St. Pete: Series Sunday report

VERNAY WINS FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS DEBUT IN ST. PETERSBURG Storms force postponement of Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg until Monday ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (Sunday, March 28, 2010) - J.K. Vernay won his Firestone Indy Lights debut March 28, ...

VERNAY WINS FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS DEBUT IN ST. PETERSBURG
Storms force postponement of Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg until Monday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (Sunday, March 28, 2010) - J.K. Vernay won his Firestone Indy Lights debut March 28, dominating the rain-soaked Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Vernay, who started on the outside of the front row, held off fellow series rookie Jan Heylen on a Lap 29 restart in the No. 7 Lucas Slick Mist/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car and went on to an 11.2338-second victory in the shortened (from 45 laps to 35) race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.

Stefan Wilson drove from the 14th starting position to finish third in the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport car and Charlie Kimball tied his series-best finish of fourth in the No. 26 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport car.

Cars started the race on slicks, with pole sitter James Hinchcliffe punted in Turn 1 of the first green flag lap by the No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car driven by Philip Major. He was looking to make a big move on the inside (started ninth) but braked too late to make the sharp right-hand turn.

Sebastian Saavedra emerged as the leader -- until he spun in Turn 4 of Lap 5. Vernay was in position to avoid the mid-track mess and took the lead through a red flag at the completion of Lap 6 for crews to change to rain tires.

A full-course caution on Lap 26 when the No. 29 Bryan Herta Autosport car driven by Saavedra made contact with the tire barrier on the exit of Turn 7 was the lone challenge for Vernay to overcome. Heylen, who competed in nine Champ Car races in 2007, couldn't overtake Vernay on the restart with time running out.

Gustavo Yacaman, who started 10th in the No. 10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car, advanced five positions, while Martin Plowman finished sixth in the No. 27 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport car.

James Winslow and Jonathan Summerton finished seventh and eighth, respectively.

HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG NOTEBOOK:

Heavy thunderstorms forced the postponement of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, scheduled for Sunday, March 28, until 10 a.m. (ET) Monday, March 29.

The IZOD IndyCar Series race will be televised live on ESPN2.

Pole sitter Will Power will lead the field to the green flag on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit on the streets of St. Petersburg. Power is the series points leader after winning the season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 on March 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

This is the first IZOD IndyCar Series to be postponed by weather since the Indy Japan 300 in April 2008 at Twin Ring Motegi, won by Danica Patrick.

***

Sage Karam of Andretti Autosport swept both races for the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda at this event.

The USF2000 series is the entry level of the Road to Indy ladder system to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series. The middle level is the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear; the top level is Firestone Indy Lights.

The victories were the 49th and 50th for Michael Andretti as a team owner and the first two wins since his team was rebranded Andretti Autosport in late 2009.

***

ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little and boyfriend Cody Selman are engaged to be married. Selman proposed to Little in a waterfront park not far from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Street Circuit on Saturday, March 27.

JAMIE LITTLE: "He said he wanted to go by the water, and I said, 'OK.' He got on one knee and did the whole thing. It's ironic it comes on an IndyCar weekend because his (Cody's) dad and brother are here (working for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing)." (About her engagement ring): "I'm left-handed, so it's not going to be easy to hide!"

***

The FAZZT Race Team announced Saturday that development driver Maryeve Dufault will compete in three Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear for the team in 2010.

Dufault, from Sorel, Quebec, will race May 29 at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis, June 20 at Iowa Speedway and Aug. 15 at Trois-Rivieres in her native Quebec.

Dufault has an extensive racing background in karting, Formula Jim Russell, Skip Barber, Formula BMW and Star Mazda, and has tested in Formula 3 in England.

The Star Mazda series is the middle level of the Road to Indy ladder system to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series. The entry level is the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda; the top level is Firestone Indy Lights.

MARYEVE DUFAULT: "I am really excited to get back in the race car again, and I am so grateful for the support of the FAZZT Race Team in putting this program together. I've had experience in the Star Mazda Series, and with sponsor support I am looking forward to having a competitive ride and a good opportunity to hone my racing skills. I got the chance to watch the team in action today, and they look very professional and they seem to have an experienced group supporting the drivers."

***

Conor Daly won the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear race from the pole today. Daly, 18, from Noblesville, Ind., is the son of Indianapolis 500 and Formula One veteran Derek Daly.

