Indy Lights 2015 Silly Season Update, Round 1

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The level of intrigue surrounding Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is higher this year than ever.

Here’s a quick look at where things stand regarding the grid for 2015, as teams will run the new Dallara IL-15 chassis. There’s plenty of time for this to change, and we’ll produce another update closer to the start of the 2015 season when more things come into place.

CONFIRMED DRIVERS

Juncos Racing: The Pro Mazda championship-winning team makes a full-season Indy Lights commitment and return to the series for the first time since 2012. Pro Mazda champ Spencer Pigot moves up along with his 2014 teammate, Kyle Kaiser.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Ethan Ringel has been announced as the team’s first of multiple expected drivers. The timing was right for Ringel to return, given the new car should put the entire grid on a level playing field.

Belardi Auto Racing: The 2014 championship-winning Indy Lights team had the first driver signing of the offseason, with Puerto Rico’s Felix Serralles making a return to North America after several years in Europe.

REGISTERED TEAMS

Besides the above, these teams are all listed via the official Indy Lights website. Drivers are yet to be officially confirmed for any of the following squads.

8Star Motorsports: A star team in sports car racing the last two years across both Prototype and GT ranks led by Enzo Potolicchio, 8Star Motorsports has several open-wheel veterans on its staff, and it would make perfect sense for American rising star Sean Rayhall to drive here.

Bryan Herta Autosport: A longtime Indy Lights participant has scaled back to a partial-season effort the last few years. You’d figure BHA would want its IndyCar program sorted before announcing its Lights program, but it would be huge to have Herta involved full-time once more.

Conquest Racing: Eric Bachelart’s team may have an initial leg up on the new chassis, having run the car’s test program this fall. Bachelart hasn’t had a full-time open-wheel program since 2011, so his return would be welcomed.

Dragon Motor Racing: Not affiliated with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing, this is a new team founded by an investment group looking to see Australian talent progress, and is based out of Las Vegas.

Fan Force United: Has pressed on in Indy Lights since 2008, having started as Alliance Motorsports, and featuring a variety of drivers. Ran this past season with Scott Anderson.

McCormack Racing: Run by Jack and Michael McCormack, the pair have more than 40 years of racing experience, combined.

Team Moore Racing: Another Indy Lights veteran squad, Mark Moore’s team has always been good for one and oftentimes a second car in recent years.

EXPECTED TEAMS

Andretti Autosport: The team is yet to officially confirm its participation, but Michael Andretti told MotorSportsTalk the team expects to have a two-car Indy Lights program set for 2015, and continue Andretti Autosport’s longtime commitment to the Mazda Road to Indy.

CAR COUNT

The 10 official teams and one additional expected team would, if all 11 teams ran two cars, produce a car count of 22. At this point, a 22-car field would still be an optimistic projection.

But figure that with those 10 or 11 teams (11 if all show up, 10 if any one of the above fails to materialize), you can still safely figure anywhere from 16 to 18 cars could be the field, which would surpass our initial projections of 14 to 16 cars. Even an eight team grid could produce a number as high as 16 to 18.

A field of 14 to 16 would be a significant gain over the 8 to 12 cars witnessed this year, and 16 to 18 would be huge. Pushing 20, if not exceeding 20, would be spectacular.

Schmidt figures to run more than two cars; the team has traditionally run three or four full-time cars. Extra cars from SPM would help offset any single-car efforts. Jack Harvey would like to return to the team for a second season, and would be a title favorite if he returns.

Andretti’s team would seem to be a landing spot for Matthew Brabham for a second season, and Shelby Blackstock for a move up after two years with Andretti in Pro Mazda. Zach Veach, who has run the last two years in Indy Lights, is seeking an opportunity at the IndyCar level.

The other teams are wild cards on the driver front, at this early stage of the offseason. It remains to be seen whether Indy Lights driver holdovers – a Luiz Razia, Juan Piedrahita or Ryan Phinny for example – will be joined by any Pro Mazda and/or USF2000 graduates, or whether we’ll get an influx of talent from overseas to join the shores.

Figure a likely combination of both, and once testing occurs December 16-17 at Palm Beach International Raceway, we’re more likely to have further clues on who’ll be driving where in 2015.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)