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Transitioning From Indy Lights to IndyCar


About half of the field in last year's IndyCar season competed in the Indy Lights series at some point. Many of them got their racing start in Lights and then moved to CART or the IndyCar series depending on when they came through the system. Recently I looked at how drivers perform once they are in the series through the use of aging curves. This helped me answer the question of how drivers age and how they perform year to year on average. Aging curves are useful for predicting performance once drivers are in the IndyCar series, but what about the rookies? Is there a way we can predict how a driver is likely to perform in their first year in IndyCar?

To answer this question, I decided to look at drivers who had competed in the Lights series full time (competed in at least half of the races) and then transitioned to a full time IndyCar ride in the first or second year after their last season in Lights. Originally I was just going to include drivers who had transitioned straight from Lights one year to IndyCar the next, but decided to expand it to a two year buffer to include drivers who raced in a couple IndyCar races one season and then became full time drivers the next. For these cases, I compared their last season in Lights to their first full season in IndyCar, not their partial season.

Using these criteria, I came up with 23 drivers to include in my data set. For each driver, I compared their last season in Indy Lights with their first season in IndyCar in terms of championship position, average finishing position, and average starting position. Here is what I found:

  Champ Pos Change    Avg St Change    Avg Fn Change  
-12.04
-9.69
-9.00

Drivers lose about 12 places in the championship on average when coming to the IndyCar series. So if a driver comes to IndyCar after winning the Lights championship the year before, we'd predict them to finishing around 13th in the IndyCar championship. Their average finishing and average starting position both also decrease by about nine places. The typical Indy Lights driver finishes their first IndyCar season with a championship position of around 15th, and an average start and average finish of 14. 

These numbers are useful because they can help us predict how a driver is likely to do in their rookie season in the series. Aging curves help us predict how drivers do once they are in the series, but don't tell us anything about expected rookie performance. Closer to the season's start I will be posting my projections for the 2018 season using this information for rookies and the aging curves for the rest of the field. 

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Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC

by Drew

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