It didn't hit me until the first practice session that this would be the final race weekend for the nameless chassis. To be fair, I found in a Marshall Pruett article on Racer.com where he referenced the chassis as the Dallara IPS, the initials of Infiniti Pro Series, the name of the series when it started in 2002 when the Nissan marque back the junior division. After four seasons, Infiniti dropped out and Indy Pro Series was used before reviving the name Indy Lights.
I spent part of yesterday going over the history of this red-headed stepchild of a car.
It's first race was July 7, 2002 at Kansas Speedway and featured twelve cars. A.J. Foyt IV was barely 18, victorious and appeared to be the future, carrying on a legendary name. Second place was and actor, best known for his role on Beverly Hills, 90210 Jason Priestley and Navajo Cory Witherill rounded out the podium. Mike Hoss was fourth and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top five. Marty Roth finished sixth with Gary Peterson in seventh. Roth best known for being the man with money who refused to step out, Peterson best known for his company Automatic Fire Sprinklers supporting many young drivers such as Raphael Matos, JR Hildebrand, Sebastián Saavedra on their way up the ladder and he currently sponsors Saavedra in IndyCar.
When the Sonoma weekend comes to a close and a champion is crowned, the near teenager of a chassis will have 169 races on it's résumé. Entering the weekend, 59 different drivers have won in the IPS chassis. The all-time leader in victories is Alex Lloyd with ten and he will go down as the only driver with double-digit wins in this chassis. Second all-time is Wade Cunningham, the only man to win the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway multiple times, with eight wins. The New Zealander has three Freedom 100 victories. Thiago Mederios, Mark Taylor and Jeff Simmons are all tied for third most wins in the IPS chassis-era with seven victories. If Gabby Chaves were to sweep this weekend at Sonoma, he would join the Brazilian, Brit and American with seven victories.
The 59 winners in the IPS chassis have come from 14 countries with the United States producing 58 victories from 25 drivers. Nine British drivers have won in Indy Lights for 32 combined victories. Brazil has 21 victories with seven drivers taking the checkered flag. Four Colombians have produced 18 victories while four Frenchman have combined for 11 victories. New Zealand's eight victories all came at the hands of Wade Cunningham. Argentina's six victories all at the hands of Esteban Guerrieri. James Hinchcliffe is the only Canadian to have won in the IPS chassis and he did it three times. Junior Strous won his first two starts in the IPS chassis with Arie Luyendyk, Jr. lone victory at Chicagoland combining for the Netherlands three wins. James Davison's two wins at Mid-Ohio are the only for Australia in the IPS-era. Hideki Mutoh is responsible for Japan's two victories in the IPS chassis. Chile, Ireland and Spain each have one victory in the IPS chassis coming at the hands of Pablo Donoso, Peter Dempsey and Victor García respectively.
Of the 219 drivers to race the IPS chassis, 46 have made starts at the top division of open-wheel racing. Of those 46, lets note Dan Clarke, Tyce Carlson, Willy T. Ribbs, Jan Heylen, Tõnis Kasemets, Jimmy Kite and Franck Perera all made their first start in IndyCar prior to their first start in the IPS chassis.
Of the 59 different drivers to win in the IPS chassis, 35 have come on to combine for 926 IndyCar start. Of the 39 drivers to make their first IndyCar start after their first start in the IPS chassis, only five have won an IndyCar race. Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe each have three IndyCar victories, Marco Andretti has two while Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal each sit on one.
Those numbers don't look good. Only five of 219 drivers to have raced the IPS chassis have won a combined nine times in IndyCar. That success rate is a dismal 2.28% for Indy Lights graduates.
I bet a lot will look at those numbers and label it as more proof how inferior the IRL was but let's remember drivers such as Lloyd, Cunningham, Hildebrand, Matos and Tristan Vautier all barely had a cup of coffee in IndyCar. Let's not forget to mention drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam and Carlos Muñoz are just getting started in IndyCar and very well could be racking up victories soon and drivers such as Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia have still yet to appear at the top level.
Arie Luyendyk, Jr. will go down as the most experienced driver in the IPS chassis with 66 starts. Wade Cunningham made 64 starts. The most starts in the IPS chassis without a victory is 46 by Chris Festa. The Georgia-native and once Ganassi development driver finished second three times. His first runner-up finish came in his second start at Phoenix in 2005 with his next two coming in 2007 when under the Ganassi umbrella at Homestead and the Freedom 100.
The IPS chassis wasn't revolutionary. It didn't turn motorsports on it's ear. It didn't inspire. It has been a motorsports equivalent of a cockroach as it appeared it would survive the test of time. Now the IL-15 chassis is on deck. In it's first tests at Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IL-15 was blistering quick, beating the IPS times with ease.
While the IL-15 is clearly quicker, will it be able to produce the same kind of hair raising racing the IPS did on ovals? I doubt it will be able to duplicate the Logan Gomez-Alex Lloyd 0.0005 seconds margin of victory at Chicagoland in 2007 or four-wide, Peter Dempsey on the outside by 0.0026 seconds.
The IL-15 will begin writing it's legacy shortly but the IPS chassis, despite it roots linked to a dark period for American open-wheel racing, despite it's dwindling grids in recent years, despite it's lack of producing winners in IndyCar, it was able to produce racing that had never been seen before and may never be seen again. That has to be worth something.