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Sunday, November 27, 2022
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DEHARDE: Five Takeaways from Indy Lights in 2022

Start of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey.
Start of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo courtesy of Travis Hinkle/Penske Entertainment.

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After a 2022 Indy Lights season with many peaks and valleys, here are five takeaways after the 14-race season.

1. Linus Lundqvist got Screwed

There’s no nice way to say this, but Linus Lundqvist won the 2022 Indy Lights championship and got the short end of the stick in the prize money.

In the past, the Indy Lights champion received a million dollars, with IndyCar and Andersen Promotions contributing to the prize figure. Penske Entertainment took over Indy Lights, leaving Andersen Promotions to run Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000. Because of this, Lundqvist received a check for only $500,000 instead of the usual seven-figures that previous champions received.

As a comparison, Louis Foster won the 2022 Indy Pro 2000 title and got a check for $614,425. That’s over $100,000 more than Lundqvist while driving cars with about 170 less horsepower than a Dallara IL-15.

Sure, increasing prize money for individual races was a help, but the damage is already done by having a season-ending check that small. To make matters worse, that check probably won’t cover all the entry costs of the 2023 Indianapolis 500, which in itself is practically criminal.

By the way, as for the USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando, he received a check of $406,925 for his troubles.

The optics are bad here, folks.

2. Matty Brabs Back on Top

In the two races he won in 2022, Matthew Brabham waited for the right opportunity to pounce, and pounce he did. The third-generation racer needed some good luck and good strategy to pull off the wins he did and the 2013 Indy Pro 2000 series champion finished third in Indy Lights points as a result.

After Hunter McElrea had a crash early in the season-opening race and Christian Rasmussen ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap, Brabham took the lead to win at St. Petersburg back in February.

At WWT Raceway in August, Brabham used the outside groove to gain places at the final oval race of the season but went to the inside to snatch the lead from Lundqvist with four laps to go. After spending several years away from open wheel cars, Matthew Brabham showed everyone that he hasn’t lost his skill set. If Brabham can keep his seat for next year, even better.

3. The Boys are Back in Town

The Indy Lights field is expanding for 2023, which is extremely good news. After a few years of underwhelming car counts, the field is pushing ever closer to having 20 entries in 2023. HMD Motorsports is expanding to eight cars, which actually eclipses the grid size from many of the 2018 Indy Lights races.

The Cape brothers purchased two cars, with Jagger Jones moving up with the team from USF2000. The teams’ second driver has not been announced. Legacy Autosport is another team moving up as Mike Meyer sold the team’s USF2000 cars to get a new IL-15 for 2023. This all was possible after the stabilization of Indy Pro 2000. Once that series’s car count increased, that increased the baseline for Indy Lights.

4. Less Might be More

Indy Lights went back to a more traditional schedule of just one race for a weekend except for the IMS road course, Belle Isle and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Honestly, that worked for the most part. It allowed the teams to refine their cars with more practice time and made the series look more like IndyCar after a change of ownership. A small change might need to be made next year in that Mid-Ohio should probably receive a doubleheader, especially since that track usually gets an additional USF2000 race.

5. Everyone Wants the Freedom 100 Back.

After the race at WWT Raceway, all three drivers on the podium were in agreement on one thing. Indy Lights needs more ovals to race on.

In particular: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s the Road to Indy. The goal should be to race at Indy. Driving on the IMS road course isn’t the same. Superspeedway experience will help these drivers as they look to move to IndyCar. The drivers want to race on the oval at IMS. The Carb Day spectators want to see the race happen and will get more value for their tickets. Plus, it’s also a great chance to see drivers from USAC race at IMS as a bridge to the Indy 500. It worked for Bryan Clauson and didn’t quite work for Chris Windom. But this would give guys like Kody Swanson and Brady Bacon an incredible chance to hop into a car and race very quickly around IMS.

Any driver worth their salt will say that these benefits outweigh any risk posed to them by racing at 200 mph. The IL-15’s first design parameter was that the tub had to survive a 200 mph impact at IMS, and it has done exactly that. With the new halo, there’s no reason not to have the Freedom 100 again.

No more excuses. Make it happen.

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