By Steve Wittich
These are the basic Indy Lights race notes; we’ll fill this report in a little later.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekial Elliot called to fire the AER 2.0L turbocharged engines in the first Indy Lights race since Penske Entertainment took back over the promotion of the top rung the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
All fourteen cars started, rolling out onto the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for a pair of pace laps, before the front row of Hunter McElrea (Andretti Autosport) and Linus Lundqvist (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing) brought the seven rows to the green flag.
McElrea got a great jump when the green flag came out, but behind him, the drivers that started second, third, and fourth – Lundqvist (Andretti Autosport), Sting Ray Robb (Andretti Autosport), and Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD) – went three-wide, with Robb grabbing the inside position.
All three drivers locked up in the tricky braking zone, with Robb and Lundqvist going wide, opening the door for Christian Rasmussen (Andretti Autosport) from the fifth starting spot and Matthew Brabham (Andretti Autosport) from the sixth starting spot to dive inside the drivers who started in front of him.
The running order after the first lap of action was McElrea, Rasmussen, Brabham, Pedersen, Lundqvist, Robb, Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports), Manuel Sulaiman (HMD Motorsports), Kyffin Simpson (TJ Speed Motorsports), James Roe (TJ Speed Motorsports), Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), Christian Bogle (HMD Motorsports), Ernie Francis, Jr. (Force Indy) and Antonio Serravalle (Abel Motorsports).
On Lap 2, Francis made up his second position in as many laps, moving up to 12th after getting around Bogle.
On Lap 3, Roe, who was running 11th, nosed into the tires in Turn 4. He could back his No. 12 TJ Speed Motorsports machine up and continue to the pits.
After five laps, McElrea’s lead over his teammate Rasmussen was 1.0 seconds, who had a 1.8-second gap to their veteran teammate Brabham.
The field settled in nicely, with McElrea cruising with a three-second lead until a small mistake in the final corner ended in the wall as he was completing his 13th lap. He caught the rear end after getting loose but ended up pointing towards the wall, making moderate contact with the left front.
That brought out the yellow flag and handed the lead to Christian Rasmussen.
Under yellow, the running order was Rasmussen, Brabham, Pedersen, Lundqvist, Robb, Frost, Sulaiman, Simpson, Able, Francis, Serravalle, Bogle, Roe, and McElrea (out due to contact).
The reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion brought the field back to green to start lap 17.
The No. 28 of Rasmussen got a significant jump, with Brabham locking up his left front in Turn 1.
On the first lap back to green, Simpson made a late dive-bomb on Abel into Turn 4, spinning Abel’s No. 51 and flattening the Cooper tire of Simpson. Abel stalled, bringing out the second yellow flag of the race. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team got him going again, and Simpson came to pit road for a tire change. Simpson was handed an avoidable contact penalty, restarting from the back of the field.
After quick work by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team, the green flag came back out to start Lap 18. Once again, Rasmussen jumped out to a comfortable lead before getting to Turn 1. Behind the front group, Lundqvist, Robb, and Frost went three-wide into Turn 1.
Rasmussen’s lead over Brabham after 20 laps was 1.5 seconds, with Pederson within a second of the series returnee.
On Lap 23, Rasmussen turned the quickest lap of the race, building the gap at the head of the field to just over two seconds.
Brabham was pushing hard, making light contact with the concrete barrier at the exit of Turn 13. However, it appeared he didn’t sustain damage as his lap times continued to match Rasmussen.
With 15 laps remaining, Pedersen was starting to catch Brabham but was also facing pressure from Lundqvist for the final spot on the podium.
With 13 laps to go, Roe carried too much speed into Turn 10, nosing into the tires for the second time. But, once again, he could back out and continue to pit road.
The best battle on the track was between Lundqvist and Robb, with only a half-second separating the veterans.
Rasmussen’s lead over Brabham with ten laps remaining was 1.7 seconds. Pederson faced pressure from Lundqvist and Robb for the final spot on the podium, with both drivers within 1.2 seconds of the Dane in the No. 24.
On Lap 36, the Cooper Tires were hanging on well, with Rasmussen and Brabham both turning their quickest laps of the race.
With five laps remaining, Lundqvist turned his quickest lap of the race and was within a half-second of his teammate for the last spot on the podium.
Rasmussen’s lead with two laps remaining was over three seconds, but his engine sputtered in Turn 9, and he rolled to a stop reporting that his fuel pressure light was on. We were told that that could be a problem with the extra five laps in the Indy Lights Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg.
That passed the lead over to veteran Brabham, who led the final two laps on the way to his second career Indy Lights win.
|1||83||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||45||LAP 45|
|2||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports||45||2.4726|
|3||26||Linus Lundqvist||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||45||3.7179|
|4||2||Sting Ray Robb||Andretti Autosport||45||4.6470|
|5||68||Danial Frost||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||45||9.6321|
|6||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||45||14.4322|
|7||99||Ernie Francis Jr||Force Indy||45||38.8998|
|8||11||Antonio Serravalle||Abel Motorsports||45||39.2926|
|9||7||Christian Bogle||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||45||40.4748|
|10||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||45||46.6426|
|11||21||Kyffin Simpson||TJ Speed Motorsports||44||1 LAPS|
|12||28||Christian Rasmussen||Andretti Autosport||43||Contact|
|13||12||James Roe Jr||TJ Speed Motorsports||31||Contact|
|14||27||Hunter McElrea||Andretti Autosport||11||Contact|