Junior Open Wheel Talent

News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom

Junior Formula 101- Indy Lights

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted February 11, 2009 at 3:29 pm Indy Lights, Junior Formula 101

(photo: Jim Haines/IndyCar.com)

The Indy Lights series’ has a very storied past. The beginnings of the feeder series can be traced back to the 1970’s, under the guidance of USAC (United States Automobile Club). USAC is an open wheel sanctioning body that is currently known for its association with sprint cars and midget race cars. However, they weren’t always focused on that type of racing.

The sanctioning body was created in 1956 by Tony Hulman (grandfather of current IMS President Tony George), who at the time, was the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tony Hulman and a very young Tony George are pictured to the right. Hulman placed the focus of USAC on two things; developing the current National Championship (the single-seater championship in the United States at that time) and on the development of the Indianapolis 500, which was the marquee event of open wheel racing in the United States. He succeeded in both by increasing revenues and drawing international competition, which in turn increased national and international attention. During the 1970’s, the rear engine formula car became increasingly popular. In an effort to create a feeder series that followed in the footsteps of the SCCA Super Vee and the Atlantics, USAC created the “Mini-Indy” series, utilizing the Super Vee race car.
(photo: www2.indystar.com)

Hulman passed away unexpectedly on October 27, 1977, due to heart failure. Shortly there after, in April 1978, another tragedy struck the USAC family, when a twin-engine 10-seat Piper Navajo Chieftain plane crashed 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis. There were nine fatalities in that crash and eight of the nine were top players in the USAC organization. The crash turned out to be a catalyst for change in the sanctioning body behind the top tier open wheel racing series in the United States. USAC dropped all sanctioning of Indy car races run outside of Indianapolis in 1980, ending the “Mini-Indy” series, which ran from 1977-1980.

USAC Mini-Indy Champions
1977: *Herm Johnson and Tom Bagley—*the duo tied in the championship point standings*
1978: Bill Alsup
1979: Dennis Firestone
1980: Peter Kuhn

The change in sanctioning came at a time when current team owners and drivers were demanding changes in the way USAC was running the championship. Attendance had begun to drop at the USAC events and prize money was rapidly decreasing. The teams who were fighting for change banded together in 1978 under the guidance of Dan Gurney and formed CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). Their first race was run in 1979. Both USAC and CART ran a championship series in 1979. After the discontinuation of the “Mini-Indy” series in 1980, a feeder series for CART and USAC disappeared. It wasn’t until five years later, 1986, that the Championship Auto Racing Teams decided a official CART developmental series was necessary to continue the growth of their championship.

The American Racing Series (ARS) was formed in 1986 as the first official feeder series for CART. It’s important to note that the Toyota Atlantic championship was also active during this time frame and developed several CART drivers.

In 1991, the ARS underwent a name change; a name that is familiar to most today: The Indy Lights series. The Indy Lights races were initially run at the same venues as CART, with the exception of the Indy 500 and a few other Super Speedways. Firestone came on board as the series’ primary sponsor in 1991, later, Dayton Tires (a Firestone subsidiary) took over as the primary sponsor. The cars were powered by a modified 3.8L Buick V6 engine, typically found under the hood of a Buick LeSabre. The engines produced roughly 425 horsepower after being re-worked and sealed by famous drag racer “Ohio” George Montgomery. George Montgomery and his son Gregg Montgomery had been official engine builders for the Indy Lights series since 1986. The duo worked year-round on providing teams and competitors a stock (modified) sealed engine. The idea behind the sealing of the engine was to limit/prevent teams from making further modifications or improvements to the powerplant. The Montgomery shop, known as George’s Speed Shop, was based in Dayton, Ohio. The engines used in the series were leased to the competitors for around $45,000 USD and were warranted by the sanctioning body for 1000 racing miles or three competition weekends, whichever comes first. Each additional rebuild was estimated at $8,000 USD.
(photo: http://www.ohiogeorge.com)

Between the series inception in 1986 and 2001, CART began to have some financial difficulties. The Indy Racing League was formed in 1996 as another option for aspiring professional drivers. The formation of the new series offered more top level seats for developed drivers, but it also put more strain on the finances of both organizations (due to the competition between the two). During any financial burden or economic difficulty; it’s always the low man on the totem pole that gets the bump… CART dropped the Indy Lights series all together at the end of the 2001 season.

