Indy Lights — The 200 mph club & predictions for the Freedom 100

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Zach Veach wheeling his No 5 Belardi Auto Racing IL15 through Turn 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a practice session for the 2016 Freedom 100.

Tom Sneva using his helmet to hold the 200 silver dollars that was his reward for breaking the 200 mph barrier during qualifications for the 1997 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. -- Photo courtesy of IMS Photo.
Tom Sneva using his helmet to hold the 200 silver dollars that was his reward for breaking the 200 mph barrier during qualifications for the 1997 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. — Photo courtesy of IMS Photo.
What do Zach Veach, driver of the No. 5 Indy Lights Dallara for Belardi Auto Racing, and Indianapolis 500 legend Tom Sneva have in common? They both were the first to break the 200 m.p.h. barrier in their respective series. Sneva set the 1-lap speed record, 200.535 mph, during his qualification runs for the 1977 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in his No. 8 Penske Racing Norton Spirit McLaren M24/Cosworth. During the Indy Lights testing session late Monday afternoon, Veach ran a lap in his 450-hp IL15 at 201.455 mph. Topping 200 mph with only 450 hp just goes to show how far race cars have evolved over the decades.

Veach led the Monday testing session by nearly four mph over Andretti Autosport’s Dalton Kellett whose fastest lap was at 197.713 mph. This morning, the field of sixteen Indy Lights drivers had one more opportunity to practice before qualifications which were originally scheduled for the afternoon. Although no one was able to get above 197 mph, Zach Veach was still near the top of the time sheets with a 197.936 mph, just 0.021 mph shy of Juan Piedrahita. All in all, it was shaping up to be a good week for Zach who returns to Indy Lights after a year hiatus. Zach had been running near the front all season, scoring podium finishes at St. Petersburg and at Barber Motorsports Park, but never in a position to poise a strong challenge for a victory. This seemed to be his week to break through and jolt his season into high gear.

Team Pelfrey's Juan Piedrahita tops the time charts in Thursday practice.
Team Pelfrey’s Juan Piedrahita tops the time charts in Thursday practice.

This is Springtime in the Midwest, so weather is always an important factor, and today was no exception. A line of storms was steadily marching toward the Speedway, bringing what promised to be day-ending rains. Race officials decided to truncate the morning practice session and advance the qualifications to 1115 EDT. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the qualifications started early enough. After half of the field made it through their qualifying runs, and after Zachary Claman De Melo spun during his attempt, the rains began ending the day and ending any chance of qualifying the remaining seven drivers. With qualifications scrubbed, the starting grid for tomorrow’s Freedom 100 will be set by championship points. This was a huge blow for Veach.

Carlin Racing’s Ed Jones, who struggled for speed during the testing session, but had good pace for the morning practice session, will start on pole alongside his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rival Santiago Urrutia. Veach will start on the inside of Row 4 in 7th. Patience will be a challenge, but with the right positioning, it is possible to come back from mid-field. Also working in Veach’s favor is his extensive experience on ovals and especially at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to claim a victory, but I do expect him to work his way back to the front. Ed Jones, having had a successful practice, is the favorite to take the win. Urrutia didn’t have strong pace either Monday or this morning, but starting from the front gives him a good chance to battle Jones.

The Freedom 100 has a history of offering close, nail-biting racing. Hopefully the rain stays away long enough to get the race in tomorrow. The green flag drops at 12:30 EDT, and you can follow the action at racecontrol.indycar.com.


Monday Testing Session Speeds

Pos No Driver Team BestSpd
1 5 Zach Veach Belardi Auto Racing 201.455
2 28 Dalton Kellett (R) Andretti Autosport 197.713
3 7 RC Enerson Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 197.390
4 14 Felix Rosenqvist (R) Belardi Auto Racing 197.191
5 55 Santiago Urrutia (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 196.828
6 51 Shelby Blackstock Andretti Autosport 196.669
7 27 Dean Stoneman (R) Andretti Autosport 196.568
8 4 Felix Serralles Carlin 196.258
9 17 Andre Negrao (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 195.719
10 2 Juan Piedrahita Team Pelfrey 195.564
11 22 Neil Alberico (R) Carlin 194.398
12 18 Kyle Kaiser Juncos Racing 194.216
13 3 Scott Hargrove (R) Team Pelfrey 193.504
14 13 Zachary Claman De Melo (R) Juncos Racing 193.356
15 77 Heamin Choi (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 193.196
16 11 Ed Jones Carlin 192.419

Thursday Practice Session Speeds

Pos No Driver Team BestSpd
1 2 Juan Piedrahita Team Pelfrey 197.957
2 5 Zach Veach Belardi Auto Racing 197.936
3 7 RC Enerson Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 197.672
4 11 Ed Jones Carlin 197.651
5 4 Felix Serralles Carlin 197.633
6 55 Santiago Urrutia (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 197.504
7 18 Kyle Kaiser Juncos Racing 197.252
8 3 Scott Hargrove (R) Team Pelfrey 197.133
9 22 Neil Alberico (R) Carlin 197.087
10 27 Dean Stoneman (R) Andretti Autosport 196.831
11 51 Shelby Blackstock Andretti Autosport 196.669
12 28 Dalton Kellett (R) Andretti Autosport 195.768
13 17 Andre Negrao (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 195.554
14 14 Felix Rosenqvist (R) Belardi Auto Racing 195.143
15 13 Zachary Claman De Melo (R) Juncos Racing 193.954
16 77 Heamin Choi (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian 193.379

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