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The Indy Lights in Long Beach

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Apr 25, 2013

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport (John Grafman)

Story by Brian Kennedy Pictures by John Grafman Firestone Indy Lights, the development series which provides that final ladder on the way to the IndyCar series in open wheel racing, is on shaky ground. What else could you conclude seeing the entry list for Long Beach, which had ten cars on it as of Sunday morning? Keep in mind that the marquee event of the year is at this track (not discounting Indy), glamorous and sunny and won in the past by Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, Scott Dixon, and other notables on their way up to the Indycar series. The series keeps up its appearances by having a dozen races scheduled this year, but if things happen in the others like they happened Sunday morning in the LBC, there won’t be much fan interest retained. Of the ten who jumped out to a green start, but seven survived a lap as two points contenders and an also-ran were taken out. And that was before the first turn. Way before. In fact, barely halfway down the front straight.

Gabby Chaves Chaves in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car (John Grafman)

ESPN described the race as “crash-filled,” but it seems quite an overstatement to say that when there were only two accidents. The thing was, the second crash took out two more cars, so that by about one-quarter of race distance (lap 11 of 45), only five cars were left. The race ended up going to time, and the distance was shortened to 41 laps. Eventual winner Carlos Munoz led all laps to post his victory. He did the same thing in the prior race, in Alabama. His pole, by the way, was his fourth in a row going back to last season. After, he said, “I’m happy for this result. It was a difficult first corner. I needed to go low, but I saw the crash in my mirrors. I thought, if I can just finish the race and not make any mistakes, I could win. I tried to be consistent and push 100 percent.” He now moves on to rookie orientation at Indy, and the series goes to Indianapolis to race a 100-miler on the big track. Munoz did credit Indy Lights as a good stepping stone towards his bid to make the 500. Helping or hurting the series depending on your perspective as a US-based fan is the international nature of the series. Of the ten on Sunday’s grid, two were Yankees, Sage Karam from Nazareth, PA, and Zach Veach from Stockdale, OH. The others were Canadian (two), Columbian (two), Mexico City, Venezuela, Ireland, and England (one apiece). Twelve drivers have registered points in the series thus far this year, including one more American and a Brazilian.

Sage Karam in the No. 8 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car (John Grafman)

In the past, many drivers used Lights, which is in its second iteration now, as a ladder to Indycar. These included Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, and most recently, James Hinchcliffe, who won the season opener in Florida in the big series this year, his third. The Indy Lights car is fast, with times of 72.9 seconds a lap at Long Beach, whereas the Indycars were doing about 69 seconds a lap, so there’s potential for excitement. But small fields mean niche interest at best, and it’s hard to see how that might be fixed. The answer that the series, or Indycar, needs to put more seed money up to attract drivers has too many fatal flaws, namely these: More drivers doesn’t necessarily mean more good drivers (remember Milka Duno?). And more bad drivers means more crashes or strung-out fields. Needing more drivers and spending the money to get them means offering them somewhere to go. Indycar, however, did well to fill 27 seats on Sunday, and it’s been a long time since a superabundance of cars showed up to contest for spots at Indianapolis, which offers 33 starting spots. There’s just no money to support open-wheel racing right now. Whether that’s the economy or the ineptitude of Indycar at attracting fans and sponsors can be left for you to decide. And finally, trying to create a market for a sport where there isn’t one just ends up being a monetary sinkhole. Google “Phoenix Coyotes ownership” if you want a case in point. So while it was nice to see a race early on Sunday morning (Indy Lights was the precursor to the Grand Prix’s main event), and while the winner is a disarmingly handsome and well-spoken young star in the making, it’s hard to predict a rosy future for a series which can’t do more than fill the first few grid rows.

Carlos Munoz (John Grafman)

RACE RESULTS 1. (1) Carlos Munoz, 41, Running 2. (5) Gabby Chaves, 41, Running 3. (10) Sage Karam, 41, Running 4. (8) Jorge Goncalvez, 41, Running 5. (9) Matthew Di Leo, 40, Running 6. (6) Juan Pablo Garcia, 11, Contact 7. (7) Mikael Grenier, 11, Contact 8. (3) Zach Veach, 0, Contact 9. (4) Peter Dempsey, 0, Contact 10. (2) Jack Hawksworth, 0, Contact To read LA Car's report on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Indycar IZOD race, go to A Day of Firsts To read LA Car's report on the Pirelli World Challenge, go to Saving the Best for Last

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