By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Kyle Kaiser ran in his third season for Juncos Racing in 2016 while competing in his second year in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and placed third in the championship standings. So let’s take a look at how he achieved that mark.
The 20-year-old Californian had the strongest start to the season of any Indy Lights driver, finishing third and second on the streets of St. Petersburg. However, he was not the center of the show – Belardi Auto Racing was. With Zach Veach pulling out an incredible lead in the first race before an ECU fouled up on him on his way to a near-certain win, while in the second race Felix Rosenqvist won in dominating style.
At the first oval race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway, Kaiser stole the show. He started on pole, led every lap and had the fastest race lap to score every possible point available in Arizona. However, as the series went back East, things started to go wrong.
Kaiser retired from the first race at Barber Motorsports Park after a technical failure caused the No. 18 Intervision car to stop on track, relegating him to a 15th-place finish. There was a small rebound at the second race at Barber with a sixth place finish, though it was a far cry from the start to the season he had had.
Kaiser had a decent weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s permanent road course, scoring a sixth and a third while Andretti Autosport’s Dean Stoneman and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’s Santiago Urrutia were stealing the spotlight.
However, at the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kaiser was in the early spotlight, crashing out on the first green flag lap of the race and finishing that race in 16th-place.
The next three races for Kaiser all had the same result – sixth. The doubleheader at Road America and the final oval race of the year at Iowa Speedway all went the same way as other drivers stole the spotlight with either late race moves for position or other dangerous moves on track.
Toronto was a bright spot for Kaiser as he rolled off two third place finishes in Canada’s most populous city, but Mid-Ohio would not be as kind as he would only be able to get a ninth and a sixth.
When the series visited Watkins Glen, Kaiser still had an outside chance of winning the Indy Lights championship but would get some help as the race went on. Championship leader Urrutia had a flat tire in the late stages of the race and would finish last as Kaiser went on to finish fourth and confirming him as one of six drivers still eligible for the Indy Lights crown.
Returning to California seemed to give Kaiser an added spark on which he used to help finish out his season on a high note. Coming home seems to help out many drivers and it was no different for Kaiser as he won the first Indy Lights race of the weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. By earning a third place finish the next day, Kaiser was able to cement third place in the Indy Lights standings by a mere two points over Veach, who won the final race of the season.
Kaiser still has a lot of time ahead of him and another year in Indy Lights will not hurt his chances of a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In fact, if Juncos is even stronger next year, it might be enough to propel him to a championship.