May 25, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indy Lights driver Victor Carbone (3) leads Gustavo Yacaman (2) and Sebastian Saavedra (27) during the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Incredible Shrinking Indy Lights

The IndyCar season is about to get underway this weekend with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida.  The street course is laid out over a beautiful circuit that encompasses the downtown airport and marina on the Tampa Bay.  As is typical with every season-opener, there’s excitement in the air as the motorsports community enjoys their first taste of American open wheel racing in 2013.

The teams are ready and as always, the support races for the IZOD IndyCars are first up.  IndyCar has a ladder system called the Mazda Road to Indy that includes USF 2000, Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) and at the top of the ladder, Indy Lights.  The USF 2000 and the Pro Mazda have already run races but Indy Lights, which officially is called Firestone Indy Lights, will have their opening day at St. Petersburg, Saturday March 23.  Nearly 50 entrants were involved in those first two lower classes with over 30 starters for the USF 2000.  Yeah, that’s not going to happen for the Indy Lights this season.

Where’s the rest of the field?

The Indy Lights will travel to 12 events and always as the primary support race for their big brother IZOD IndyCars.  There just won’t be very many cars in that support.  What is “very many”?  Try single digits.  Yes, the Indy Lights will start light this season with only nine cars ready for competition (source: Open Wheel World).  What the heck, you say?

It’s not like the series doesn’t have exposure as all their races are telecast on NBC Sports Network where a vast majority of IndyCar events will be.  Tristan Vautier won the championship by a slim margin over Esteban Guerrieri – an excellent battle that was exciting to follow.   There are constantly new names on the rosters and these drivers have shown quite a lot of skill.

However, there will be less of that talent and skill to see in 2013.  And here’s the question that comes to mind: The field looks like a quality group but what happens if they have an accident and take out four or five cars?  This could be embarrassing to say the least and that once exciting race will turn into something that looks like qualifying.

By the way, there are a lot of fresh faces in this small field but keep an eye on the 2012 Star Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth.  He was almost unbeatable last season and although he has limited experience on ovals, he should be very competitive on the street and road courses.

Problem at top

IndyCar as a whole has issues that have been self-inflicted.  For instance, firing the one guy (source: Yahoo! Sports) that may have been responsible for growing the series and giving it a fresh face, isn’t a structure that can or should continue.  Hulman & Company needs to concentrate on growing all aspects of the sport if they want to become a legitimate big league sport.  They need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.

The size of the Indy Lights field was small last season but opening day had a 16 car field.  This year will be quite a bit smaller, which is uncomfortable for anyone involved in the sport – business marketers will wonder why and that can’t be healthy.  There’s no magic here, just hard work that obviously will need to start at the top.  The tiny Indy Lights field is only a result and not the problem.  IndyCar needs to address this situation and soon.

Additional source: IndyCar

Tags: Indy Lights IZOD IndyCar Series

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