St. Petersburg, the Zach Veach we saw on track was a very different racer than what we’ve seen in previous seasons, he dominated the field! His closest competitor was fellow veteran, Gabby Chaves in the #5 Belardi Auto Racing machine, who stayed close to his gearbox, but never close enough to offer serious challenge. The pair, though, ran away from the rest of the field quite handily.

At Long Beach, the roles were reversed between Zach and Gabby. Although Veach would take the pole, Chaves would take over the lead on Lap 1 and retain that lead for the remainder of the race. Veach remained close finishing a few tenths behind Chaves for a P2 finish. Meanwhile, Matthew Brabham whom everyone acknowledges is a serious talent, I mean how can you not after his performance in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, finished over three seconds behind the veteran pair. The next finisher, Jack Harvey in P4, was a full 27.5 seconds behind Chaves, well back of the lead group.

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Looking at the new pace of Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport and of Gabby Chaves of Belardi Auto Racing, I don’t see how those two aren’t battling for the race win at next weekend’s double-header at Barber Motorsports Park. One big difference between next weekend at Barber versus the first two street races at St. Pete and Long Beach is that they’ll run two! In fact all of the Mazda Road to Indy series will be running double-headers at Barber. So who comes out on top? Flip a coin! I think it’s a 50/50 proposition between Veach and Chaves as to who wins with Brabham being in P3 both races.

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