Climbing the IndyCar Ladder
(Editor’s note: This is the second post this month from the cagey Canuck Steve Wittich. Pay attention. He really knows his stuff.)
I wanted to thank Mark one more time for allowing me to contribute to his blog.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a soft spot for the feeder series. It goes back to my childhood and my Dad who closely followed the Formula Atlantic Series in the 1970’s. What wasn’t to like with names like Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, (Uncle) Jacques Villeneuve, Bill Brack, Keke Rossberg, Price Cobb, Tom Gloy, Howdy Holmes and Danny Sullivan?
But this blog is not going to be about Formula Atlantic’s (although it might be the subject of another blog if Mark has me back). I’m going to concentrate on the two iterations of Indy Lights (another possible blog) and their impact on this year’s Indianapolis 500.
First, let’s start with a few quick statistics about how Indy Lights drivers have fared at IMS in the past decade. Five of the last ten Indianapolis 500 winners have been Indy Lights graduates: Dan Wheldon (twice), Helio Castroneves (twice) and Scott Dixon.
The 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 come from very diverse backgrounds: Formula One, Indy Lights, Formula Atlantics, GP2, World Series by Renault, International Touring Car Series, and Mexican Formula 2.
The Indy Lights contingent makes up the largest proportion of the field with 15 graduates competing. That list includes seven past Indy Lights champions: Josef Newgarden, J.R. Hildebrand, Wade Cunningham, Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia, and Tony Kanaan. It also includes Sebastian Saavedra who is currently leading the 2012 Indy Lights points chase.
But the Lights graduates aren’t just confined to the starting field.
Former Lights champions Bryan Herta, Eric Bachelart, & Robbie Buhl are car owners in the 2012 Indianapolis 500, and Ed Carpenter is an owner and a driver.
If you watch the NBC Sports coverage of Carb Day, two more Indy Lights grads are featured. Wally Dallenbach, Jr. joins 1988 Indy Lights champion Jon Beekhuis in the booth to provide expert coverage of IndyCar racing.
It is not uncommon to hear whispers that Indy Lights doesn’t provide a lot of value to IndyCar. And while it would be great to see more recent Indy Lights grads (Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann, Rafa Matos, Martin Plowman and others) in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 field, it is clear that Indy Lights plays a starring role in the production of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.