Indy Lights set for Phoenix test with increased field, up to 16 cars

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Just three years ago, the Indy Lights series had an old car and only an eight-car grid for selected oval races.

Ahead of Thursday’s single-day test at Phoenix International Raceway, that field has doubled to 16 in the second year of the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda chassis, now on Cooper Tires, for the series now called the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Here’s the series release below, with the entry list linked here.

Interest in the revitalized Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires continues to gather pace in advance of the new season which commences next month in St. Petersburg, Fla. A high-quality field of 16 drivers representing 10 nations and no fewer than four different continents are set to convene tomorrow, Thursday, February 25, at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for a one-day test session as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series “Test in the West”. All are anxious to gain some experience on the tricky one-mile oval which will host its first Indy Lights race since 2005 on April 2.

Indy Lights represents the third and final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, which provides Mazda scholarships for drivers to graduate from karting via the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires to Indy Lights and the Verizon IndyCar Series.

This year’s competitors will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of Spencer Pigot. The American rising star has won a total of four Mazda scholarships, including a scholarship valued at $1 million for winning last year’s Indy Lights title. Pigot is scheduled to make his IndyCar debut in the opening race of the season at St. Petersburg on March 13, and will contest at least two more events, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.

The Indy Lights field contains an impressive mix of veterans and rookies. Among those with prior experience are Zach Veach, from Stockdale, Ohio, who will make his return to the series with Belardi Auto Racing after finishing third in the 2014 title-chase; Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones (Carlin), who finished third in his rookie campaign in 2015; Carlin teammate Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, the winner last year on the flat Milwaukee Mile oval; Florida teenager RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb Agajanian), who won last year at Mid-Ohio; and 2015 podium finishers Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), from Nashville, Tenn., Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), from Santa Clara, Calif., and Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) from Bogota, Colombia.

A talented crop of rookies will include Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing), the reigning FIA European Formula 3 Champion and two-time winner of the prestigious Macau Grand Prix; Englishman Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), formerly a champion in FIA Formula 2 and runner-up in the 2014 GP3 Series; GP2 Series veteran Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson), from Sao Paulo, Brazil; 2015 Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, who will take his Mazda Scholarship to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian; Californian Neil Alberico (Carlin), who finished second in last year’s Pro Mazda championship with four victories; fellow Pro Mazda graduate Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), from Toronto, Ont., Canada; 2013 USF2000 champion and 2014 Pro Mazda runner-up Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, who joins Team Pelfrey after tasting the waters with a couple of outings in 2015; Korean Heamin Choi (Schmidt Peterson), who made two starts in the 2015 season finale; and Formula Renault 2.0 graduate Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing) of Montreal, Canada.

Following tomorrow’s test at PIR, the Indy Lights teams will join the remainder of the Mazda Road to Indy competitors for a Spring Training open test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 18-race 2016 season will kick off less than one week later with a double-header on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list; Musquin remains out

Shimoda injured
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Bad news continues to come out of the Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki team as they announced Jo Shimoda injured his shoulder in a practice session and will not mount up when the Monster Energy Supercross 250 East division opens in Houston, Texas on February 4. A timetable has not been given for Shimoda’s return, but a press release from the team references multiple weeks.

“I’m doing my best to focus forward on my return to racing,” said Shimoda in the release. “Our goal was to compete for the 250 Supercross Eastern Regional Championship and I know we had been doing the right work to make that happen. Unfortunately, this crash will cause me to miss the start of the season, but I still aim to be back on the track racing for wins before the end of Supercross.”

Shimoda is joined on the sidelines by teammates Seth Hammaker and Austin Forkner, who also suffered injuries in recent weeks.

The news of Hammaker’s sidelining came just two days ago. His wrist injury is sufficient to require surgery, so he too will miss multiple weeks. Hammaker was scheduled to compete in the 250 East division alongside Shimoda.

Forkner was involved in a Lap 1 crash in the 250 West season opener at Anaheim. Multiple injuries, including an ACL tear, will sideline him for the remainder of the season. He described the injury and its aftermath on Instagram.

Forkner will be relieved by Carson Mumford, but not before that rider’s wrist has healed sufficiently. He is scheduled to debut with Kawasaki in Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 Supercross race on February 18.

Shimoda finished fourth in the 2022 Supercross 250 West division and was second in 2021 points in 250 East. In 2021, Shimoda won his first Supercross race at Salt Lake City. Last year, he scored one podium and six top-fives in nine starts.

Shimoda finished second in last year’s outdoor Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, where he added two more SuperMotocross wins including the Unadilla Nationals that kicked off a four-race streak of first- or second-place results.

Kawasaki is not the only team facing injury. Red Bull KTM initially reported Marvin Musquin would be out for the San Diego round with a wrist injury and “maybe more”. This week it was announced he will miss this week’s Triple Crown race in Anaheim and “at least the next several rounds.”