By Bart Ewer
It was a beautiful morning for racing here in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field hit the track for their 45-lap feature race under bright, sunny skies. Despite having a poor race yesterday after starting from second, Belardi Auto Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist started today’s race from the pole position, alongside his teammate Zach Veach. Yesterday’s pole sitter, Kyle Kaiser, started from third, while Saturday race winner Felix Serralles and Andre Negrao comprised the rest of the top five starting positions.
Rosenqvist, it was determined after yesterday’s race, accidentally engaged the “rain” fuel map setting on his car, dialing his Mazda engine back to about 70% of its normal power output. That lack of power was the reason Rosenqvist dropped so quickly from the front row, plummeting from second to seventh by the end of the race. With the full brute power of Mazda behind him, Rosenqvist was hopeful of a significantly better outcome this morning.
It was a better start, with Rosenqvist cleanly away at the front of the field, while Kaiser was able to return the favor to Veach and squeeze past the American and into second. Serralles and Negrao held onto fourth and fifth, respectively. Behind them, there was a coming together between yesterday’s runner-up, Team Pelfrey’s Scott Hargrove, RC Enerson, and Shelby Blackstock. With the three stopped on track, the field was slowed under the race’s only full course caution. All three were able to continue, with the trio stopping in pit lane for minor repairs.
Rosenqvist made an excellent getaway on the restart, solidifying his lead at the front. Hargrove was just in front of Rosenqvist after the green flag, but soon yielded to the lead group to allow their battle to continue uninterrupted. By Lap Six, Rosenqvist had built his advantage to 1.7 seconds, as the top three set relatively similar lap times. Behind the leaders, the battle for sixth was quite intense, with Zach Claman De Melo, 2015 victor Ed Jones, and rookie Dean Stoneman running nose-to-tail for several laps.
Jones made the move on Claman De Melo on Lap Nine, while Stoneman tried to overtake the Canadian on the next lap but couldn’t make the move stick in Turn 10. The following lap, Claman De Melo pulled off course in the Turn 7 runoff, retiring with an apparent mechanical issue. Meanwhile, 2015 Pro Mazda champ Santi Urrutia had made contact with an unknown competitor, resulting in significant front wing damage. He tried to soldier on, but his failing wing resulted in a black flag from Race Control to pit and make the necessary repairs.
While Rosenqvist continued to build a bigger lead, up to 2.1 seconds by Lap 15, it got dicey further back in the field. A contemptuous dice for position resulted as Juan Piedrahita tried to pass Dalton Kellett, but Kellett was having none of it from the Colombian. Kellett threw a questionable block into Turn 10, but paid for it in Turn 13 as he spun in the final corner. He continued, and Piedrahita had the position.
Rosenqvist’s lead had grown to more than three seconds when he encountered traffic, with Blackstock and Urrutia engaged in battle for position. Stuck behind the two for several laps, with Race Control giving the two drivers the OK to continue battling and not yield to the leaders, Rosenqvist’s lead quickly shrunk. Kaiser had the gap down to 1.1 seconds in several laps, but eventually Urrutia and Blackstock elected to let the leaders by. Rosenqvist made it through cleanly while Kaiser had to wait several turns, and before long Rosenqvist was rebuilding his lost advantage.
As Rosenqvist had a healthy lead at the front, the attention turned further back in the field. Jones, who was still battling Negrao for fifth, eventually made a mistake, losing the rear under braking on Lap 36, narrowly missing the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver. Jones would only lose one position, falling to seventh. With three laps to go, Neil Alberico got impatient in the race-long battle between himself, Enerson, and Scott Anderson. As Enerson swung wide on entrance into Turn 4, Alberico apparently thought he’d be able to take the inside. Enerson went to move slightly inside, and Alberico clobbered him. Alberico would retire in the runoff, Enerson would limp home a lap down, and Anderson would finish ninth.
For Rosenqvist, it was an important victory and a great rebound after yesterday’s disappointment. “Yesterday was a big disappointment, with a big screw-up on our side,” Rosenqvist recalled. “The car was great, the driver felt great, it was such a hard race and difficult to keep the concentration up. The only hard part was someone in front of me at the middle of the race. I was going crazy on the radio trying to get them to move them out of the way. But the car was great, and it was great to take the win.
“The whole team is such a great organization and the chemistry with me and Zack. When everyone is working the same direction, even being the smallest team, it’s great to see everyone working forward.”
Kaiser was happy just to move forward after falling back from pole position in yesterday’s race. “Starting in third the goal was to move forward,” said the Juncos Racing driver. “Yesterday I fell back, so it was just about going forward. I did, so I’m really happy.”
Kaiser praised the team for making the right call on the setup for the race, helping him claim his first podium of the year. “For the longer run you want to have more downforce because of the tires, so I feel like we had the right setup.
“Confidence is high right now. I feel like last year was a great learning year. I have a different mindset, I have more patience. It’s a learning experience and it takes a lot to adjust to the new car.”
Veach was just happy to finish the race, after the electrical gremlins yesterday robbed him of a potential victory. “I’ve never wanted to throw up when I’ve gotten out of a race car, but I definitely did yesterday after losing what could have been a win,” lamented Veach. “It wasn’t something we could control with it being a software issue. I’ll never forget that race, but I’m happy to come back here and finish third. From here on out we’ve just got to be thinking championship and not make any more mistakes.”
Indy Lights will return in three weeks for their first oval event of the season, joining the Verizon IndyCar Series at Phoenix International Raceway.
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