Colton Herta

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series will be launching a new push-to-pass system when the season kicks off March 10-12 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Push-to-pass will only be available at events on road and street circuits for the premier class of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR. Teams had the opportunity to test it during today’s spring training sessions on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Tony Cotman, race director for Indy Lights, discussed the differences compared to last year’s boost option and the inspiration behind the concept. This year’s system puts the decision more in the driver’s hands.

“The biggest fundamental difference is last year we would program before the race, both how many times you can use it and the duration it would be on once you used it,” said Cotman. “So let’s say we would be a pre-programmed amount of 10 times per race and we’re going to go for 15 seconds each time. That was all pre-programmed and done through the ECU (electronics control unit in the car).

“What we’ve done this year is we worked on last year’s (push-to-pass package), figuring out if we can use it through the timing lines (in the tracks) and the transponder (in the car). We’ve kind of adopted a little bit of the DRS (drag reduction system) from Formula One – where if you are within one second of the car in front, the DRS automatically opens up the rear wing. For us, it’s similar. You have to be within one second of the car in front to activate it and then it’s up to the driver to hit the button and decide if he wants to use it.

“So whenever you’re within a second to the car in front, the dash flashes and tells you it’s there if you want it, based on where you are on the track, what type of corner it is. If you really want to use it, it’s your choice.”

Colton Herta, the Indy Lights rookie for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, enjoyed having push-to-pass at his disposal today at the Homestead test and sees its potential.

“It’s a pretty cool feature to have,” said Herta. “It’s a 50-horsepower gain and it’s a bit of a difference this year because you have to be within a second of the person ahead. I think that’s good because, before you could use it to defend and it would just cancel everything out.

“So it’s going to be a good feature, especially at St. Pete where it can be extremely tough to pass. It should make for some more overtaking opportunities.”

Cotman sees the burst rate of time being the same at every track, but depending on the size of the track and number of corners, the number of push-to-pass activations available will vary. As with what was recently announced for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, push-to-pass will not be available to Indy Lights drivers for the race start or on restarts.

“Every time you use it, it will be a 10-second burst,” Cotman said. “There will be an allotment (for number of uses) in the race, but it will be pretty significant, like 20, 25 or something large.”

Part of the thinking behind the concept comes with the difficulty a faster driver can face when running across a slower competitor.

“Often, you can stay with them for two or three corners and then you kind of drop off or, after three laps, your tires go away. So you have to call them off. If you can get up there and stay up there for a couple of corners and hit a timing line, be within a second, you’ll get an opportunity to pass.”

Herta leads Indy Lights road course test at Homestead

Herta paced the Indy Lights field with a lap of 1 minute, 15.201 seconds (105.797 mph) today on the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course. The driver of the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Dallara IL-15 logged 81 total laps. In all, 15 Indy Lights drivers turned 1,271 laps today after they tested Monday on the track’s 1.5-mile oval.

“Best way to finish,” Herta said. “We were very quick, even in the morning session we left a bit on the table, but we gave everything this afternoon and it shows on the time sheets. It’s important to be on today because St. Pete is in a week.”

Another series rookie, Nico Jamin, driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Dallara, trailed his teammate by 0.2995 of a second for best lap honors. Kyle Kaiser, last year’s third-place finisher in the Indy Lights championship, led the morning session.

All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy open their seasons with doubleheader race weekends next week at St. Petersburg.