Junior Open Wheel Talent

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Season Preview: Indy Lights

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm Indy Lights, Preview

The Firestone Indy Lights 2010 season is set to get underway this weekend on the Streets of St. Petersburg.  This season will consist of 13 races with 12 returning venues and the addition of Barber Motorsports Park.  The schedule is split between road courses, street circuits and ovals.  The actual breakdown looks something like this:

  • 23.0%- street circuits
  • 38.5%- road courses (counting Edmonton)
  • 38.5%- ovals

I’ll post my thoughts on this year’s incoming drivers and make some championship picks after the jump.

Pre-Season Test

Late last month, the Indy Lights’ drivers took part in an open test at Barber Motorsports Park.  The temperatures were extremely cool and because of that, the testing conditions were less than ideal.  Regardless, 14 drivers ventured out onto the Alabama track and put down some pre-season laps.  For those that missed it, here is my recap of the test.

Returning Drivers (from 2009)

The current entry list for St. Pete contains 16 drivers.  By my count, seven of those drivers ran a full– or close to full– season in the 2009 Indy Lights series.  Here is a quick list of the returners: Charlie Kimball, Martin Plowman, Sebastian Saavedra, Gustavo Yacaman, Rodrigo Barbosa, Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe.

Several other drivers on the entry list ran a partial season or at least a one-off last year.

If you take stock in last year’s final point standings, the top returning drivers– in order– are  Sebastian Saavedra, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Martin Plowman, Gustavo Yacaman, Pippa Mann and Rodrigo Barbosa.  I’m not sure this list is entirely reliable though as many of the drivers have switched teams for 2010, which, as most of us know, can make all the difference in the world.

Below, I’ve written a short summary on a few of the returning drivers that I feel will standout, or at least have the opportunity to standout, in 2010.

Standard Disclaimer:  If you didn’t make the list it doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ll be successful this season.  I just need to keep the length of this piece within reason.

I feel that both Martin Plowman and Charlie Kimball made a good career move by joining Andretti Autosport for 2010.  AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport has won the last two championships (2008, 2009).  The downside of Kimball and Plowman’s move is that there will be a lot of additional pressure on them to succeed and there is always the possibility of that playing a role in their performance behind-the-wheel this season.  Both drivers have always been fast though, dating back to their days in go-karts.  I’m looking forward to watching their development this year.

Canadian James Hinchcliffe has joined Team Moore Racing for 2010 and this will likely be his final year in the Indy Lights series.  He has a lot of experience and pretty much set-the-pace for all the drivers during the open-test this spring at Barber Motorsports Park.  His first Indy Lights victory isn’t far off.  If he is able to narrow his focus to his driving this season, he could potentially be fighting for the overall championship come October.

Sebastian Saavedra, despite finishing 3rd in the final standings last season, was arguably the fastest driver over the course of the year in 2009.  He made a lot of rookie mistakes though and was hampered by some bad luck.  This season, he has joined Bryan Herta Autosport and will look to win the overall championship.  He is also planning to make his IndyCar debut at this year’ s Indy 500.  I think his success in 2010 will hinge entirely on his ability to make smart race decisions.  He was the 2009 Rookie of the Year.

Rookie Drivers to Watch

There are quite a few rookie drivers coming into the series in 2010, albeit, some of them shouldn’t be given a “R” next to their name when you consider their past experience.

The following is my list of a few drivers to watch and a brief explanation of why I feel that way.  I will also use this opportunity to once again throw out my Standard Disclaimer: If you didn’t make the list it doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ll be successful.

J.K. Vernay-  Frenchman Jean-Karl Vernay has signed with Sam Schmidt Motorsports for 2010.  He brings a wealth of European racing experience with him to North America.  In February, I wrote, “The 22-year-old will  be an excellent addition to Sam’s squad.  I fully expect him to be a front-runner throughout the season“.  I think that pretty much sums it up.

Stefan Wilson- Stefan ran a partial season in Indy Lights last year with an emphasis on road course venues.  This will be his first full-season in Indy Lights and he will be competing alongside Sebastian Saavedra at Bryan Herta Autosport.  He put in some really impressive performances last season (namely his drive from 17th to 8th at Mid-Ohio) and I think teaming up with BHA and Saavedra will help him.  It should also be noted that he was the quickest rookie at the Barber Motorsports Park open test this spring. His success will depend largely on how quickly he can adapt to oval racing.

Junior Strous- Junior Strous will certainly be a driver to watch this season.  He won both events at St. Petersburg last season.  It should also be noted that those were his first two races in an Indy Lights car.   His fortune didn’t last long though as he retired after only a few events due to funding woes.  If he is able to keep the sponsorship dollars in place, it’s quite possible we will see him fighting for the overall championship.  In addition to his Indy Lights efforts, he has aspirations of making the jump to IndyCar this season with HVM Racing.

Other rookies joining the field this season are: James Winslow, Carmen Jorda, Philip Major and Adrian Campos Jr., all of whom have a fair amount of European racing experience.

Potential Threats:

Now, before people get upset over a few omissions, I thought I’d throw this out:

Other drivers who could have a significant impact this season— if they are able to run a full season— are Jonathan Summerton and Jan Heylen.  The only reason I left them off my list is that, as far as I know, they haven’t committed for a full year at this time.

My Championship Picks

It’s early and a lot can change but I know people enjoy this sort of thing, so I figured I’d post my just-for-fun picks.

My top-three for the 2010 Championship are:

  1. Charlie Kimball
  2. J.K. Vernay
  3. Martin Plowman

This is getting pretty long now, so I will wrap things up by saying this should be another really exciting season.  Feel free to add your own predictions or comments on the season preview via the comment section.

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4 Comments

  1. Peterson on March 24, 2010 9:39 pm

    1:Strous
    2:Hinchcliffe
    3:Saavedra

  2. Chris on March 24, 2010 11:18 pm

    1 vernay
    2 saavedra
    3 kimball

  3. marcostraz on March 25, 2010 4:11 am

    My personal top-three picks:
    1. Saavedra
    2. Hinchcliffe
    3. Plowman

  4. Ellihtk on March 25, 2010 6:13 pm

    1. Kimball
    2.Hinch
    3. Plowey

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