Leist takes stunning Freedom 100 victory
Matheus Leist took the most coveted victory of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season today, with a flawless flag to flag victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 18-year-old Brazilian dominated his debut race on an oval to take victory in the Freedom 100 in stunning fashion. It was a successful day for the British team’s Indy Lights squad, with all four cars coming home in the top seven. Neil Alberico just missed out on a podium spot in fourth, Zach Claman DeMelo claimed sixth just ahead of Garth Rickards with his best Indy Lights finish in seventh.
The blue riband event of the Indy Lights Series got underway at the first attempt this afternoon, as pole sitter Leist made a strong start. Behind him second place starter Colton Herta tangled with team mate Ryan Norman at turn 2, the pair both having to retire. Claman DeMelo, Alberico and Rickards meanwhile had all made lightning starts, and were second, fourth and seventh at the end of lap one as the race came under full course yellow.
At the restart Rising Star racer Alberico was on the move, climbing to third place behind Claman DeMelo to make it a Carlin 1-2-3 for several laps. The Californian couldn’t quite hold position though and dropped back to fifth as DeMelo also came under pressure from behind and dropped back to third after Dalton Kellett found a way through.
At the half way point, Leist still held the lead, with Alberico now fourth, DeMelo fifth and Rickards eighth. Coming under pressure from Aaron Telitz, Leist was defending for all his worth in a battle that would rage for several laps. Telitz got close several times, the pair even racing side by side for half a lap but still the Carlin rookie held onto the lead.
With Telitz distracted by his fight with Leist, Kellett managed to muscle his way back through to second and take up the challenge on Leist. Still the Brazilian held on, looking unflustered as he pulled out a slightly larger gap on the field. Rickards meanwhile was enjoying his strongest race of the season so far, passing Juan Piedrahita to claim seventh in the closing stages.
As the 40 laps drew to a close, it was Leist who took the chequered flag first, just a year after Carlin’s 2016 Indy Lights champion Ed Jones lost out on victory to Dean Stoneman by the smallest of margins.
Freedom 100 winner Leist said, “This is a dream that came true today. I have no words to describe this feeling. It is an amazing day for me and the team. Thanks to everyone who has helped me get here, thanks to everyone.
“I knew it was going to be a tough race, but the car was very very good. When the guys came up behind me I thought it would be good. I thought, I’ll just keep calm and when they’ve passed me I’ll overtake them again. But they didn’t get pass me, I kept them behind me. I have no words to describe this. Thanks to the team, I just want to celebrate with them now.”
A delighted Trevor Carlin added, “It’s incredible to take the victory today. Last year was so close with Ed [Jones]; as they crossed the line I thought we’d won and had to look at the timing screen to see that we’d lost by the smallest of margins. But Matheus literally didn’t put a wheel wrong. To lead from flag to flag is really quite incredible. To have all cars not only finish but all finish in the top seven is testament to the hard work from everyone involved. I’m delighted.”