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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Advancement On The Line?

Remember the original edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Now recall when meek Charlie Bucket realizes he has found the last golden ticket.

Yours truly is not going to sing and dance a-la Charlie and Grandpa Joe, yet a lot is on the table for whoever takes the checkered flag first in Friday’s Freedom 100. The pinnacle event on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has often opened the window of opportunity to a future shot at the Indianapolis 500.

Nowhere was this proven more so than in the inaugural running of the support race in 2003. Starting from pole position, Indianapolis’s own Ed Carpenter led all but one of the event’s forty laps to take the historic triumph. Duesenberg Brothers Racing’s Jeff Simmons charged late to finish second, while Panther Racing’s Mark Taylor came home in third

Although no one could have predicted it at the time, but all three podium drivers would take three of the 33 spots in the 2004 Indy 500. A collision between Carpenter and Taylor at the 200-mile mark ultimately allowed Simmons to earn the best result of the trio in that edition, placing 11th.

In fact, each of the first five winners of the sprint race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway eventually qualified for the big dance, with the most notable being Wade Cunningham, the only competitor to date to win the Freedom 100 more than once.

Including Carpenter, three other P1 catchers will be on the main straightaway waiting for Mari Hulman George’s command to start engines. Josef Newgarden comes into Sunday’s race after earning third-place in 2016. Gabby Chaves used his 2014 100-mile race success, to snag Rookie of the Race honors in the Indy 500 two years ago. And after winning the Indy Lights’ big race in 2015, Jack Harvey makes his debut in the Memorial Day battle on May 28th.

So who could join these graduates in 2017? While defending champion Dean Stoneman was unsuccessful in taking a ride for the Indy 500 this month, there is another driver who was also in the running for a spot that could be the favorite to win the 2017 Freedom 100.

Following the announcement of Juncos Racing’s participation in this year’s race, it was believed that their Indy Lights regular Kyle Kaiser would be one of the chauffeurs. The 21-year old from California placed third on last year’s points table with two wins. 2017 has continued the wave of momentum for the prospect; he enters Friday’s event as the championship leader and is the most recent winner taking the second leg of the Liberty Challenge on the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. With Ricardo Juncos attempting to promote his team to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2018, the Freedom 100 could be the boost required to earn the title and the bump up funding a ride next season.

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta are also possibilities from the Andretti Autosport junior squad. Both enter Friday on the heels of Kaiser with each taking a pair of victories in 2017. The French-based Jamin  has been a winning machine, earning successes in IMSA Prototype Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge action this year as well. Herta would join a long line of sons following their fathers into the Indy 500. Colton’s dad Bryan scored two top-fives at the Brickyard, and has won the big one twice as an owner.

Regardless of who joins the victory list on Friday, the chances are good that someone could fire it up against the big guys in the future.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

2016 Indy Lights Series Year in Review: Dean Stoneman

This past season, Dean Stoneman put together a strong rookie campaign, including a win in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, en route to finishing fifth in points.

 

Points Finish: 5th

Car No.: 27

Driver Name: Dean Stoneman

Team Name: Andretti Autosport

Total Races: 18

Victories: 2 – Indianapolis Grand Prix Race No. 2, Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Podiums: 7

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 14

Average Start: 6.5

Average Finish: 5.6

DNFs: 2

 

Moving into Indy Lights after competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series last year, Dean Stoneman was quick right from start as he posted an eighth place finish in his debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He backed it up with a sixth at St. Pete in Race No. 2, followed by his first career top-five with a fifth a week later at Phoenix International Raceway. Starting from ninth on the grid, he felt if there were more laps he could’ve made up even more ground.

“The Stellrecht Company Mazda showed great race pace and we were able to pick off places, but unfortunately, the race wasn’t long enough to keep chipping away,” Stoneman said at the time. “It’s been a great learning curve. It’s a shame we didn’t qualify further up the grid; we really could’ve won this.”

Unfortunately, the next event at Barber Motorsports Park didn’t go as planned with a DNF due to a fuel pressure issue, but the next four races went beautifully. He posted a pair of back-to-back third place finishes before winning the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, followed by winning the iconic Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. He carried the momentum to Road America, posting a runner-up finish in race 1, followed by a ninth in race 2. He was able to post another pair of top-fives back-to-back, however an electrical issue prevented him from starting the second race in Toronto.

Stoneman quickly got momentum going back his way, posting a pair of back-to-back top-fives in the next two races. However, the final three races of 2016 didn’t go as according to plan with only a best finish of ninth, including a 13th in Laguna Seca Race No. 1 due to going off-track in one of the turns.

Highlight of 2016 – His success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a third and a win on the road course, followed by winning the Freedom 100.

Downfall of 2016 – Beyond the bad luck experienced, he also didn’t make too many friends with his competitors, as noted with comments from Zach Veach and Ed Jones following Iowa Speedway in July. Notably, at the time, he was already one of three drivers on probation following contact at Road America.

“He was fighting with a car that was a little off the pace,” Veach said. “I understand why he was trying so hard to keep us behind him, but I saw some characteristics on an oval that were really not cool to do. You’d get around and be hanging on the outside, but that very last bit coming to the exit, and Stoneman made a promise to always take the air off the wing.”

“I think getting passed Stoneman without losing a front wing is an achievement in itself,” Ed Jones said.

Road/Street Course Analysis – In 15 races, Stoneman posted seven top-five finishes – including one his wins. It’s safe to say he has a solid idea on how to turn both left and right.

Oval Analysis – The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Stoneman. He finished fifth in his oval debut at Phoenix, followed by a win at Indianapolis and a fourth at Iowa Speedway.

Notes for 2017 – Stoneman is one of the drivers actively pursuing a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series currently, but could find himself back with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights in 2017 based on what rides are currently open.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.