Monday 14th April 1986
The inaugural season of Indy Lites opened at Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
The original Indy Lights series was formed as an open-wheeled racing series that acted as a developmental circuit for CART from 1986 to 2001. It was founded in 1986 as the American Racing Series (ARS). The series was renamed Indy Lights in 1991. The CART-sanctioned series became widely popular and secured the title sponsorship of Firestone. Later, Firestone’s subsidiary Dayton Tires took over as tire supplier and title sponsor.
A spec-series, CART Indy Lights used March chassis (essentially a modified 85B Formula 3000 chassis, renamed to Wildcat) from 1986 to 1992. Lola provided chassis from 1993 to 2001. Buick V6 engines were used for its entire existence.
The ARS/Indy Lights series’ championship winners included two CART champions, two IndyCar Series champions, seven CCWS race-winners and two Formula One drivers.
The Indy Lights schedule closely followed that of the CART series, with the noteworthy exception of Indianapolis. The series typically had a gap of up to a month while the primary CART teams raced at the Indy 500. The races were usually held the morning of the CART series races, as an undercard, support event. In early years, the Indy Lights series skipped superspeedway races such as Michigan, but eventually found its way to race there.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, CART was suffering from financial problems. Meanwhile, in 1996, the rival Indy Racing League was formed. CART canceled the minor league outright after the 2001 season. By this time, the Toyota Atlantic series was equally effective in providing CART with new drivers. In addition, the Atlantics served as a springboard for such drivers as Greg Ray, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Richie Hearn to enter the IRL. The Atlantics effectively became CART’s primary feeder system, and later became Champ Car World Series’ official in-house feeder championship for a time.