Next Sunday it's that time again and the biggest spectacle in racing, the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, will take place. In the same week, the USF Pro 2000 and USF 2000 are also on the road at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. On Friday, the USF 2000 Championship's Freedom 75 will take place, and following that, USF Pro 2000 drivers will compete in the Freedom 90. Both races are held once a year in the buildup to the Indy 500. For years, there was also such an oval race for Indy NXT, formerly known as Indy Lights.


The Freedom 100 was also such an annual race. It was the only feeder series race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. It was usually held on the Friday before the Indy 500 and was part of the Indy Lights series, the final stage in the Road to Indy program. The race was first held in 2003 under the name "Freedom 100" to commemorate veterans and members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives in war for the United States. It replaced the previously held "Memorial 100" race.


The Freedom 100 traces its origins back to both USAC's Mini Indy series and CART's ARS/Indy Lights series. However, neither of these support series ever competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Typically, these support series would take a break in the month of May while the top-level Indy cars focused on the Indianapolis 500. In 1979, the Mini-Indy series by USAC scheduled a support race on the oval at the nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park, but it was held only once.


When the IRL (Indy Racing League) launched the Indy Pro Series in 2002, officials began considering the possibility of hosting a support race at Indianapolis in the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500. This was an attempt to fill a relatively slow period of the month and provide exposure for emerging drivers and teams. The race was added to the calendar in 2003.


During the first two years, the race took place on the second weekend of Indianapolis 500 time trials, typically held on Saturday, which was previously reserved only for Indy 500 practice. However, this date proved unpopular and attracted small crowds. In 2005, Carb Day, the traditional final day of practice for the Indy 500, was moved from Thursday to Friday. Series officials then moved the Freedom 100 to Carb Day, immediately following the final Indy 500 practice session. This change was well-received by fans and competitors.


In 2008, following the merger between the IRL and Champ Car, the series was renamed from Indy Pro Series to the Firestone Indy Lights Series, adopting the name of Champ Car's former development series that had ceased in 2001. The new sponsorship extended to this race, resulting in its renaming as the Firestone Freedom 100.


In the first nine runnings of the race, it was won six times from the pole position and three times from the second starting position. Consequently, the race had always been won from the front row until Esteban Guerrieri won in 2012 from the 18th starting position. In 2013, Peter Dempsey, who started third, emerged as the victor in the Freedom 100, marking the closest finish in the history of the Speedway at the time, with a margin of 0.0026 seconds. The finish involved a four-wide battle with Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam, and Carlos Muñoz. Dempsey managed to go from fourth to first on the final straightaway.


Four drivers in the history of the Freedom 100 have also contested the Indy 500 in the same week. Three of these drivers have completed this "double" twice. Canadian Marty Roth finished 16th in the 2004 Freedom 100 and ended up 24th in the Indy 500. That same year, Jeff Simmons finished 16th in the Indy 500 and finished second in the Freedom 100. Then in 2005, Roth finished fifth in the Freedom 100, but could only finish 31st in the Indy 500. Simmons tried the "double" again in 2008, but did worse than four years earlier, finishing 8th (Freedom 100) and 28th (Indy 500). Sebastián Saavedra finished ninth in the 2010 Freedom 100 and 23rd in the Indy 500. Two years later, the Colombian was good enough for 26th place at the Indy 500 and finished the Freedom 100 in fifth. The most successful driver to compete in both races in the same year was Carlos Muñoz. The Colombian finished fourth in the Freedom 100 in 2013 and became runner-up in the Indy 500.


In 2016, due to qualifying being rained out, the field lined up based on points. Ed Jones from Carlin, the pole sitter and series point leader, engaged in a lead battle with Dean Stoneman from Andretti Autosport. A caution on lap 36 slowed the race, but the green flag waved with one lap remaining. Stoneman pulled alongside Jones entering Turn Three, and they maintained their positions through the North Short Chute and into Turn Four. As they crossed the finish line, Stoneman secured a victory by the slimmest of margins, winning by 0.0024 seconds—a new record for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


In 2017, Carlin's Matheus Leist claimed the race victory from the pole position, while Colton Herta emerged as the winner in 2018. Herta's Freedom 100 victory completed a clean sweep of the month of May for the young second-generation driver, who also won both Indy Lights races on the road course at the INDYCAR Grand Prix.


In 2019, Oliver Askew from Andretti Autosport clinched the race win in a typically dramatic fashion. He passed his teammate Ryan Norman at the finish line by a mere 0.0067 seconds, marking the fourth closest finish in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race witnessed 12 official lead changes at the start/finish line and nearly 100 position passes throughout the 40-lap event. The starting order for the race was altered after qualifying, as five cars failed post-qualifying technical inspection and were relegated to the back of the field, excluding the pole sitter, Robert Megennis.


The 2020 edition of the race was canceled due to the overall cancellation of the Indy Lights season. The Freedom 100 was removed from the Lights' 2021 calendar as well. IndyCar took responsibility for this decision, citing the need to ensure a smooth Indianapolis 500 weekend.


The exact reasons for the end of the Freedom 100 race are not known, but it is speculated that it was discontinued due to cost and planning problems, as well as the organizers' decision to focus on other races. For the 2022 season, the Indy Lights series was taken over by Indycar promoter Penske Entertainment. When asked if the Freedom 100 would return, their President & CEO Mark Miles clearly answered "No". Despite some incredibly entertaining races that included some of the closest finishes in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, Penske is against inexperienced drivers racing on the IMS oval in a feeder series.

written by Claudio Graf  / 21st May 2023