Indy Lights: James Winslow crashes the party at St Pete
By Andy Darley
Thursday, March 25th, 2010
British drivers will make up a quarter of the 16-strong field when the Firestone Indy Lights series launches its 2010 campaign on the Streets of St Petersburg this weekend in support of the IndyCar Series.
Former Panther team-mates Pippa Mann and Martin Plowman will turn out for their new teams, Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) and AFS Racing Andretti Autosport, while Stefan Wilson steps up to a full-season schedule with Bryan Herta Autosport after running a partial season last year with two different teams.
Both Plowman and Mann can reasonably expect improved seasons as Panther’s Lights program struggled last year and was shut down at the end of the campaign, while Wilson was impressive in his road course outings but must now learn to race on ovals.
James Winslow’s nomadic search for a stable drive, which took him to the Australian F3 series title in 2008 and a season in the Atlantic Championship last year, each time driving for several different teams on a race-by-race basis, now sees him pitch up as one of Mann’s team-mates at SSM.
“The multiple years that James has had in various levels of European open-wheel racing should make him an instant contender in this series,” team owner Sam Schmidt said. “He’s proven to be quick across the pond, and he’s showed us he’s quick here in our cars. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do on the track.”
Officially Schmidt is saying the deal is so far just for St Pete, but Winslow – who took part in a successful test for the team during the off season – has said on his Twitter feed that it’s a full-season arrangement: “I’ve signed a deal to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights Series with Triple Champions Sam Schmidt Motorsport for the 2010 season!”
In the official statement announcing the deal he said: “I’m very happy to be joining with Sam Schmidt Motorsports to race. We were very quick together in testing, and that’s no surprise given the professionalism that the team displays. I had a little taste of American racing last year, and I’m ready to get back into it for this year.”
But there is no place for Richard Kent and Genoa Racing, who appeared on the Indy Lights website during the preseason as a driver and team pairing but have not made it as far as the season. Kent will be competing in the Star Mazda support race.
SSM’s successful history in Indy Lights, Andretti’s defending champions status, and the impressive growth of Herta’s new team mean that all four Brits in the field will be favoured to run near the front. But they will face stiff competition from several of the other racers.
Plowman’s team-mate Charlie Kimball and the experienced Jonathan Summerton will be flying the flag for the United States, while Wilson’s team-mate Sebastian Saavedra was extremely quick during his debut season last year. HVM’s Junior Strous won both St Pete races last year, while SSM debutant Jean-Karl Vernay and the returning James Hinchcliffe are also strongly tipped.