By Steve Wittich
A drying track combined with 31 laps on durable but grippy Cooper Tire wet weather tires meant plenty of sliding around late in the race, giving the fans at Barber Motorsports Park a thrilling finish to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The first activity of what started as a damp race day.
The timed race had 42 passes for position, with winner Linus Lundqvist (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing) barely denying Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group) the 43rd pass after crossing the finish line separated by a tenth of a second.
Lundqvist, with his fourth Indy Lights win and 19th in American junior open-wheel action, faced race-long pressure from Pedersen, never having more than a two-second lead.
“One trickiest races I’ve done where it started off in the wet, but quickly a dry line started to appear,” explained the new Indy Lights points leader. “It was just about looking after your tires. Once it starts to dry around this place, it goes pretty fast.
“I tried to keep some life in my tire, which wasn’t easy. Benjamin did a good job and gave me a good run for my money all the way up until the checkered flag. Yeah, really happy to get away with the win.”
The 2022 Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Alabama is the second straight year that the Swede has visited the top step of the podium at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course after a flag-to-flag victory drive, marking the 14th time in 17 Indy Lights races that the pole-sitter has won the race.
HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing have now won three races at Barber Motorsports Park and 12 overall in Indy Lights
Pedersen, who came up just short for his first Indy Lights victory, continued with a valuable blend of consistency and pace. The 22-year-old, who has been embedded with the A.J. Foyt Racing team for the season, has stood on the podium in six of the last ten Indy Lights races he contested.
Definitely not discouraging,” said Pedersen to TSO Ladder when asked about being so close to a win but falling short. “It’s really important to always be in the mix. We were really close today to getting the first one.
“I’d much rather finish second than fifth in terms of a championship perspective.
I’m patient. I’m putting in a lot of work. I’m sure it’s coming soon.”
Lundqvist and Pederson have now shared an Indy Lights podium five times. The Barber Motorsports Park podiums are the team’s 45th and 46th.
Andretti Autosport’s Sting Ray Robb rounded out the podium, grabbing his first career Indy Lights top-three finish, moving to fourth place in the championship.
I am happy with third,” said the 20-year-old who now has 18 Road To Indy podiums. “I think it was a good run. These guys were in a whole ‘nother ZIP code, it seems like—so good job to you guys.
“Just talking to them on the way up here, it sounded like they had a little bit of excitement at the end. I wish I had been a little closer to have seen that in person.
“Yeah, I’m happy with it. First podium of the year. First podium of my Indy Lights career. We will move forward and head to Indy GP with our heads held high.”
It’s the 202nd all-time podium for an Andretti Autosport driver, moving them out of a tie with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Schmidt) at the top of the all-time list. The Indianapolis, Ind.-based team now holds the all-time lead in poles and podiums and trails Schmidt by only two on the wins list.
Robb’s trip to the podium is Andretti Autosport’s 17th at Barber Motorsports Park. The Idahoan joins a list of distinguished names, including Devlin DeFrancesco, Colton Herta, Nico Jamin, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz, Pato O’Ward, Dean Stoneman, Zach Veach, and Stefan Wilson.
After leading both practice sessions, Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing) was disappointed with his outside fourth row starting spot.
However, the 20-year-old from Singapore excelled in the difficult conditions, mixing aggression and patience, gaining four spots to finish fourth.
The fourth-place finish is the ninth time Frost has finished in the top five in Indy Lights, and it’s his 31st Road To Indy top-five, giving him a top-five finish percentage of 50%.
TJ Speed Motorsports rookie Kyffin Simpson, sporting a fresh red, white and blue livery on his No. 21, captured his first Indy Lights top five after fighting for a podium spot for much of the race.
Points leader and winner in St. Petersburg, Matthew Brabham’s (Andretti Autosport) chaotic race included moving up and down the timing screens, a solo spin while chasing after a podium spot, and unfortunate contact with a teammate battling for the top five.
“What a race,” said Brabham after getting out of the MasterMine sponsored No. 83. “That was pretty messy. Obviously, it was going to be pretty messy because it was raining, and the track was drying out.
“I was like a yo-yo out there. I went from eighth all the way to fourth; I was challenging for a podium. I was by far the fastest car on the track. I think I had a shot at being in the top three – maybe even win the race, because I was running a few seconds faster than the leaders in the middle part of the race.
Then I made a mistake and ran off, did a 360, and spun. I went all the way to the back and then came through to the front.
“I was in fourth and got hit and spun again. We kept going but finished the race seventh. Pretty eventful. Disappointed with the result, but we had some speed in the wet there. It is what it is. We’ll take the car to the next one. Big thank you to the team and MasterMine for the weekend.”
