12.03.2015 – It’s been over a month since my first Insider article on next year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires driver line-up, and thankfully, things are starting to fall into place. We have seven drivers who have confirmed their ’16 programs and you can read each of the official announcements by clicking the links below. That said, there appear to be between 7-10 seats still available, depending on how many teams actually expand their car fleets to leverage the 20 cars that have been actually delivered by Dallara here in the US. I’ve developed the following list from direct contact with drivers and teams, or my insider sources:
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT (2-4 cars):
Dalton Kellett – confirmed – read announcement HERE
Shelby Blackstock – confirmed
The Andretti Autosport operation was the first team to firm up their driver duo, announcing Canadian Dalton Kellett in late September and Nashville’s Shelby Blackstock in October. It’s exciting for the overall program that both drivers worked their way from USF2000 through Pro Mazda to reach Indy Lights. They are truly fine examples of the MRTI ladder. The squad is set, but I’ve heard that Andretti still has the desire to expand to at least four cars in 2016. I’m not sure what kind of odds I’d offer up on that coming to fruition, but a push for growth is certainly a positive sign.
BELARDI AUTO RACING (2-3 cars)
Zach Veach – confirmed – read announcement HERE
Brian Belardi is motivated, primed and ready to re-take the Indy Lights championship title, having bagged his team’s first crown with Gabby Chaves in 2014. The signing of Zach Veach gives them an immediate contender, and we’re all interested to find out which driver slips into the second seat. Belardi has told me that he would love to add a third and fourth car if the interest was there.
CARLIN RACING (2-3 cars)
Ed Jones – confirmed – read announcement HERE
Felix Serralles – rumored to be talking with team to take second seat
I’ve been told that Carlin would like to run three cars in 2016, although Jones is the only confirmed driver at this point. Serralles has tested with the team, and all sources point towards the talented Puerto Rican signing with them before the end of the year.
JUNCOS RACING (2-3 cars):
Kyle Kaiser- confirmed – read announcement HERE
Zachary Claman DeMelo – confirmed, although no official team announcement has been released
Jose Gutierrez – the Mexican driver is a Pro Mazda race winner has run for Juncos for the last two years and could step up to Indy Lights this year – he tested with the team at COTA
Like Andretti, Juncos Racing has now locked in a pair of drivers for their two cars, although they also ran the Team Moore Dallara IL-15 for Jose Gutierrez at the COTA test. Californian Kyle Kaiser is back for his sophomore season, which is great, and he’ll be joined by Zach Claman-Demelo, who piloted Spencer Pigot’s ‘Soul Red’ championship winning #12 at the test. The Canadian is a top national-level kart racer and has logged experience in Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3. It will be interesting to see what kind of pace he can throw down during the continuing off-season testing. That said, there is definitely a potential for Juncos to run three or four cars next year. At this time, however, I have not yet confirmed if they have actually purchased the Team Moore chassis or if they simply leased it for the test. Considering how Ricardo Juncos is focused on growth, and with their track record of success attracting new drivers to the team, I’d be willing to bet that the Team Moore car will get a fresh coat of green and white paint soon.
SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS (4-5 cars)
RC Enerson – confirmed – read announcement HERE
Ethan Ringel – this program has been touted as a long-term development effort, which would put Ringel back with the squad for 2016, however, Ethan’s family has to yet confirm
Scott Anderson – working to put program together
Heamin Choi – would not confirm full schedule with SPM, but did say that he was working to be able to run the entire series
Santiago Urrutia – has tested with SPM and is currently expected to take his Mazdaspeed Pro Mazda championship scholarship to the team to turn one of the team’s Dallaras ‘Soul Red’
Enerson is confirmed with the team for his second season. While people are saying that Ringel is also confirmed with SPM, I was told by the family that they were not 100% yet on running this year and the December tests at PBIR and Homestead would be key. I also chatted with Scott Anderson earlier this weekend and he confirmed that he’s working hard to return for his third season in the series. Nothing is complete, but that is the confirmed focus. Heamin Choi let me know that he is hoping to run a full season, although nothing his confirmed as of yet. Most believe that ’15 Pro Mazda champion Urrutia will end up with SPM, having already tested with the team.
TEAM PELFREY (2 cars):
Juan Piedrahita – expected to sign this week
Scott Hargrove – potential – will test with team in December at Palm Beach – most likely candidate for ride at this time
After putting together a deal to bring the 8 Star Motorsports Indy Lights operation under its trademark black and yellow livery, Team Pelfrey is getting close to put its driver line-up in place. I’m told that it will be a two-car squad, and as I predicted in October, Columbian Juan Piedrahita appears set to become their first confirmed pilot with an announcement expected before the end of the year. Canadian Scott Hargrove will test with the team at Palm Beach in a couple weeks, which puts him in the lead position to complete the pairing, although I expect he’s in touch with other teams as well.
ADDITIONAL DRIVER UPDATES
Scott Hargrove – as I stated above, the 2013 USF2000 champion will test with Team Pelfrey this month, but in speaking with Scott, he would only let me know that his program is progressing further and further each day, and that he believes that he has the forward momentum he needs to be on the Indy Lights grid in 2016. With existing seats (or third car expansion seats) available at virtually every team, I would expect that Hargrove’s phone has been ringing.
Sean Rayhall – after winning two Indy Lights races with 8 Star Motorsports in 2015, one would think that the Georgia driver would be high on any team’s list, but he comes with limited funding, which is obviously a huge hurdle. I’m told that he will not join the new Team Pelfrey line-up.
Davey Hamilton Jr. – the son of former IndyCar driver and team owner Davey Hamilton has put in significant testing miles with McCormack Motorsports in Southern California. Hamilton will be in the team’s Dallara IL-15 again in the middle of December, and he is hoping to be on the grid in 2016. McCormack has been a no-show thus far, after buying the first two available cars, so they would be a welcomed addition to the field.
Axcil Jefferies – the 21 year-old driver from Zimbabwe made a handful of Indy Lights starts over two years in 2013 and 2014 – I spoke with him on Monday and he confirmed that a return to Indy Lights in 2016 is a definite option for him
Matthew Brabham – news of Matty Brabs getting invited to an Audi DTM could signal an adjustment in his career targeting, although he told me earlier that he’s also working on an Indy 500 program