If there is one thing the season finale of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires has taught in years past, it is that unthinkable chaos will usually enter the fray. With six drivers eligible for the title and a $1 million Mazda scholarship that grants them an opportunity for three races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, it is the biggest moment of their young careers.
Felix Serralles and Kyle Kaiser understand what’s at stake.
Currently sitting fourth and fifth in the championship battle, both drivers head into the final two races at the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca focused on themselves but keen to upset the balance that exists at the top.
Championship leader Santiago Urrutia is 38 points ahead of Serralles (shown at left), winner of the season opener at St. Petersburg and in a thrilling victory at Iowa Speedway. The 24-year-old Puerto Rican driver, who has scored six podiums this season, may be “excited” for what could come at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course in Monterey, Calif., but he remains focused on the now as he tries to push ahead with his No. 4 Carlin Mazda.
“Excited is one word (for it), but at the end of the day, I’m still focused on finishing the year,” Serralles said. “Winning is what I’m always focused on, no matter what is going on around (me). I won't let myself get excited for something that might not happen. I always focus on the present and learn from the past.”
Serralles finished last year seventh in the Indy Lights points standings. Even though to this point the expectation was more, he admitted it has still been a learning process throughout this season.
“I think this year, in my opinion, has not gone down as well as I wanted it to,” Serralles said. “But winning and finishing in the podium has been the best moments, for sure, especially winning in the first round at St Pete. You always learn in racing every year, no matter how many years you've been racing, but this year I've learned more about myself and what I need to perform and be happy in and out of racing.”
Kaiser’s task doesn’t veer far from Serralles’ path. He trails Urrutia by 40 points with a maximum of 66 available in the Soul Red Finale doubleheader this weekend.
The highlight of the 20-year-old California native and No. 18 Juncos Racing driver’s season (shown at right) was his lone win, flag-to-flag from the pole at Phoenix International Raceway in April, to go along with six podiums. However, if the homegrown hopeful with the longest of odds is to win the title, he admitted it would take a bit of good fortune.
“My mindset is the same going into every race weekend: focused on bringing my best performance and going for the win,” Kaiser said.
“I can’t control what happens to my competitors during the finale, so I’m just going to do everything I can to get max points this weekend. It’s going to take a lot of luck to win the championship in the finale for any driver, but the finales in this series have been hectic in past years, so I wouldn’t count out anyone.”
The Soul Red Finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the climactic weekend for all three Mazda Road to Indy series. All weekend sessions are set to stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Practice sessions take place Friday, beginning with Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires at 11:45 a.m. ET and running through the conclusion of Indy Lights practice at 7:55 p.m. Qualifying for all three series runs from 11:35 a.m. to 1:35 p.m. ET Saturday, with the first race for each later that afternoon (Pro Mazda at 5:05 p.m., Indy Lights at 6 p.m., Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda at 7:05 p.m.). Pro Mazda’s second race will be at 11 a.m. ET Sunday, followed by USF2000 at 2:20 p.m., Indy Lights at 4:10 p.m. and the third Pro Mazda race concluding action at 5:35 p.m.