BELARDI AUTO RACING VICTORIOUS IN INDY LIGHTS AT ROAD AMERICA
Veach scores win and third place finish, French impressive in Indy Lights debut
ELKHART LAKE, WI (June 30, 2016) – Belardi Auto Racing returned to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victory lane at Road America on Saturday (June 25) when Zach Veach scored his first win of the 2016 season. The Stockdale, Ohio driver put his #5 Dallara IL-15 on the pole during Friday qualifying and proceeded to dominate the Saturday action, overcoming challenging conditions to cross the line 7.984 seconds ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Dean Stoneman. Veach backed up the crucial triumph with a third place finish in a wet weather race on Sunday (June 26), advancing him to sixth in the championship standings, just one point out of fifth and only 45 points out of the lead.
“It was a huge win for all of us at Belardi Auto Racing; for myself, the crew and for Zach and his dad Roger – we needed this,” offered Team Owner Brian Belardi. “Zach has been on the losing end of luck several times this year, so it’s a positive to see him finally get to show his true potential. He pushed hard to stretch his lead on Saturday, handled the restarts well, and brought us a big win. As we turn the corner for the run to the championship finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we now have the confidence and momentum we need.”
Wisconsin native James French joined the Belardi Auto Racing crew on his home track, making his Indy Lights debut in the car that was driven by Swedish racer Felix Rosenqvist during the first half of the year. Driving the re-badged #45 entry, French turned in a stellar performance all weekend as he came up to speed, learning the characteristics of the car and how to drive it to its potential. James was in the mix from the first session of the weekend on and brought home a pair of eighth place finishes in varying conditions.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more from James,” Belardi continued. “He knows that track well, so that variable was not a factor. We just kept asking him to explore the limits of the car, which he did, especially its tremendous braking abilities. He was right in the middle of the fight with veteran drivers, and we were all very impressed with his performance. We’d love to have him back in the car as soon as possible.”
In Friday qualifying, Veach made a late run for the pole position and dropped a 1:52.941 to secure his spot on the inside of the front row for the first race of the weekend. French was focused on pushing his comfort level with the car, and timed in 12th during the short 30-minute session.
In the opening race on Saturday, the temperatures were high and the sun was out, which worked the series’ Cooper tires to their limits. Veach got out front early and handled a lap eight restart with ease, eventually pulling away to a dominant victory. His run was not without excitement however; as Zach ran the car on the ragged edge and was forced to manage some precarious oversteer drifts through the challenging downhill off-camber Carousel turn. French drove a smart and steady race and steered clear of the on-track excitement, bringing home an eighth place finish in his debut.
On Sunday, rain pounded the facility and the Indy Lights drivers started the 20-lap event on the treaded Cooper rain tires. The track would dry significantly in the latter stages of the race, so those who had track position and remained on the wets needed to tread lightly to preserve their tires. The strong start for both Belardi drivers put them in this situation. Veach ran second in the early going, while French took up station just outside the top-10. Midway through the race, a spin on the exit of turn five dropped Veach to sixth but he continued to push and then benefitted from an incident involving his competition to advance to third in the final results. It was the best weekend of the year for the talented young American. French performed flawlessly in the difficult conditions and he, too, avoided the aggressive driving in the front of the field and scored another eighth place finish. It was a tremendous debut display from the 24-year-old.
Following their Road America success, the team headed straight for Iowa Speedway for an official series test on Tuesday with Veach behind the wheel. The Indy Lights series will race on the fast 7/8 mile oval on the July 9-10.
BELARDI AUTO RACING – DRIVER RESULTS AND QUOTES
Zach Veach – #5
Race #1: 1st
Race #2: 3rd
Driver Quote: “After Road America, I feel on top of the world. To be able to go up there, break the track record, grab the pole, win and finish third, I feel like the old ‘Zach Veach’ is back. I’ve matured into this new Indy Lights car and it’s finally starting to make sense to me. Another highlight of this weekend was getting the win for my team owner Brian Belardi at his home track. This win was for them. Belardi Auto Racing has given me a second chance to chase my dream and I expect to see us back towards the top next weekend at Iowa!”
James French – #45
Race #1: 8th
Race #2: 8th
Driver Quote: “I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to race with Belardi Auto Racing. There was a lot of learning in a very short amount of time, but I think it was all very positive. My coach JJ (Jonatan Jorge) and engineer Len (Paskus) were very good at showing me where I needed work, but they also were encouraging in the sections where we were close. The changing weather and new competition made for two challenging races, but I think we were able to end with two good results. Of course, I’d like to finish more towards the front, but I really wanted to make the best of this opportunity without making any big mistakes. The Belardi crew was a pleasure to work with, and I can’t thank them all enough for making me feel right at home. It was really amazing to have IndyCar back at Road America, and I think the thousands of fans and all who participated would agree. I’m happy that so many of my friends and family were able to come to the event, and got to enjoy the awesome show put on by Road America and IndyCar. I hope it’s on the calendar for years to come, and that one day I can find a way to be part of it.”