Indy Lights 2009 Season Review
The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season was comprised of fifteen races encompassing seven oval races, five street circuits, and three traditional road courses. The fifteen race wins were achieved by eight drivers representing six entrants.
AFS Andretti driver J.R. Hildebrand led the drivers in race wins with four victories and won the 2009 championship title by an impressive 98 points. Hildebrand also led the series in Top Five finishes with eleven and was second-ranking in Top Ten finishes with twelve. Hildebrand’s first 2009 victory came in the third race of the season, held on the streets of Long Beach. He won again in race eight, on the Watkins Glen road course, then won race ten on the Edmonton airport circuit, and scored his final victory in race thirteen on the Sears Point road course. J.R. thus won two street circuit races and two road course events but no oval track races. On the ovals, however, Hildebrand did post runnerup finishes at Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Homestead (and Hildebrand did win on the Kansas oval in 2008). J.R. had only one accident-caused retirement in 2009 (contact with Ana Beatriz in the second St. Petersburg race) and one mechanical-caused retirement (on lap one in Kentucky). He also suffered a fourteenth-place finish in Kansas. Hildebrand’s only start outside of the top seven came at Chicagoland (thirteenth) as he won six poles (St. Petersburg race one, Long Beach, Iowa Speedway oval, Edmonton, Kentucky oval, Sears Point) and he started on the front row seven times, in the top three ten times, and in the first two rows twelve times. J.R. set five Fast Laps, and led nine races for a total of 241 laps.
James Davison finished second in points, 98 points behind Hildebrand, driving for the Tony George family Vision team. Davison won only one race (flag-to-flag from the pole at Mid-Ohio) but posted fourteen Top Ten finishes, with only a contact incident in the second St. Petersburg race producing a placing outside of the top ten. Davison didn’t get a Top Five, however, until race six of the season at Milwaukee, where he finished fifth, and didn’t make the podium until race eight, at Watkins Glen, where he won the pole and led the first thirteen laps before finishing second to Hildebrand. Thereafter, he set Fast Lap at Toronto and finished fifth, took only tenth at Edmonton, but then finished the season with five consecutive Top Five finishes including a runnerup finish at Chicagoland and a pole at Homestead, where he led thirty laps before finishing fifth.
Hildebrand’s AFS Andretti teammate Sebastian Saavedra finished third in points, just one behind Davison. He scored two wins (Kansas oval, Toronto street circuit), eight Top Five finishes, and eleven Top Ten finishes. Saavedra also won two poles (St. Petersburg race two and Toronto), and started on the front row seven times and in the first two rows ten times. He set five race Fast Laps and led five races for a total of 156 laps. A mechanical retirement in the season opener at St. Petersburg put him in a hole in the point standings and this may have affected his approach to some of the more controversial incidents of his season, including one resulting in a point penalty.
Sam Schmidt pilot Wade Cunningham finished fourth in the point standings, thirty points behind Saavedra, achieving only five Top Five finishes and nine Top Ten finishes. Cunningham’s season started slowly with finishes of sixteenth and eleventh at St. Petersburg and he then suffered an early-race mechanical retirement at Long Beach, putting him in an even deeper hole than Saavedra in the early season standings. Cunningham then won the pole and led the first nine laps at Kansas before finishing second under caution to Saavedra. Wade then won the pole at Indianapolis, led five times for fourteen laps in a barnburner of a race, and won the Freedom 100. After a sixth at Milwaukee he started second at Iowa Speedway and led 103 of the 115 laps before finishing second under caution to Ana Beatriz. A late-race wreck at Watkins Glen placed him nineteenth and his Canadian swing produced a seventh at Toronto and a sixth at Edmonton after poor starting positions. He again bounced back on the oval at Kentucky, leading twenty-two laps en route to a victory under caution over Saavedra. The road courses again blunted his drive for the title, however, as contact with Romancini at Mid-Ohio placed him fourteenth and Sears Point produced a twelfth-place finish from a twelfth-place start. Wade led in each of the season’s two final races, on the ovals at Chicagoland and Homestead, but finished only fourth and sixth.
The top four in the point standings won nine of the fifteen 2009 races, or 60.0%. Four other drivers won races, led by sixth in points Mario Romancini with two wins (on the Milwaukee and Homestead ovals) and Junior Strous, winner of both season-opening St. Petersburg races. Unfortunately for Strous, funding woes limited his season to five races; a fire retired his car at Long Beach and he finished eleventh at Kansas and tenth at Indianapolis and he did not return to the series.
Joining series runnerup Davison with one win apiece were Sam Schmidt driver Ana Beatriz and Bryan Herta Racing’s Daniel Herrington. Herrington placed seventh in points, Beatriz eighth. Beatriz won on the Iowa Speedway oval but did not contest two races (Milwaukee and the season finale at Homestead). Ana finished fourth in the St. Petersburg season-opener but crashed out of the second St. Pete race in contact with Hildebrand. She finished fifth at Long Beach and fourth at Kansas but then crashed out at Indianapolis after contact with Gustavo Yacaman. Her return produced the victory at Iowa but thereafter her finishes were ninth, thirteenth, and twelfth at Watkins Glen, Toronto, and Edmonton. Beatriz then finished third at Kentucky, twelfth at Mid-Ohio, and a good fifth at Sears Point (Infineon) after qualifying second but crashed out of the Chicagoland oval race.
Although Herta’s Daniel Herrington posted twelve Top Ten finishes, in the first thirteen races he had only one Top Five, a fifth in the second St. Petersburg race. He qualified ninth at Chicagoland in the season’s penultimate round but led the race’s final twenty-six laps to score the first victory of his three-year Indy Lights career.
By venue, in the five street circuit events the leadership in wins was a tie at two apiece between champion J.R. Hildebrand and Junior Strous; Sebastian Saavedra scored one win. In the three road course races, Hildebrand scored two wins, Davison one. In the seven oval races, Wade Cunningham and Mario Romancini each posted two wins, with single victories going to Beatriz, Herrington, and Saavedra.
Among the Entrants, AFS Andretti won six races, Sam Schmidt three, Andersen Racing (Romancini) and Winners Racing (Strous) two apiece, with Herta and Vision taking one each. On the street circuits AFS Andretti won three times to two for Winners Racing. On the road courses the score was AFS Andretti two, Vision one. On the ovals, Sam Schmidt led with three wins to two for Andersen and one each for AFS Andretti and Herta. AFS Andretti was the only Entrant to win on all three venue types.