Yesterday, Firestone Indy Lights released their 2012 schedule. It consists of 11 announced races, plus a To Be Decided (TBD) that will almost definitely line up with the TBD on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar. 3 ovals are included, along with 8 announced road or street events
So how’s the Lights schedule look for next year? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. If the TBD event is an oval, that helps the balance a bit. There are unfortunately still some gaps in the schedule due to foreign races, such as August and China, that really could stilt any momentum a good championship points battle might generate. The long gap after the first triad of races and Indy is also potentially problematic, though the Month of May at IMS is always going to be a factor in that. Of course, that’s part of being a support and ladder series, but it is frustrating for fans of the junior series to follow over the course of a season.
Fortunately, Lights’ turn at being the featured race for a weekend continues with their return to Trois Rivieres, Quebec. That, along with the staple of the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and fun support races such as Long Beach and Iowa remain unaffected. Overall, the schedule hits oval, road, and street disciplines, but I think we all agree that another oval can only help. Firestone Indy Lights has its share of European drivers, and usually they need oval experience more than additional twisties.
It would be nice to see Lights pair with another series for a weekend or two to pad out the schedule, but honestly, races cost money, and if it isn’t supporting IndyCar directly and driving the same tracks as the IICS, then any such venture needs to be scrutinized closely. You can argue events such as Trois Rivieres gives the Mazda Road to Indy some nice availability at a unique North American event, but opportunities like that aren’t exactly around every corner.
With any single race representing a full 1/12 of potential points for the year, consistency is going to be a must for the eventual champion. Inconsistency from drivers such as Gustavo Yacaman and Esteban Guerrieri doomed any chance they had at a Lights championship and IndyCar scholarship last season; at the same time, it allowed Josef Newgarden to propel his way into a 2012 IICS ride, and assisted Stefan Wilson in his charge into P2 in the standings late in the season.
The Mazda Road to Indy needs to work to the very top in order to prepare and graduate drivers to the top level of American Open Wheel racing. The type of prospects for IndyCar this schedule and the 2012 field produce will be the basis on which the success of the upcoming Lights season may be judged.