One winner in three races doesn't suggest how competitive the field is.
We are three races into the 2015 Indy Lights season, which means we have had three races to gauge the success of the all-new car and engine combination that the series has adopted as the last step in the ladder before IndyCar.
Verdict? So far, so good, if car counts rise to the expected level of 20 or so by season end.
And it’s especially good if you are a fan of Ed Jones, who won the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race last weekend with his victory at the Grand Prix of Long Beach Presented by Allied Building Products at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Which gives him a stunning three for three.
Jones, a 20-year-old Brit who hails from Dubai, qualified his Carlin-owned Toys for Boys Miami/United River car fourth, then moved wuickly to second, then to take the lead from Felix Serralles. Spencer Pigot threatened, but couldn’t get by Jones, giving him his third straight win, as he took the season-opening doubleheader at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
'Push really hard'
“You don't want to make any mistakes, but you have to push really hard,” Jones said. “It’s hard, because if you're too conservative, you'll get caught. It was difficult; I risked it a bit but fortunately, I didn't make any mistakes and that's what kept me the lead. We struggled with pace this weekend. We didn't have the fastest car so to come away with the win is fantastic.”
Three races, three wins by one driver doesn’t suggest how competitive the series is. The new Mazda turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the MZR-R, was developed with AER and run in the Prototype class in the ALMS and European Le Mans Series, so it is tough and proven. And the new Dallara IL-15 is a handsome car that should be an excellent training ground for drivers to jump to IndyCar’s Dallara when they are ready.
Which is the whole point. The Mazda Road to Indy ladder system is simple: Win in karts, get a scholarship to USF2000. Win there, get a scholarship to Pro Mazda. Win there, get a scholarship to Indy Lights. From there, it’s up to the driver, but plenty have moved on the IndyCar and other top series. No driver who comes up through the ladder system can say he or she hasn’t had exposure, because they’ve raced at the same tracks, as part of the same events, as IndyCar and others.
All roads lead to Indy
For the first time, the Road to Indy is administered by a central entity, Andersen Promotions, with Dan Andersen as the owner and CEO, and his daughter, Michelle Kish, is the COO.
“What Dan has accomplished is amazing,” says John Doonan, head of Mazda’s motorsports operations in the U.S. “He’s a fantastic partner, and he thinks about what’s best for us and his other partners. He gets it. He was a racer, and a racer’s dad. He was a team owner, and now he’s a series owner. He has the experience required.
“In terms of the Mazda Road to Indy,” Doonan says, “it is really the first time it has been done properly across the industry, including around the globe. It is a very clear path with real dollars behind it. In just the last few years, it has finally been recognized around the world as how it should be done.”
So far, the series is running from sponsorship money, but mostly out of the pockets of Dan Andersen. There is, at least, a plan that will have all three levels in the black eventually. Fortunately, Andersen can afford to treat it as a hobby for now: He owns a commercial contracting company that does between $40 and $50 million in business a year, “and I have a staff of almost 300 who run the company quite well, allowing me to do the racing.”
The goal? “To have this as a hobby that I don’t have to support personally. For now, the money goes back into the series – I’m not cashing any checks. But maybe someday, what we have will be worth something. But I’m not looking to get out, and I’m a lousy golfer.”
Rounds 4 and 5 of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season will be at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama, April 24-26.