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Indy Lights trio buoyant after maiden IndyCar tests

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Three Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers had their first day in an IndyCar on Thursday, at Sonoma Raceway, to continue to the run on Indy Lights drivers getting to test at the top level of North American open-wheel racing.

Zach Veach tested in Josef Newgarden’s usual No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, while Andre Negrao took over the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda of James Hinchcliffe and Santiago Urrutia stepped aboard Mikhail Aleshin’s No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

That brought the number of 2016 Indy Lights drivers who’ve tested in IndyCar to 10 of the 19 drivers this year.

The three drivers tested and then made it down to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the Soul Red Finale, where the champions will be decided in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

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Photo: IndyCar

Veach, 21, was seemingly over the moon with his maiden test in Newgarden’s car. The Stockdale, Ohio native is one of the most experienced drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, having competed full-time every year since 2010 (except 2015 owing to injury) between the three series.

Veach noted to NBC Sports how hard the car is to drive, but also said this was the culmination of nine years of work to attempt to get to this level. It’s doubtful he’d be back for a potential fourth season in Indy Lights, but he’s used the IndyCar test as a way to reveal himself and his ability to the paddock at large.

The mistake he made after completing his last Indy Lights season in 2014, he said, was targeting IndyCar and only IndyCar for 2015. Knowing if he can’t advance into IndyCar – much as he’d like to – he’s now smart enough and keen to explore other series as well for 2017.

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Photo: IndyCar

The Schmidt Peterson teammates, meanwhile, have very different approaches to IndyCar next year.

Urrutia is hoping to graduate into IndyCar next year if he can win this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. The champion gets a guaranteed three races, including the 101st Indianapolis 500.

He had a tough day with a mechanical issue limiting his running, but it was still cool for the Uruguayan to get to work in an IndyCar.

“The test at Sonoma Raceway was good and it was a great opportunity for me for sure,” Urrutia said. “The IndyCar was great and I could definitely feel a big difference between the Indy Lights car and the IndyCar. I’ve never driven a car with that kind of downforce. I think the biggest difference is in the brakes on the fast corners. With the downforce an Indy car has, you can carry a lot more speed through those corners.

“It was a great day and it’s a dream come true. I really enjoyed it. I was waiting for this day and finally it came. I hope one day I can get more than just the morning session to run in the car but now we just focus on the Indy Lights championship at Mazda Raceway.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Negrao, meanwhile, would be considered a title contender in 2017 in Indy Lights if he returns for a second season.

“First of all, I want to say thank you to my entire SPM team for today. I really enjoyed every second in the Indy car and it makes me want to come back and do it again as soon as possible,” he said.

“I think the team worked well together for today’s test and we accomplished a lot of the goals that we set for ourselves. Thank you especially to Sam [Schmidt], Ric [Peterson] and Piers [Phillips] for working with me to make this opportunity happen. I am focused now on driving more in this car in a few years!”

Here are the starting times for 2020 NTT IndyCar Series action on NBC and NBCSN

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Another important tidbit for NTT IndyCar Series fans is out as INDYCAR and NBC announced starting times for the 2020 season. The full television schedule is also included.

There are different starting times at four races in 2020 from 2019. Those include the March 15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of the Americas on April 26, a later starting time for the Saturday night race at Iowa Speedway on July 18 on NBCSN

INDYCAR released the green flag times today for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season that features starting time shifts at four races – St. Petersburg, Circuit of The Americas, Iowa and Mid-Ohio – and the anticipated evening return to Richmond Raceway.

Those four returning races represent the only significant green flag start time changes from a year ago in the 17-race 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, beginning with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg scheduled for Sunday, March 15.

The August 16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be moved to an earlier starting time and will be broadcast on NBC. Previously, the race was scheduled for 4:05 p.m., but has been changed to a 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time green flag.

INDYCAR’s return to Richmond Raceway on Saturday, June 27 will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET. That is the only new event on the schedule.

Detailed broadcast information for the entire season will be announced at a later date.

Here are the notable changes to the starting times on the schedule:

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which began at 1:40 p.m. ET this past season, will now have a 3:30 p.m. green flag. The race on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., will be celebrating its 10thanniversary as the series’ season opener and be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday, April 26, will have a similar shift, moving from a 1:43 p.m. ET green flag this past season to 4:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m. local) in 2020. The permanent road course in Austin, Texas, will play host to the fourth race of the season and be broadcast on NBCSN.

The Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway, set for Saturday, July 18, on NBCSN, will be better accommodated for an evening race under the lights with the green flag moving from 7:15 p.m. ET to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. local).

“The return of a night race for INDYCAR at Iowa Speedway is exciting news for our race fans, sponsors, and the entire region,” Iowa Speedway President David Hyatt said. “The cars look great under the lights, and the competition should be even more fierce given what should be cooler conditions. Our track provides some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere, which will be good for attendance. This will be a can’t-miss weekend for all race fans.”

The return to a true night race at Iowa was the result of fans requesting it. The race will begin at 8:00 p.m. CT on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. And for fans and drivers, it is nostalgic, hearkening back to the first race many of them experienced … a night race on a short track.

The series hasn’t held a race that began after dusk at Iowa Speedway since 2015, and drivers and fans are welcoming it. Not only does it look more vibrant — and create sparks as cars bottom out — it also makes for better racing. Tires grip better when the track is cooler. Fans also avoid sweltering conditions during summer afternoons.

The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, Aug. 16, will be the only race among the four that moves to an earlier start time. The race, which had a 4:05 p.m. ET start this past season, will shift to a 12:45 p.m. green flag in 2020 and be televised on NBC.

The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Richmond Raceway – the only new addition on the 2020 schedule – for the 11th race of the season on Saturday, June 27. The field will take the green flag at 8:15 ET for the start of the first Indy car race at the .75-mile oval since 2009. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN.