"Excitement is an understatement for everyone going into the test," said Jack Harvey, referencing the Aug. 13 on-track sessions that seven Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers will have in Verizon IndyCar Series cars on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.
According to Rule 6.2.3 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook: Teams are allocated two additional team test days for the purpose of testing a current Indy Lights driver. On-track time may be split with a team driver, but a team driver may not use more than 50 percent of the available track time. The test day will be open to the public.
Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing, with Indy Lights drivers in parentheses:
• Andretti Autosport – Marco Andretti (Matthew Brabham)
• Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – Scott Dixon (Sean Rayhall)
• KVSH Racing – Sebastien Bourdais (Ryan Phinny)
• Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Graham Rahal (Ed Jones)
• Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – Ryan Briscoe (Harvey)
• Team Penske – Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power (Spencer Pigot, Nelson Piquet Jr.)
Indy Lights is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy driver and team development ladder. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a $750,000 scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2016.
"We're all about training the young kids and getting them ready for an IndyCar seat eventually,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates Indy Lights under INDYCAR sanction. "This is the culmination of that. They'll get their laps. They'll get the exposure from this, the experience from this. Hopefully they'll demonstrate the training that they've learned and they'll convince these IndyCar teams to give them a shot. That's our whole reason for being. It is what we're all about at the Mazda Road to Indy."
Harvey was runner-up in the standings to 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves, who is driving in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season with Bryan Herta Autosport. Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion, is driving for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and 2011 champion Josef Newgarden is a two-time race winner this season with CFH Racing.
"That's where we're all lucky at the Mazda Road to Indy program; if you can keep winning, making the step, whatever that step is, is actually possible," Harvey continued. "Think that's the biggest thing drivers can ask for at the moment. All you're looking for as a driver, if you can go out and do the job on track, you just get the opportunity to progress. I think we're all pretty lucky at the moment that it seems like it's a genuine possibility to do that.
"I think Gabby is a guy I look at and would like to try and follow what he's done in this offseason by following the natural order of things and just stepping up into IndyCar. I think people like Josef, people like Sage, they've all done it. Whatever happens, I'd like to see the champion of Indy Lights continue to progress. I think Dan and everybody at Mazda, everybody at INDYCAR have given us a great opportunity to do that."
Pigot, the 2014 Pro Mazda champion, has won a series-high four races this season and collected four pole starts.
"I've been watching Indy car racing ever since I can remember, have always had my favorite drivers and ones I look up to," said Pigot, 21. "As I've gotten closer and closer to IndyCar, there's definitely some guys that you really watch. Year after year they're always at the front, Scott Dixon, Will Power, they're always winning races. It's something as young drivers, it's what we want to do. We want to be in the Verizon IndyCar Series for many years and be competitive and win races and championships.
"So for me climbing up the Mazda Road to Indy, definitely always been looking up to guys like that to hopefully race against and have similar careers that they've had."