Relieved, is how Belardi Auto Racing veteran Zach Veach said he felt after his first trip to the top step of an Indy Lights podium in 22 months. The Stockdale, Ohio native admitted that he has struggled to come to grips with the Mazda powered Dallara IL-15 after winning three times in the previous generation Indy Lights machinery.
Starting on pole, Veach got a great start and beat the rest of the 14-car Indy Lights field to Turn 1. However, the action behind the veteran driver was certainly action packed.
Santiago Urrutia was the biggest loser on the first lap. The Uruguayan lost second position to Ed Jones in the Turn 1 and then proceeded to lose third position to Dean Stoneman in Turn 3. Urrutia then made an effort to get back by Stoneman in the downhill run to Turn 5, but Stoneman and his No. 27 squeezed reigning Pro Mazda champion to the outside, forcing him wide into the gravel trap. The trip off trap meant Urrutia dropped all the way back to 10th.
The top five at the end of the first lap were: Veach, Jones, Stoneman, Andre Negrao and Kyle Kaiser.
On Lap 2, Stoneman got a good run on Jones off of The Carousel and The Kink and the two drivers went side-by-side through Canada Corner and Billy Mitchell Bend before Stoneman took over the position as the cars made the steep climb to the start-finish line.
Stoneman’s hold on the second spot didn’t last long when Jones was able to get a good tow headed to Turn 1 and was able to make a last minute pass to get the second position back.
On that same lap, Andre Negrao was able to get beside Stoneman headed down the Moraine Sweep to Turn 5, and in almost an exact replay to what happened between Stoneman and Urrutia one the first lap, the No. 27 once again squeezed his competitor onto the gator strips and off track. Negrao, a 24 year-old Brazillian dropped back to 10th, and was not able to recover any more positions, finishing the race in 10th.
For his actions, Stoneman was handed a five-second post race penalty. The Croydon, England native did apologize after the race for the contact and explained that he didn’t know that Negrao was beside him and that he was just moving onto his braking line.
The on-track action settled down until Lap 7, when Stoneman, who had been pressuring Jones for a number of laps was able to finally make the pass to move onto the middle step of the podium.
Further back in the field Indy Lights debutante Garett Grist was able to pass his fellow Canadian Dalton Kellett going into Canada Corner. Kellett got loose at corner exit and backed his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Mazda powered Dallara into the tires bringing out the first and only yellow of the race.
The top five under yellow were: Veach, Stoneman, Jones, Felix Serralles and Kaiser.
After building a five second lead Veach had to defend from Stoneman on the restart, but was able to get through Turn 1 and build back his lead
Behind the first two on the restart, Serralles was able to get by his Carlin teammate Ed Jones, who was nursing front wing damage, for the final spot on the podium. Further back in the field, Kaiser, Urrutia and Piedrahita were waging a fierce three-car battle heading into Turn 5. Piedrahita got to the corner first, but quickly found himself facing the wrong direction after being spun from behind by Urrutia. This time, it was Urrutia who was hit with the five second post race-penalty.
While Stoneman was able to overcome his penalty and finish second, Urrutia’s five second penalty really hurt him. The Montevideo, Uruguay native took the white flag in fifth but fell back to ninth after the five-second penalty was applied.
After an action packed first half of the race the second half of the race settled into a nice rhythm with Veach holding a steady lead at just over 2.5 second. Behind him, the best battle on track was between Kaiser and Shelby Blackstock. Blackstock was able to make a pass of Kaiser, but carried too much speed at the exit of Turn 3 and spun off track. Blackstock was able to continue but finished a disappointing 13th.
Jones, who led Andretti Autosport’s Stoneman by 29 points headed into the race will start the second race of the weekend with a 23 point lead.
The biggest championship mover was Felix Serralles who used his third podium of 2016 to move from fifth to third on the points table.
Heading into the weekend, only three drivers were within 50 points of Jones, but after today’s race five drivers had moved to within the half-century mark of the Indy Lights championship leader.
|5||Zachary Claman De Melo||-13.6079|
|14||Dalton Kellett||-14 LAPS|