INDIANAPOLIS – By not doing double duty racing in the Freedom 100 and Indianapolis 500 this weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, Kyle Kaiser can concentrate on the immediate task at hand: winning today’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race and maintaining his lead in the championship.
Driving for Juncos Racing in the Freedom 100, the centerpiece race of the Indy Lights schedule, the 21-year-old Californian who finished third in championship standings last year is aiming to better that by two spots this year.
When team owner Ricardo Juncos announced the intent to field two cars in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Kaiser was rumored as a possibility for one of the seats. Although the Indy 500 opportunity failed to materialize, Kaiser remains fixated on the Indy Lights championship.
“My No. 1 focus has always been Indy Lights and if I felt that if (the Indy 500 opportunity) was conflicting or pulling away too much from this effort, then I wouldn’t have done it anyway,” said Kaiser, driver of the No. 18 Juncos Racing Mazda/Dallara IL-15 in Indy Lights. “So I think if the opportunity was perfect and we had the sponsorship and everything came together, I think I still could have done it and not had it affect my Indy Lights, just because it’s the biggest race ever.
“Of course I wanted to do it, but when it didn’t line up and it started to look like it wasn’t going to happen, you just had to say, ‘OK, we can try to fight to make it happen and force it or just wait another year.’ I think next year we’re going to make a full effort and try to make it happen, but overall I’m not too disappointed.
“We’ve been on the (Indy Lights) podium the past four races now, including a win, so we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully be there at the end.”
Despite missing out on the chance to drive in this year’s Indy 500, Kaiser still reaps the benefits of being around the team. One of his closest friends, Spencer Pigot, won the Indy Lights title in 2015 with Juncos and is piloting one of the Indy 500 entries.
“I think it’ll be good having him because we are really close,” said Kaiser. “I’ll be able to shadow him without being annoying. If I didn’t really know the driver well, I think it’d be tough to get close and shadow him throughout the whole process. I think it’ll be good because we’ll get to hang out as friends and I’ll be able to be right there in the debriefs and in the pit lane with a headset and everything and be involved. So that way, I’ll be ready to go for next year.
“On race day, I’m going to be in the pit box. Listening to strategy and trying to be as much involved as I can, trying to learn everything I can. I try to do that every year from a spectator’s point of view, but I think it’ll be a lot more involved and more aware of what’s going on when you’re right there.
“I think that’ll be a good learning experience, but before that, hopefully I’ll be enjoying a (Freedom 100) victory. That’s my goal.”
To collect that Indy Lights victory today (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Kaiser will need to come from the 11th starting position in the 14-car field. He’s also looking to make up for crashing out on Lap 3 the 2016 Freedom 100.
“I feel like it’s about making up for last year’s race more than anything else,” said Kaiser, fresh off a win in the second race of the INDYCAR Grand Prix doubleheader on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on May 13. “That’ll probably be the first thing on my mind, because I felt like we had a really good car for the race last year.
“In practice I felt really strong. I didn’t think we had a good qualifying car, but I really wanted to feel the duration of the race. I was really disappointed with last year’s results. We’ll just go out there and try to win it. I think that’s the best way to make up for last year.”