May 21, 2014
Equality is one of the talking points as the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its signature event, the Freedom 100, on the historic 2.5-mile oval.
Four drivers already have tasted the fruits of victory during the opening six races -- Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves, Matthew Brabham and, most recently, Luiz Razia -- and several other contenders, including Jack Harvey and Alex Baron, have their sights firmly set on adding their names to that roster as the 14-round campaign marks its halfway point with the first of three visits this season to oval tracks.
Last year's Freedom 100 was settled only in the final few inches of a spectacular race when Peter Dempsey, who was running fourth on the entrance to Turn 4 on the final lap, drafted to the outside to claim the victory for Belardi Auto Racing by 0.0026 second in a blanket four-abreast finish -- the closest in the storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This year's championship chase was thrown wide open earlier this month at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on a reconfigured and widely acclaimed 2.439-mile road course. Rookies Brabham and Razia earned their first-ever victories to vault into championship contention, while early season pacesetters Veach and Chaves both endured weekends to forget.
Veach, 19, from Stockdale, Ohio, leads the points table for Andretti Autosport, but only by a scant five-point margin over Brazilian Razia, who all but erased a 49-point deficit with a breakthrough weekend that also included a second-place finish in Round Five. Razia, a veteran of GP2 in Europe, took a little while to become properly acclimated to the Indy Lights machinery but has taken full advantage of the vast knowledge base at four-time defending champion team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian to reap an unbroken string of top-five finishes.
Teammate Harvey, from England, has matched Razia's streak of top-fives. The former British F3 Champion and front-runner in the 2013 GP3 Series currently lies fourth in the points table, 22 markers shy of Veach and just eight adrift of Colombian-American Chaves, who won two of the first four races for Belardi Auto Racing and, after posting the fastest speed, 187.819 mph during a May 4 test session, has every intention of improving upon his second-place finish in last year's Freedom 100.
Third-generation racer Brabham (Andretti Autosport) and rising French/British talent Alex Baron (Belardi Auto Racing) also will be among the contenders looking to follow in the footsteps of the fastest qualifier for next week's 98th Indianapolis 500, Ed Carpenter, who won the inaugural Freedom 100 in 2003.
Two drivers will make their seasonal debut in Indy Lights - Chase Austin, from Eudora, Kan., who will pilot the #0 UNAIDS/Starting Grid/BAR entry for Belardi and Emerson Newton-John (Team Moore Racing), from Los Angeles, Calif., who will carry the colors of the cancer awareness charity, Pink and Blue for Two.
Practice is 9 a.m.-noon (ET) May 22, followed by single-car qualifying at 1:15 p.m. The race, which will start at 12:30 p.m. (ET) May 23, will be telecast live on NBCSN.