After a wet and wild early morning at the Barber Motorsports Park that included rain, wind, and lightning, the Indy Lights race was close to starting on time at 10 am, as the lightning hold ended at 9:40 am.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team and track crews worked hard to get the track ready for racing at the scheduled start time.
The command to fire the 14 turbo-charged 2.0L AER engines came at 10:10 am.
Before the start of the 45-minute timed event, race control announced that the race would start after two pace laps (when the clock started) and that it would be a single file start. Obviously, the race was declared wet, with the drivers starting on Cooper Tire rain tires.
Pole winner Lundqvist brought the field to the green flag after two laps behind the Honda Civic Type R pace car piloted by Oriol Servia.
The drivers impressively got cleanly through the first lap on the thoroughly wet track.
The teammates that started on the front row got a clean start, but the jostling for position in the spray was hot and heavy behind them.
Christian Rasmussen gained a spot, passing his Andretti Autosport teammate for the final spot on the podium.
Their teammate Hunter McElrea was the biggest loser on the first lap, dropping from fifth to seventh.
The running order after the first lap was Lundqvist, Pedersen, Rasmussen, Robb, Simpson, Manuel Sulaiman (HMD Motorsports w/ Dale Coyne Racing), McElrea, Frost, Brabham, Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), James Roe, Jr. (TJ Speed Motorsports), Ernie Francis, Jr. (Force Indy), Christian Bogle (HMD Motorsports w/ Dale Coyne Racing) and Antonio Serravalle (Abel Motorsports).
The big early loser was McElrea, dropping from his fifth starting spot to ninth.
On Lap 3, Simpson was putting pressure on Robb for fourth. Sulaiman was also part of that battle for fourth.
On Lap 4, Rasmussen, who was pressuring Pedersen for second place, made an impressive save in Turn 8, getting sideways before collecting the rear end and dropping four seconds behind Pedersen.
The first full course yellow of the day came out on Lap 6, when Christian Bogle’s No. 7 HMD Motorsports machine looped it in Turn 16, getting beached in the gravel and requiring the aid of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team to get extracted and his AER turbo-charged 2.0L four-cylinder restarted.
The yellow flag erased Lundqvist’s 2.5-second lead over Pedersen. Under yellow, the rest of the running order was Rasmussen, Robb, Simpson, Sulaiman, Frost, Brabham, McElrea, Abel, Roe, Francis, Jr., Serravalle, and Bogle.
Starter Aaron Likens displayed the green flag to start Lap 8 with 31 minutes and 53 seconds remaining on the clock. On the restart, Frost and Rasmussen had issues in Turn 1 and Turn 2, respectively.
Frost was squeezed onto the curbing at the exit of Turn 1, while Rasmussen went too deep into Turn 2 and 3, pushing into the grass and dropping from third to seventh.
That promoted 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion Robb, into the final podium spot.
On Lap 11, with 26 minutes remaining, Sulaiman made an effort to get by Simpson for fourth in Turn 5 but couldn’t complete the move after struggling to get the power down.
With 13 laps complete, Lundqvist’s lead over Pedersen was 2.1 seconds. The pair of Nordic teammates had cleared Robb in third by almost six seconds.
On Lap 14, at the crossed flags signifying the halfway mark of the 45-minute timed race, Pedersen was the first driver to turn a lap under 87 seconds, moving to within 1.8 seconds of his teammate.
On Lap 16, Brabham was able to get the power down better than Sulaiman exiting Charlotte’s Web, getting by the HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing pilot before the Turn 8 chicane.
On the next lap, Sulaiman and Rasmussen were nose-to-tail on the run to Turn 5, fighting for 6th place when the No. 28 of Rasmussen made contact with Sulaiman’s No. 59.
The reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion Rasmussen lost his front wing and went through the gravel but was able to continue.
Sulaiman continued, but with suspension damage, fell down the timing screens to ninth.
Race control reviewed the incident and decided that no action was necessary.
After quick repairs, Rasmussen had the quickest lap of the race on the final lap of the race. It’s the second straight race to start the 2022 season that the Dane was the fastest driver.
“An unfortunate end here at the race at Barber,” said Rasmussen. “I ended up crashing out at the end with another driver with a questionable move. Tough one today because we were really quick at the end; I think I had the fastest lap by 1.2 seconds or so. Just an unfortunate end, but hopefully, we will be able to bounce back at Indy.”
