By Diane Swintal
Ambient temperature is 70F, track temps are 87.4.
HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing’s Linus Lundqvist will start fourth in today’s race, looking to clinch the championship now, rather than waiting until next weekend’s pair of races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
We won’t take you through all the permutations – suffice it to say that if he has a 109-point lead at the checkered flag, he clinches the title (54 points are the most each driver can secure in the race).
Lundqvist is being understandable cagey about his plans for 2023. INDYCAR has not disclosed the exact amount of the scholarship, but it is understood to guarantee three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, including the chance to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Global Racing Group’s Benjamin Pedersen – who earned his first Indy Lights pole yesterday – is also rumored to be moving up to INDYCAR next year.
As for drivers who know what they’re doing in 2023, Hunter McElrea announced earlier in the weekend that he will return to Andretti Autosport in 2023. Louis Foster will be racing in Indy Lights next year as well, having won the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires on Friday which earns him a scholarship valued at nearly $615,000 toward a 2023 Indy Lights ride. Foster is expected to announce next week the team he will drive for.
Speaking of drivers moving up the Road to Indy ladder – Reece Gold, second in the Indy Pro 2000 title chase, is expected to announce that he will join his Juncos Hollinger Racing team as they return to Indy Lights next year. Several other Indy Pro 2000 drivers, including Salvador de Alba and Nolan Siegel, have indicated their interest in moving up as well. With 2022 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winners Cape Motorsports having announced its move to Indy Lights next year, it looks like a very much needed expansion of the Indy Lights grid is on its way.
But first, today’s race – 35 laps or 55 minutes in length. Here’s the qualifying grid, position, car number in parentheses, driver, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (24) Benjamin Pedersen, 01:03.6698 (111.048)
2. (68) Danial Frost, 01:03.7830 (110.851)
3. (28) Christian Rasmussen, 01:03.8546 (110.727)
4. (26) Linus Lundqvist, 01:03.8606 (110.716)
5. (2) Sting Ray Robb, 01:03.9390 (110.580)
6. (83) Matthew Brabham, 01:04.2610 (110.026)
7. (27) Hunter McElrea, 01:04.2678 (110.015)
8. (51) Jacob Abel, 01:04.2698 (110.011)
9. (99) Ernie Francis Jr., 01:04.3912 (109.804)
10. (21) Kyffin Simpson, 01:04.4322 (109.734)
11. (7) Christian Bogle, 01:04.5431 (109.545)
12. (15) Flinn Lazier, 01:04.6491 (109.366)
Pole sitter Benjamin Pedersen: “Super excited, this is a home event, I grew up not far from here. It’s great to have the local support, hope we can bring it home. Clean first lap, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Points leader Linus Lundqvist: “We’ve had a great season, hoping for a good race today. It would be a dream come true to clinch it today.”
Only one driver in the field has won at Portland before – McElrea swept the pair of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races in 2019.
Engines fired at 10:15 a.m. and the pace car moves them out. Green second time by.
Green flag at 10:19 a.m.
Pedersen with the solid jump at the green.
All 12 cars make it safely through turn one.
Matthew Brabham on the move, up to fourth from a sixth-place starting position, putting Lundqvist back to fifth. Sting Ray Robb going in the opposite direction, falling back to 10th from fifth in the opening corners.
Contact between Christian Bogle and Flinn Lazier, in his series debut. Lazier, attempting to pass Bogle in turn seven, locked up his tires and slid into Bogle, both stopping drivers left. Full course yellow, pits are open. Lazier attended to by safety, Bogle limps into pit lane with a bent front right suspension.
Race control assesses Lazier a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, to be served at the next event.
Back to green on lap five.
Another solid jump for Pedersen, two car lengths going into turn one.
Frost, Brabham and Rasmussen three wide through the nine-10-11 complex. Side to side contact between Rasmussen and Frost, with neither driver wanting to concede the position. Rasmussen off into the dirt driver’s right, comes back across the track (bouncing all four wheels off the pavement) and takes the exit lane through turn 12, Frost hard into the tires in turn 11, drivers right. AMR INDYCAR Safety Team on the scene, Frost out of the car under his own power.
As they run –
Points lead for Lundqvist is 103 as they run.
Robb tells the team he will conserve push-to-pass until late in the race.
The lengthy yellow gives Kevin Lee and Charlie Kimball the chance to talk to Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Louis Foster, joining them in the Peacock TV booth. Foster confirms that he will make an announcement Thursday at WRLS regarding his 2023 plans.
Race control indicates that the incident as been reviewed, no action will be taken.
Back to green on lap 16.
Another good jump for Pedersen, but Brabham takes a look to the outside going into turn one. Three car length lead for Pedersen by turn 10.
Field settles into single-file order by lap 18.
Halfway mark, with no change in the running order.
