There are a million reasons why the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship contenders are focused solely on the challenging 2.238-mile, 11-turn Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course in scenic Monterey, Calif., this weekend.
The series champion will be awarded a $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races in 2016, including the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
"It's kind of a winner-take-all situation, and hopefully it's us," said Spencer Pigot, 21, of Orlando, Fla.
Pigot enters the Sept. 12-13 doubleheader finale six points behind front-runner Jack Harvey of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Ed Jones of Carlin is 18 points out of the top spot and RC Enerson of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian is 36 points back.
Each Indy Lights race awards 30 points to the winner, 25 for second place through six points for 15th place. One bonus point is awarded each for the pole position, most race laps led and the fastest race lap.
Champions also will be crowned after Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheaders on the road course this weekend.
Pigot, the 2014 Pro Mazda champion, has recorded four Indy Lights victories among eight podium finishes and four poles with Juncos Racing, also a first-year Indy Lights competitor.
"We've all been in this situation before and we just have to focus on our own car, our own race and hopefully we can get a good qualifying spot and stay out front," Pigot said. "In the back of our minds, we know that, no matter what, we have to beat Jack (Harvey). If we don't find ourselves out front, that will be our next goal, to make sure we gain points in the first race and see what we can do in the second race."
Harvey won both races of the 2014 Indy Lights finale at Sonoma Raceway to tie Gabby Chaves on points for the season, but lost out on the title on a tiebreaker. This season, Harvey has earned two victories among eight podium finishes in his second season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the seven-time Indy Lights championship team.
"Last year, I had two poles and two wins in the last race weekend of the year, so I feel very confident in what I can achieve as a driver and I've got massive belief in my team," said Harvey, 22, of Lincoln, England. "It's just down to me and my team to get the job done. Winning the championship would definitely help our cause progressing forward into (the Verizon) IndyCar (Series)."
The weekend races will complete the 30th season of Indy Lights competition in what began as the American Racing Series in 1986. Its rich history includes 100-plus graduates to Indy car racing, including 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon – one of three drivers to win both Indy Lights and Indy car titles along with Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan.
"If you look at the current Verizon IndyCar Series grid, who's come through that, all the good guys have been through Indy Lights at some point," said Dixon, who won six of 12 races with PacWest Racing to earn the 2000 Indy Lights title and now has four Indy car championships under his belt. "Especially for a lot of the foreign drivers, you've never raced on an oval (prior to Indy Lights), so that's where I learned the majority of my race craft on ovals. What an oval means, how to set up a car on an oval, how to respect the oval, how to learn not to crash on an oval.
"There's a long list of things that without Indy Lights would not have been possible," Dixon added. "There were some guys who kind of jumped in (to Indy cars) but they also struggled for quite some time until they got the knack of it. With Indy Lights, I kind of eradicated that. I wouldn't be where I am today without Indy Lights."
In Pro Mazda, Santiago Urrutia of Team Pelfrey holds a 29-point advantage over Neil Alberico of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing heading into the Laguna Seca doubleheader. Timothe Buret (Juncos Racing, minus-47 points) and Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport, minus-51 points) are also still mathematically eligible. The 2015 Pro Mazda champion earns a $590,300 scholarship toward an Indy Lights ride in 2016.
In USF2000, Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) holds a commanding 50-point advantage over Jake Eidson (Pabst Racing) heading to the Laguna Seca doubleheader. Jamin put himself in firm control by sweeping a weekend tripleheader of races July 31-Aug. 2 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The USF2000 champion receives a $378,000 scholarship to use toward a 2016 ride in Pro Mazda.
Live timing and scoring and track audio for all Mazda Road to Indy sessions at Laguna Seca, as well as live streaming video for the races, will be available on racecontrol.indycar.com.