The Indy Racing League had never had an official feeder series’, so they decided to take over where CART left off, forming the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2002. The cars utilized a modified Infiniti Q45 engine, which produced 420 horsepower. The powerplant was placed on a Dallara chassis, which was produced exclusively for the series. Previously, March created the chassis for the series from 1986-1992. Lola produced the chassis from 1993-2001. In an effort to further develop drivers and bring in more road-racing veterans the series’ added several road courses to the largely oval line-up in 2005. This proved to be quite popular, so the series ran an even amount of road courses and ovals in 2006. After the 2006 season, the series lost both primary sponsors in Nissan and Menards. They rebounded in 2007 by changing the name to the Indy Pro Series, continuing to run under the Indy Racing League (IRL) banner. In 2008, they brought back long time supporter Firestone, as their lead sponsor. The name was once again changed to the Firestone Indy Lights series, which remains in use today.

The annual budget for an aspiring Indy Lights driver runs at approximately $800,000-$850,000 USD. Although, some claim the total budget is much closer to one million dollars.

The current chassis is a carbon fiber Dallara, built exclusively for the series, with a price tag of $137,900 (including the data acquisition system). The car weighs in at 1,430lbs (not including driver or fuel), which makes it one of the heavier junior formula cars in existence. The car utilizes a Ricardo six-speed sequential gearbox. The current car is powered by a Firestone Indy Lights spec 3.5L V8 engine, which produces 420 horsepower at 8,200 RPM’s. The engine runs on high octane Sunoco Unleaded Racing Fuel, which is burned at approximately 5 MPG. Speedway Engine Development, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana, manages all the rebuilds and service requirements of the series’ engines.

Fun Facts

  • Tony Hulman began the tradition of commanding drivers, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Fewest Indy Lights cars to cross the finish line: 3 @ Milwaukee (7/25/04).
  • The first Indy Lights street race was run at St Pete and won by Marco Andretti in 2005.
  • Greg Moore currently holds the all-time record (of most victories in one season) with 10 in 1995. Alex Lloyd holds the record for the current series: (8 wins).
  • Logan Gomez beat Alex Lloyd to the finish line by 0.0005 seconds at Chicagoland Speedway on 9/9/07….It was the closest recorded finish in automobile racing history.

Past Champions
2008— Raphael Matos (IndyCar, GrandAm)
2007— Alex Lloyd (IndyCar)
2006— Jay Howard (IndyCar)
2005— Wade Cunningham (Indy Lights)
2004— Thiago Medeiros (IndyCar, Stock Car Brasil)
2003— Marc Taylor (IndyCar)
2002— A.J. Foyt IV (IndyCar, USAC, GrandAm)
2001— Townsend Bell (IndyCar)
2000— Scott Dixon (IndyCar, GrandAm)
1999— Oriol Servia (ChampCar, IndyCar)
1998— Cristiano Da Matta (Formula One, ChampCar, GrandAm)
1997— Tony Kanaan (ChampCar, ALMS, IndyCar)
1996— David Empringham (ALMS, GrandAm)
1995— Greg Moore (IndyCar, ChampCar)
1994— Steve Robertson (British Touring Car Championship)
1993— Bryan Herta (IndyCar, ChampCar, A1GP, ALMS)
1992— Robbie Buhl (IndyCar)
1991— Eric Bachelart (IndyCar, LeMans GT, Belgian Procar)
1990— Paul Tracy (IndyCar, F1 Test Driver, ChampCar)
1989— Mike Groff (IndyCar)
1988— Jon Beekhuis (IndyCar)
1987— Didier Theys (IndyCar, LeMans-GT, ALMS, GrandAm)
1986— Fabrizio Barbazza (IndyCar, Formula 3000, Formula One)

Notable Alumni
Casey Mears
Jason Priestley
Helio Castroneves
Adrian Fernandez
Dan Wheldon
Johnny O’ Connell
Tony George
Jon Fogarty
Eddie Lawson

Take an on-board lap in an Indy Lights car with Jeff Simmons
(Watkins Glen International)
**make sure to click-“watch in high quality”**

For more information on Indy Lights; please visit their Official Site.

For more Junior Formula 101 Reading; Click Here.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Erickson on September 24, 2010 5:55 am

    A fantastic track, we cannot wait to test an Indy Light car there

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