LONG POND, Pa. -- The last time Firestone Indy Lights (then the CART American Racing Series) ran at Pocono Raceway, six of the eight drivers in the field for the July 6 race were not yet born.
Twenty-four years later, the series returns to the historic track to showcase this generation’s crop of up-and-coming talent.
Firestone Indy Lights enters its seventh race of the season at the 2.5-mile tri-oval, the last oval on the schedule before the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in October. The series will run a one-day show of practice, qualifying and race. An Open Test is scheduled for July 5.
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“I've heard a lot of things,” said Gabby Chaves, who sits third in the standings. “I know no one's been there, and INDYCAR has not been there I think in over 20 years or so. So no one's really sure what to expect. But we think that it will be a very fast, high-speed track, kind of like (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), averaging somewhere around 180 miles per lap.
“Speaking with my engineers and all the crew and everyone on the team, we think that we might have another big finish like we did at Indianapolis with a three- or four-wide finish.”
Chaves, of Bogota, Colombia, was involved in the four-wide thriller to the checkered flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, finishing 0.0026 of a second short of victory in the finish that went viral globally. Despite the initial disappointment, a consistent start to the 19-year-old’s Firestone Indy Lights career has him flying under the radar in the championship hunt.
“I think we've had a very consistent championship, and I think we need to kind of step it up a little bit,” Chaves said. “I know that we get that risk going a little bit more to try to get some wins, because really I think at the end of the championship, the winner will be the guy who has the most wins. If you look at how the points are being awarded, there's a big gap from first to second in racing.
“So what we need to do is we really need to step it up and try to start winning some races. I think we will be very strong in Pocono like we were in Indianapolis, and we just need to take it one race at a time. So for now we'll focus on Pocono, and after that on Toronto.”
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Sage Karam, winner of the last two races at Milwaukee and Iowa, sits atop the standings. Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz is second, nine points out of the lead.
The Pocono 100 begins at 4 p.m. (ET) on July 6 (IMS Radio Network broadcast and real-time TIming & Scoring on www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 app), and will air on NBC Sports Network July 12 at 7 p.m. The track will host the Pocono Raceway Fireworks Spectacular to benefit the Tunkhannock Township Volunteer Fire Department. The show will begin at 9:15 p.m.