Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Consistent Kaiser leads Indy Lights into Iowa

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The 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season has been feast or famine for some drivers expected to be championship favorites.

Colton Herta has two wins and one additional podium, but has also recorded five finishes of tenth or worse. Aaron Telitz, too, is a race winner this year and has four additional finishes of fifth or better to his name, but his season has also been blighted by three finishes of 11th or worse.

Matheus Leist (15th and 11th), Nico Jamin (13th and 14th), and Zachary Claman De Melo (14th, 11th, and 10th) are also race winners who have suffered poor finishes at various times this year.

This highlights a remarkable aspect of Kyle Kaiser’s 2017 campaign. The Juncos Racing driver, in his third Indy Lights season, has finished every lap of the season so far, scored a victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Race 2), finished on the podium five additional times, and has a worst finish of ninth. In fact, his season results run as follows: 6-4-2-2-3-1-9-3-2.

The remarkable run of consistency has propelled Kaiser to the lead of the Indy Lights championship as the series heads to Iowa Speedway next weekend.

Kyle Kaiser won Race 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course earlier this year. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

However, one should not mistake Kaiser’s consistency for conservative driving. As he explained after Road America, running conservatively could leave him vulnerable to other competitors, so he remains as aggressive as he can be.

“I don’t want to put myself at risk by not being defensive or not being aggressive. I’m trying to drive the way I normally drive and hope everybody else respects the racing room,” Kaiser asserted.

Multiple factors have converged to see Kaiser leap to the fore, but the engineering side of the team may be the biggest. Kaiser currently works with Peter Dempsey, a former competitor in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and current Indy Lights engineer at Juncos Racing, and the relationship between the two has been a productive one.

“I like Peter a lot,” Kaiser said of Dempsey’s influence. “He worked with me in Pro Mazda, so we had a really good relationship. He’s been super helpful.”

The leadership of Juncos Technical Director Ernesto Gonella has also been a big influence. And while his style is a little unorthodox, as Kaiser explained, it’s highly effective.

“He just goes by feel. Every morning, he goes ‘What does the air feel like?’ He’s really cool, I love the way he works. He totally relates to the driver, which makes it a lot easier.”

The next race at Iowa Speedway presents a unique challenge for Indy Lights as the lone short oval on the calendar, and Kaiser has personal experience with the difficulties of driving on short ovals. “I had a little accident there last year in practice, and that really was a wake-up call. You got to respect these short ovals.”

However, given that his first Indy Lights win came on a short oval (Phoenix Raceway, 2016), Kaiser is confident his run of success will continue. “I like the short ovals. I got my first win at Phoenix, so I think we’ll have a good setup and hopefully we’ll be up front again.”

Kaiser heads to Iowa Speedway with a 27-point lead over Matheus Leist in the championship standings.

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Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.