On Lap 18, Brabham, who had patiently moved from his ninth starting spot, got by Simpson to move up to fourth. The American-born Aussie was 1.6 seconds behind his teammate Robb for the final spot on the podium. Frost and McElrea got around a damaged Sulaiman for sixth and seventh on the same lap.
With 14 minutes remaining, Brabham was catching Robb but spun at the exit of Turn 2, dropping from fourth and eight seconds behind the leader to seventh and 21 seconds behind Lundqvist.
At the back of the field, with 11 minutes remaining, Serravalle pushed Roe for 11th, making an impressive outside pass in Turn 12 and Turn 13. In front of them, Sulaiman lost another position; this time, it was to the No. 99 of Ernie Francis, Jr.
With ten minutes remaining, Lundqvist’s lead over Pedersen was 2.2 seconds.
Throughout the next two laps, the quickest driver in both practice sessions, Frost was on the move, passing McElrea and Simpson, to move to fourth. Simpson lost another two spots, this time to Brabham and McElrea.
With six minutes remaining, Pedersen had closed the gap to leader Lundqvist, closing to within 1.1 seconds of the leader. The Global Racing Group driver was clearly quicker with the wet weather tires on a drying track, closing the gap to 0.6 seconds with five minutes remaining.
While Pedersen was pressuring Lundqvist, other drivers were battling for position. A pair of American-born Aussie drivers, Brabham and McElrea, were fighting for fifth. With two and a half minutes remaining, the two made contact in Turn 5. The No. 27 of McElrea missed his braking point, contacting his teammate and damaging his right front suspension. Brabham was able to continue, finishing seventh.
McElrea continued for a few hundred feet but was forced to pull over; his second straight did not finish (DNF) to start the 2022 season. Before this season, McElrea had only a single DNF in 50 previous Road To Indy starts.
McElrea was given a penalty for avoidable contact with the consequences pending.
“Unfortunately, not the result we wanted, said McElrea. “It was a crazy race. I drove way back at the start and struggled a little bit but was the fastest car on the track in the second half and climbing up.
“I was in the top five there at the end, and unfortunately, I made a slight error and spun around my teammate Matt.
“I’m angry at that – as an Andretti driver, that’s not what you want to do to a teammate. I feel bad for the team and for not delivering for them. I’ll put my head down and do better for it, but I’m very disappointed and very apologetic to Matt and the team.”
Lundqvist saw the white flag only 0.3 seconds before Pedersen.
The chaser followed closely through the first two-thirds of the lap, with both drivers drifting and sliding on in every corner. Pedersen was under the gearbox of his teammate from Turn 12 through Turn 17, giving Lundqvist a love tap in the final corner.
As they got to the front straight, Pedersen faked inside before popping to the outside, crossing the line only 0.1782 seconds behind Lundqvist.
That slim margin of victory is the closest Indy Lights race held on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course.
Due to the wet track, the race’s average speed was 93.040mph, the second slowed Indy Lights race at Barber Motorsports Park.
Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Alabama Race Results
|1||26||Linus Lundqvist||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||31 LAPS|
|2||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group with HMD||-0.1782|
|3||2||Sting Ray Robb||Andretti Autosport||-7.7798|
|4||68||Danial Frost||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||-8.2787|
|5||21||Kyffin Simpson||TJ Speed Motorsports||-24.9462|
|6||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||-26.1443|
|7||83||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||-28.4906|
|8||99||Ernie Francis Jr||Force Indy||-41.2256|
|9||11||Antonio Serravalle||Abel Motorsports||-48.2387|
|10||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||-65.7804|
|11||28||Christian Rasmussen||Andretti Autosport||-67.7199|
|12||27||Hunter McElrea||Andretti Autosport||-3 LAPS|
|13||12||James Roe||TJ Speed Motorsports||-7 LAPS|
|14||7||Christian Bogle||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||-7 LAPS|
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points standings after two races
|1||Linus Lundqvist||HMD Motorsports||89|
|2||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/HMD||80|
|3||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||77|
|4||Sting Ray Robb||Andretti Autosport||67|
|5||Danial Frost||HMD Motorsports||62|
|6||Ernie Francis, Jr. – R||Force Indy||50|
|7||Kyffin Simpson – R||TJ Speed Motorsports||49|
|8||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports||48|
|9||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||48|
|10||Antonio Serravalle||Abel Motorsports||46|
|11||Christian Rasmussen – R||Andretti Autosport||40|
|12||Christian Bogle||HMD Motorsports||38|
|13||Hunter McElrea – R||Andretti Autosport||36|
|14||James Roe, Jr. – R||TJ Speed Motorsports||34|
The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers and teams are back on track for a double-header on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13th and 14th.