By Steve Wittich
Zachary Claman’s second career trip to Indy Lights victory lane extended a Belardi Auto Racing’s St. Petersburg, Fla. win streak to four years.
The 20-year-old joins Felix Rosenqvist, Aaron Telitz, and Santi Urrutia as winners on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
The Montreal, Quebec native led every lap, but that doesn’t mean he had a comfortable drive with newcomer Toby Sowery finishing only seven-tenths of a second behind Claman.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Claman after the race. “I pulled a good gap early, but he (Sowery) came on late. I did just find out he had new tires to start, so that gives me some relief. We have some work to do for tomorrow, and all my focus is on tomorrow now.”
Sowery, who only got the call to drive the No. 2 BN Racing / Team Pelfrey entry while he was at work two days before he needed to be on track for testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway never dreamed a situation could happen.
“No really, no,” said the 22-year old when asked if he could dream up this situation. “It was similar in Road America, but in that situation I got a weeks notice, whereas here it was a phone call, catch a flight to get here ASAP. I didn’t think I’d be here at all.”
The Cambridge, England native has three straight second-place Road To Indy finishes gave the BN Racing / Team Pelfrey crew credit for giving him a competitive car, saying:
“It was pretty dialed in. The team has done a remarkable job of putting a reliable and comfortable car underneath me. The car has been really good.”
Andretti Autosport rookie Oliver Askew started third and finished third in his first Indy Lights race. The Jupiter, Fla. native now has three career Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires poles in his home state and was happy with his result.
“A podium was the goal, said the 22-year-old, about his 17th career Road To Indy podium. “I was happy to get through cleanly because this track can really take away points, but I didn’t have much for the guys at the end. We had a good day today – P3 in the race and pole for tomorrow’s race, so I think we made a statement today, and we plan to keep the momentum going into the future.”
The first Indy Lights race of the 2019 season was run in the heat of the day, and that is likely what led to a relatively uneventful 35 lap race.
Claman, who was starting on pole for the first time in 34 previous Indy Lights races got a fair but good jump on outside front row starter Sowery, who has only made four other rolling starts in his career, in the previous Road To Indy starts.
David Malukas was able to get past Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) on the first circuit on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, which ended up being the only pass for position.
The first ten laps featured spirited battles between Malukas and Askew for the final spot on the podium, as well as VeeKay and Megennis for the fifth spot. The trailing drivers made spirited pass attempts but were not able to complete them.
After the race, podium finisher Askew told TSO that the warmer ambient and track temperatures were likely to blame for a change in balance, lower downforce and race lap times that were over a second slower than last year.
Conditions for the second race of the weekend, which rolls off at 10:05 a.m. on Sunday morning should be more conducive to exciting racing.
The top eight drivers had race lap times within a second of each other, proving that field is close.
Ryan Norman ended the race in seventh, but it could have been much worse. The championship contender made massive Turn 9 contact in qualifying only hours before the race. The Andretti Autosport Indy Lights crew worked hard and was able to get the No. 48 EVO sponsored car to the grid.
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products Race #1 Results
|1||13||Zachary Claman||Belardi Auto Racing||35 LAPS|
|2||2||Toby Sowery||BN Racing/Team Pelfrey||-0.7271|
|3||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport||-4.3757|
|4||79||David Malukas||BN Racing||-8.1375|
|5||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||-10.6064|
|6||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-21.4424|
|7||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||-23.4315|
|8||4||Julien Falchero||Belardi Auto Racing||-26.9144|
|9||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||-54.3808|
|10||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||-1 LAPS|
The second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend roles off at 10:05 a.m. on Sunday.
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