A number of Firestone Indy Lights drivers, including the top three in the Drivers’ Championship standings, will share a test day in IndyCar Series cars with the championship’s main drivers at the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway road course on August 13.
At this stage, seven entries will be on track, with the confirmed line-ups as follows:
|Team / Entry||IndyCar Series driver||Indy Lights Driver|
|Andretti Autosport||Marco Andretti||Matthew Brabham|
|Chip Ganassi Racing||Scott Dixon||Sean Rayhall|
|KVSH Racing||Sebastien Bourdais||Ryan Phinny|
|Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Graham Rahal||Ed Jones|
|Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||Ryan Briscoe||Jack Harvey|
|Team Penske||Juan Pablo Montoya||Spencer Pigot|
|Team Penske||Will Power||Nelson Piquet Jr|
“Teams are allocated two additional team test days for the purpose of testing a current Indy Lights driver. On-track time may be split with a team driver, but a team driver may not use more than 50 percent of the available track time,” Rule 6.2.3 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook reads.
The test day will be open to the public.
Brabham drove an Andretti Autosport IndyCar July 1 at Iowa Speedway alongside Andretti, while Phinny has previous miles in February at Sebring International Raceway. Other Indy Lights drivers have periodically tested in a Verizon IndyCar Series car, but this is the first large in-season test day for feeder category drivers.
“This is exactly what we’ve wanted to have happen with the program,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates Indy Lights under INDYCAR sanctioning. “We appreciate INDYCAR enabling this with its testing regulations and to encourage it. To see these drivers getting this opportunity is rewarding for them and exciting for us. It’s what the program is all about; we want to see them make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tyres is the third and final step on the Mazda ‘Road to Indy’ driver and team development path to the top. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a $750,000 scholarship toward the IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500 race in 2016.
Harvey, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, has a six-point lead over Pigot (Juncos Racing) and an 18-point lead over Jones (Carlin) into the championship-deciding doubleheader race weekend September 11-13 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
“The test could be valuable for next year,” said Harvey, the Englishman in his second season stint with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “I could show (an IndyCar Series team) that they could trust me with their car, I can be fast and provide the proper feedback.”
Added Pigot, 21, of Orlando Florida, who won the 2014 Pro Mazda championship: “It’s something that I’ve been working toward for quite a few years and climbing the Mazda Road to Indy has prepared me for it. I’m excited to get behind the wheel. Winning the Indy Lights championship is the No. 1 goal through the middle of September, and obviously the goal is to move up to IndyCar next year. This (test) could help my chances for next year.”
Sam Schmidt, who co-owns the team that operates a four-car Indy Lights program and a two-car Verizon IndyCar Series program, said the goals of the test day are to make the #5 car driven by Briscoe competitive for the August 30 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma finale to keep the entry in the top 10 of entrant points and give Harvey ‘a taste’ of driving the Honda-powered entry.
“We’re hoping he can win the [Lights] championship, which would lead to the scholarship and moving up next year in some capacity,” said Schmidt, who has seven Indy Lights championships as a team owner. “It’s always good to start that process as early as possible.
“It’s one of the incentives that INDYCAR built into the program and hopefully it will expand with other IndyCar teams.”
One driver to watch is ex-Renault F1 racer and inaugural FIA Formula E World Champion Nelson Piquet Jr. (son of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Nelson Piquet) driving a Team Penske entry. The Brazilian is looking to impress ‘The Captain’ Roger Penske for a seat in 2016.
The list of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers testing at the venue that will host the championship-deciding race includes six of the ten drivers mathematically eligible for the title. The 85-lap, high-stakes race carries double points, with 100 awarded to the winner, 80 for second, 70 for third, etc., along with the regular four bonus points over three categories (Verizon P1 Award winner, leading a lap, leading the most laps).
Montoya holds a nine-point advantage over Rahal entering the penultimate race of the season August 23 at Pocono Raceway. Dixon, who won last August at Sonoma Raceway, is 34 points behind the Colombian.
“INDYCAR is doing a good job to promote the ladder series, and the rules that allow IndyCar drivers a test day with an Indy Lights driver is an example,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team manager Ricardo Nault said. “We’ll be splitting the day with Ed Jones, not only per the rules, but to give him the opportunity to help us develop the car and give him some time driving.
“Being second in the championship, we want to put our best foot forward and give it our best chance. We’d be behind if we didn’t go there. We have to maximize every opportunity.”
Image via Motorsport.com
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