Indy Lights Removes Freedom 100, Its Crown Jewel Event, For 2021

Illustration for article titled Indy Lights Removes Freedom 100, Its Crown Jewel Event, For 2021
Photo: Lachlan Cunningham (Getty Images)

The Indy Lights series is the top run of the Road to Indy feeder series ladder that brings talent into the IndyCar series. And while the series took a break in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 and economic uncertainties, its return in 2021 will be marred by one big omission: the annual Freedom 100 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Indy Lights primarily runs on road courses, so the Freedom 100 was one of the first opportunities young drivers would get racing at the most famed track in the world. It took place during Carb Day, the last day of on-track practice for IndyCar ahead of the Indy 500, and it was often attended by a stellar crowd excited to get an appetizer before Sunday’s big race. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Freedom 100 three times, and it’s always one hell of an exciting time.

I will admit that, in recent years, it’s been a little... sparse. The series has only fielded a handful of cars as of late, and, as you can imagine, eight cars spread out on a 2.5 mile track is not exactly a spectacle.

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But the loss still hits hard, and IndyCar has offered some pretty conflicting explanations. Here’s what IndyCar said in a statement provided to Indy Star:

Reserving the month of May schedule for the (IndyCar Series) provides maximum flexibility to prioritize Indy 500 on-track activities. In 2020, we’ve learned this flexibility is the key to ensure we’re able to successfully race the Indianapolis 500.

It’s an interesting angle to take, considering the fact that Indy Lights will be running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course during the Month of May, and the Freedom 100 often does not cause any rescheduling conflicts during the Indy 500 weekend. The IndyCar series is also heading to Texas Motor Speedway during the first weekend of the month.

It sounds a little bit like IndyCar is anticipating financial or health-related setbacks, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever the case, it’s still a big disappointment, both to fans and to drivers.

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There will still be at least one oval track on the calendar for 2021. World Wide Technology Raceway (also known as Gateway Motorsports Park) will be hosting a doubleheader in August.

2021 Indy Lights Schedule:

March 6-7: Streets of St. Petersburg doubleheader
May 14-15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway doubleheader
June 12-13: The Raceway at Belle Isle Park
June 19-20: Road America
July 3-4: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
July 10-11: Streets of Toronto
August 20-21: World Wide Technology Raceway
September 11-12: Portland International Raceway
September 18-19: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
TBA

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

nkann
Sgt. Pegleg

I agree — this is a considerable loss to the drivers and the fans. The given rationale makes no sense. A friend who is far deeper engrained in the inner workings of IndyCar than I has mentioned there is rumbling of a financial and political nature with the cars, and the inability to find a feasible way of putting an aeroscreen or halo on them. This lack of driver protection has apparently been putting off potential recruitment of young talent. Take that for what you will...

I’ve seen the Freedom 100 in person twice (2016, 2019), and both were amazing races with great finishes. There WAS a horrific crash last year, though, which may only reinforce the need for further driver safety at the track.  With Roger running the show, you’d think that there would be a myriad of opportunities to get the Lights to race at IMS.