The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series 399th race began with chaos and ended with calm when Nico Jamin won his first Indy Lights race, becoming the third different rookie to win in the first three races of the 2017 season.
Aaron Telitz, who qualified a disappointing 13th after having power plant issues in qualifying, started the chaos by driving into the back of teammate Shelby Blackstock, forcing the starter to abort the start and throw the yellow flag, causing multiple incidents with the outside row.
Herta, who had ducked in behind Kaiser from his outside front row starting spot in an attempt to try and get a run on him into Turn 1, hit the back of the No. 18 Juncos Racing Mazda/Dallara when Kaiser got off the gas for the aborted start. The contact damaged the right front wing, forcing the 17 year-old second generation driver to pit for a new front wing.
“Barely,” explained pole-sitter Kaiser when asked if he felt Herta hit him. “I thought that maybe I felt a nudge.”
Further back the chaos intensified when sixth place qualifier Pato O’Ward ran up and over the back of Santiago Urrutia, the driver who started immediately in front of him on the outside of the front row. The Team Pelfrey rookie’s No. 3 rode the back of the black and gold Arrow Electronics sponsored No. 5 before dismounting and taking Urrutia’s rear wing with him as they went off course at the exit of Turn 1.
Herta, Urrutia, O’Ward, and Urrutia were all forced to pit road with varying levels of damage.
Kaiser led for the first four corners after a Lap 3 single file start, but lost the lead to Jamin, who slotted into second when Herta pitted, in “Charlotte’s Web” (Turn 5). Jamin, the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda champion got a great run out of the “Alabama Roller Coaster” and was able out brake Kaiser on the inside and complete the pass as they exited the corner.
“Absolutely, especially around this fast and flowing track,” explained Jamin when asked if he knew he had to get a pass done on the start. “If you spend four or five laps close to another driver, you are going to damage your tires quite a bit. So, I wanted to get it done really early to not overheat my tires, and I was able to get it done in Turn 5 with a good run and push-to-pass.”
I let my guard down, I thought I had more room behind me than I did,” said Kaiser, explaining the Jamin’s pass for the lead. “I’ve seen guys go to the inside and get a ton of rubber and lock it up and make that mistake of defending so much when they didn’t have to. I did a lazy middle of the road defend to discourage him from making a move, but he had a good run on me and he was closer than I thought and he made a nice clean pass. I need to be more committed in that situation. Now I’m looking back and saying I wish I would have moved my car over. It’s my mistake, I’ll learn from it, I’ll grow and won’t make it again.”
The top 10 at the end of the first green flag lap were: Nico Jamin, Kyle Kaiser, Neil Alberico, Matheus Leist, Dalton Kellett, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Shelby Blackstock, Juan Piedrahita, Nicolas Dapero, and Pato O’Ward.
Lap 10 marked the one-third mark of the 30 lap race. Jamin held a 2.6 second lead over Kasier, who had a one second advantage over third place Alberico. Alberico’s Carlin teammates Leist and Claman De Melo rounded out the top five.
The race settled in after the hectic start, with some good battles back in the pack. Carlin teammates Leist, and Claman de Melo were never separated by more than a second while fighting for fourth place. Further back Blackstock, O’Ward, Dapero, Herta and Piedrahtia remained nose to tail from seventh through 11th.
Herta who made a pass of teammate Ryan Norman on lap 8 and a struggling Juan Piedrahita with three laps left, was able to recover to finish 10th. With Teltiz’s struggles, the Valencia, Calif. native was able to maintain his 10 point championship lead, with Kaiser taking Telitz’s place as his closest chaser.
Urrutia was able to rejoin the field 3 laps down, and turned four off the pace laps before coming returning to the Belardi Auto Racing pits to repair suspension damage. Urrutia was able to head back out on track, but returned to pit-lane and retired after turning 17 laps.
Jamin joins Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham, and Aaron Telitz as the fifth driver to win on all three rungs of the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire ladder since it was founded in 2010.
The same 15 drivers are back on track bright and early at 8am on Sunday morning to qualify for the second Mazda Indy Lights Grad Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires of the weekend.
Full results of Indy Lights race #1
|Zachary Claman De Melo
|Belardi Auto Racing
|Andretti Steinbrenner Racing
|Belardi Auto Racing
|Belardi Auto Racing