McElrea right on the rear with of Abel, Robb all over Francis, Jr.
Georgia Henneberry spoke with the a very happy Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner, Michael d’Orlando, on the Peacock coverage. His Cape Motorsports team captured its 14th series title and now returns to Indy Lights in 2023.
Rasmussen and Robb all over the rear wing of Francis, Jr. in turn seven on lap 25. Rasmussen locked up and nearly hit Francis, Jr., with Robb prepared to make evasive maneuvers on the outside.
Frost, back on pit lane, tells Henneberry that Rasmussen came alongside in turn 11 and “I didn’t think that move would work, but that’s racing. It happens.”
Robb, on the radio, not happy with the move by Rasmussen as he nearly slid into Robb in turn seven.
Lee reports that Robb and Brabham are both open to returning to Indy Lights in 2023.
Seven laps to go, McElrea still stalking Abel for fourth, bit of a lock-up by McElrea two laps later.
Pedersen out to a 1.6 second lead with four to go.
Robb able to get around Francis, Jr. in turn two to take sixth, Rasmussen around in turn five.
Closest battle on track remains Abel and McElrea for fourth, with McElrea able to get close but not able to make a move.
Peacock TV catches a shot of NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie David Malukas, cheering on his former teammate from the HMD Motorsports pit.
White flag, a 1.13 second lead for Pedersen over Brabham, who is chipping away every lap.
Checkered flag, and the first Indy Lights win for Benjamin Pedersen! Matthew Brabham second, Linus Lundqvist third.
Lundqvist with a 103-point championship lead, so the title fight will go to the doubleheader next weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Unofficial Results Portland Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires:
1. (1) Benjamin Pedersen, 35, Running
2. (6) Matthew Brabham, 35, Running
3. (4) Linus Lundqvist, 35, Running
4. (8) Jacob Abel, 35, Running
5. (7) Hunter McElrea, 35, Running
6. (5) Sting Ray Robb, 35, Running
7. (3) Christian Rasmussen, 35, Running
8. (9) Ernie Francis Jr., 35, Running
9. (10) Kyffin Simpson, 35, Running
10. (2) Danial Frost, 5, Contact
11. (11) Christian Bogle, 1, Contact
12. (12) Flinn Lazier, 0, Contact
Winner’s average speed: 93.074 mph
Time of Race: 44:18.7886
Margin of victory: 0.9651 of a second
Cautions: 2 for 13 laps
Lead changes: 0
Pedersen, Benjamin 1 – 35
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Point Standings:
Lundqvist 515, Brabham 412, McElrea 401, Robb 389, Pedersen 385, Rasmussen 346, Frost 330, Abel 293, Simpson 276, Francis Jr. 263, Bogle 256, James Roe 219, Antonio Serravalle 204, Ryan Phinny 77, Manuel Sulaiman 48, Lazier 18
Press conference quotes:
Benjamin Pedersen: “This is a dream come true, it feels so good. We were fastest in every session this week, I don’t think we’ve ever done that before – to do it at a home event is great, since I grew up not far from here in Seattle. I have a bunch of local support, it’s so awesome. I’ve worked my ass off and I’m so relieved and thankful. I’ll take all this energy with me next weekend, hopefully.
“The team kept me informed on the push-to-pass of the guys behind me, so we were just managing all race long. I stayed focused on my own race, it was a good day. You never know what’s going to happen in turn one, you’ve seen what’s happened in the past.
Matthew Brabham: “Congrats to Benjamin, he’s been fast all weekend, I couldn’t catch him. I’m thrilled with my day. We were fast on the first day but terrible yesterday, we didn’t have the pace compared to HMD. We made some big changes and it paid off today. I was surprised at our speed today, my car gripped up and was fast, the Andretti guys did a great job turning it around.”
Linus Lundqvist: “You want to win every race but we just didn’t have the pace this weekend like Benjamin did. Congratulations to him, it’s good to get your first win. Glad to get a podium, we’ll take the points. It would have been nice to be finished with it, but we go into Laguna with some energy.
All three drivers were asked about the competitive nature of the Indy Lights series, noting the six different winners this season (including four first-time winners) and all had very strong comments in support.
Benjamin Pedersen: “This series is super competitive. It’s different every week, on who has pace. It makes everyone better; everyone feels like they’re being pushed hard. The driving has improved, it’s good for the future.”
Matthew Brabham: “It’s super competitive. The field is so difficult, it’s different every weekend. The level has gotten better every year. It’s a top-level series and every driver who comes out of Indy Lights does well all over the world. It’s a shame that people overlook the series, it’s one of the most competitive series in the world.”
Linus Lundqvist: “I have to say that it’s not enjoyable, that it’s this competitive! It forces you to push yourself to the next level and that makes it more rewarding