Indy Lights Series - Explained - Overview

Indy Lights Series – Overview & History

by The Earl of Indy, Robert Earl |

The Indy Lights Series is the third and top level rung of racing in the Road to Indy Ladder System.

The Indy Lights Series is for the best racers that come from the Indy Ladder System. This is the last leg until they could potentially graduate into the IndyCar Series and even the Indianapolis 500. The first tier, the Road to Indy, is for the most beginner of the drivers and that is followed by the USF2000 Championship.

The Indy Lights Series presented by Cooper Tires had its inaugural season more than 30 years ago. It was 1986 when the first season was held but it was not until 16 years later in 2002 that the series became an IndyCar sanctioned event. The original name of the race was the American Racing Series and was renamed the Indy Lights Series in 2001. When it first started out as the American Racing Series it was a part of the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series. Financial issues plagued CART and forced it to fold, meaning the Indy Light Series had to adapt quickly when it became a part of the ladder system.

The Indy Lights Series always has a determined engine that is used for a certain amount of years. For instance, the current engine that is used for all racers is the Mazda-AER P63 2.0 L (122 cu in) DOHC inline-4. It has a 6-speed sequential semi-automatic gearbox and weighs 1400 pounds.

Before the Mazda AER took over in 2015, the race used a Nissan/Infiniti built by Speedway Motors 3.5 L (214 cu in) DOHC V8. This engine was used from 2002-2014 and it weighed over 1400 pounds.

The series winners have graduated some of the best racers in the sport. The last five winners have been Oliver Askew, Patricio O’Ward, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot. Some of the other notable racers who have graduated from the Indy Lights Series are: Ed Carpenter, Jon Beekhius, Bryan Herta, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Ian Ashley, Marco Andretti, Townsend Bell, Billy Boat, Mike Groff, Robbie Groff, Dean Hall, Matt Halliday, Casey Mears and Buzz Calkins.

The Freedom 100

The most popular race in the Indy Light Series is The Freedom 100. The race is held annually on the Friday before the Indianapolis 500. It is raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. That Friday is known as “Carb Day” in the sport as it is topped off by an annual charity event that raises money and is headlined by some of the greatest stars in the sport. It is a rich tradition in the Indy Lights Series and is one of the biggest events that leads up to the Indianapolis 500. This tradition began in 2005 as before that the race was ran the Saturday before. They moved up final practice to Thursday for the Indy 500 and then Carb Day began being raced on Friday night.

Out of the first nine times that the race was run, the winner was in the pole position six times and the other three were run by the racer that started in the second position. It wasn’t until  Esteban Guerrieri won in 2012 from the 18th starting position that the tradition was broken.

In total, racers of eight different nationalities have won the race, with the most coming from the United States of America with four winners. The last five winners since 2015 have been Jack Harvey, Dean Stoneman, Matheus Leist, Colton Herta and Oliver Askew. 191.422 MPH is the fastest winning  time ever recorded in The Freedom 100, it was from Colton Herta who won the race in 2018. He also owns the fastest time that the race has ever been completed in at 31:20.6650. The slowest time came from Josef Newgarden who won in 2011, he finished the race in 55:38.9881. His winning time was 107.817 MPH.

2019 Freedom 100

2019 Freedom 100 Finish - won by Oliver Askew (Credit Road to Indy Media)
2019 Freedom 100 Finish – won by Oliver Askew (Credit Road to Indy Media)

The 2019 Freedom 100 which was won by Oliver Askew is hands-down one of the most exciting races that has ever been raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Askew, who races for Andretti Autosports was able to pass his teammate Ryan Norman with almost no time to spare. He passed him with 0.0067 seconds – the fourth closest finish in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race was epic. It had 12 official lead changes which led to the ultimate finish that will go down in lore in the Indy Lights Series and The Freedom 100 history.

Even the Freedom 100 Winner take part in the Kissing of the Brick Tradition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Even the Freedom 100 Winner take part in the Kissing of the Brick Tradition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 2020, the Coronavirus prevented the race from happening. After a June announcement that suspended the Indy Lights Series season there is still skepticism that the race can be run this year at all. It is the first time that the race did not occur in the month of May during a calendar year since the inaugural season.

But there is a sliver lining in all of that. Because there is a cancellation of the series in 2020, many of the racers who would have raced have began racing in the Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered by Honda. Because of this, it was announced that the winner of the  Formula Regional Americas Championship will be given a scholarship to race in the 2021 Indy Lights Series season.

David Malukas, a driver who would have raced in the Indy Lights Series but will now race in the FR Americas had this to say about the new opportunity, “They say there’s a bright side to everything. With the cancellation of the Indy Lights 2020 season, I’m glad to able to continue racing this year in the FR America series,” said Malukas. “It’s always nice to get into a car that you’ve never driven in before and to also compete in a new series. I am gutted about the Indy Lights season being cancelled as the team and I have worked hard and were looking forward to the year. But with everything happening in the world right now, safety is the number one priority and I am lucky to have the opportunity to continue racing.”

Puffy Lux