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.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.