INDYCAR has now formalized and finalized the test for Indy Lights drivers at Sonoma Raceway later this month, on August 13.
It was rumored over the weekend and announced, partially, during both the live Mid-Ohio IndyCar race broadcast and on RACER.com on Sunday.
It will mark the first time in an IndyCar for several drivers – Sean Rayhall, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Spencer Pigot.
Meanwhile Ryan Phinny and Matthew Brabham will each have their second official outings for KVSH Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively.
Here’s the full release from INDYCAR:
Seven Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, including the top three in the championship standings, will share a test day in Verizon IndyCar Series cars with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Aug. 13 on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.
Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing, with Indy Lights drivers testing in parentheses, are:
• Andretti Autosport – Marco Andretti (Matthew Brabham)
• Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – 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, Will Power (Spencer Pigot, Nelson Piquet Jr.)
According to Rule 6.2.3 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook, teams are allocated two additional team test days in the testing year window for the purpose of testing a current Indy Lights driver. On-track time may be split with a team driver (one Indy Lights driver and one team driver), but a team driver may not use more than 50 percent of the available track time.
Brabham drove an Andretti Autosport Indy car July 1 at an Iowa Speedway test alongside Andretti, and other Indy Lights drivers periodically test in a Verizon IndyCar Series car. But this is the first large-scale in-season test day.
“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 is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy driver and team development ladder. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a $750,000 scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2016.
Harvey, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, takes a six-point lead over Pigot (Juncos Racing) and an 18-point lead over Jones (Carlin) into the championship-deciding doubleheader race weekend Sept. 11-13 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.
“The test could be valuable for next year,” said Harvey, the Englishman in his second season with SPM. “I could show (a Verizon 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, Fla., who won the 2014 Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 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 No. 5 Indy car driven by Briscoe competitive for the Aug. 30 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to keep it in the top 10 of entrant points and give Harvey “a taste” of driving the Honda-powered machine.
“We’re hoping he (Harvey) can win the 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.”
The list of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers testing at the venue that will host the championship-deciding race includes six of the 10 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 Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. Dixon, who won last August at Sonoma Raceway, is 34 points out of first place.
“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.”
An additional car at the test will be driven by Mikhail Aleshin, who will use the day as a refresher in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. It will be Aleshin’s first time behind the wheel of an Indy car since he sustained a concussion, chest injuries, fractured ribs and a broken shoulder in an August 2014 practice crash at Auto Club Speedway. SPM has named Aleshin as a third team entry for Sonoma along with Briscoe and James Jakes.