By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
The final step on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires might have the smallest field, but top to bottom the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires has an extremely stacked field going for a one million dollar scholarship package to move to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
First, let’s look at the schedule. The 2018 schedule is identical in layout to 2017 except for two changes. The final race weekend is now at Portland International Raceway and it’s also a doubleheader weekend instead of just one race to make the schedule 17 races.
Drivers and teams have changed a bit over the offseason, particularly with the temporary loss of Trevor Carlin’s team. as they make their IndyCar debut. The loss of Carlin meant that four cars from last year’s grid will not turn a wheel in a full time capacity in 2018.
Team Pelfrey had a full time ride with Juan Piedrahita in 2017 but Piedrahita is believed to be working on an Indianapolis 500 drive. He is the only driver to start 100 races in the Mazda Road to Indy and has yet to score a win. The yellow squad will run a two car team in St. Petersburg for Shelby Blackstock and Neil Alberico with neither driver confirmed following the first race weekend.
Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport is running four cars for their returning trio of Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing), Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett. Replacing Nico Jamin is Pato O’Ward who ran for Team Pelfrey in the beginning of the 2017 season.
Belardi Auto Racing has two of their drivers return with Santiago Urrutia and Aaron Telitz leading the red squad but with Urrutia losing his major backer, it is unknown how far his season will last.
The final team is Juncos Racing with 2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni driving for the Speedway, IN based team. Franzoni picked up a cool check for $790,300 at the Mazda Road to Indy banquet in September 2017 and parlayed that into a full season with Ricardo Juncos’s team. Alfonso Celis Jr. was signed to drive the second car after spending the past two seasons as a test driver for Sahara Force India in Formula 1.
While Pro Mazda has had sparse fields the last couple of years, Indy Lights is in a small slump of its own that hopefully it will pull itself out of.