The Star Mazda series is the middle level of the Road to Indy ladder system to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series. The entry level is the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda; the top level is Firestone Indy Lights.

***

Brendon Cleave will change the outside front tire for #77 Alex Tagliani today in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, replacing crew chief Don Oldenburg.

Oldenburg suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during an incident in the first pit stop at the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on March 14 and will have surgery in late April.

***

GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG (Firestone Indy Lights) POST-RACE NOTES:

* J.K. Vernay earned his first career Firestone Indy Lights victory in his first start in the series. The last driver to win in his first start was Junior Strous when he won this event in 2009.

* J.K. Vernay is the eighth driver to win in his first career Firestone Indy Lights start.

* The top two finishers in today's race, J.K. Vernay and Jan Heylen, made their first Firestone Indy Lights start.

* Third-place finisher Stefan Wilson made seven road/street course starts in Firestone Indy Lights in 2009 but still is classified as a series rookie in 2010.

* There were four series rookies among the top 10 finishers in today's race: J.K. Vernay (first), Jan Heylen (second), Stefan Wilson (third), James Winslow (seventh).

* Charlie Kimball finished fourth, tying his Firestone Indy Lights career best. He also was fourth in 2009 at Watkins Glen.

***

GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG (Firestone Indy Lights) POST-RACE QUOTES:

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 26 Levemir FlexPen, fourth): "We just held on. I made a little mistake early, and I got into Saavedra. Sorry about that. He was just going a little slower on slicks in the wet than I thought he should. But then we came in, and the guys did a great job changing the car. After that, it was all about being smart. Just hitting your marks and doing every lap as clean as possible."

JONATHAN SUMMERTON (No. 40 Wasteco Deans Knight Special, eighth): "When it started drying out in the middle stint, I was really looking forward to it staying green. We had a great car when it was dry. When it started downpouring there again, the car started to have a lot of oversteer. But it was a different race. You couldn't see anything in the end there. It was just like you were looking at nothing."

GUSTAVO YACAMAN (No. 10 Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing, fifth): "It was a really hard and long race. I had a good start on the outside, and I was able to make up some positions. I was really cautious on the restart, but I was able to move up to second place before they stopped the race due to conditions. From then on, it was a really long race. I made a couple of mistakes going into Turn 4 that cost us a podium finish. But at the end of the day, I kept it off the wall and a finished a solid fifth. I really want to thank all my crew for their support and determination during the weekend. They did a great job."

PHILIP MAJOR (No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports, 14th): "I made a mistake. I outbraked myself going into (Turn) 1, and I'm sorry it turned out the way it did."

STEFAN WILSON (No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport, third): "I want to thank all my crew guys for working hard late last night. I started the weekend off pretty happy with my car. I was position one in practice and position three in the race. I thought it was going to be a good weekend, but it was a bit of a roller coaster in qualifying. We had a small mistake and it cost me a great amount, and I had to start from the back of the field in the race. That quickly changed when the rain started to come down. People started going off the road as it was pretty slick out there. The white lines on the runway were treacherous, and a lot of people started making mistakes in front of me. I was in the P5 position, and after we went green after the break, I started moving up."

JAN HEYLEN (No. 17 Team E, second): "I hope that there will be more entrants after this race. I hope we got people motivated. The conditions were difficult, especially in Turn 1. I think we made a bad setup on the car. It was too bad I couldn't give my good friend Stefan a run for his money during the race. It was nice being back in the car. I have not been racing for almost three years. So it's good to be back, and I really hope that I can race in some more this year. I very much enjoyed it."

J.K. VERNAY (No. 7 Lucas Slick Mist/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, winner): "I am really happy today. It was a very good weekend since the start of practice. I didn't know this track, so I had to learn a lot. It helped with the work I did with my team. We had a great setup on the car. Practice after practice, I was pushing more and more, and we were there, so it was good. It was hard not to have the pole, but I was very careful on the first lap. I didn't want to crash at the start of the race. It was great to win in my first weekend in Indy Lights."

***

HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG RAIN POSTPONEMENT QUOTES:

BRIAN BARNHART (President, Competition and Racing Operations Division, Indy Racing League): "It's disappointing because the rain just produced a situation where on the racetrack - and even off the racetrack - some of the areas in the grass, such as the infield of Turns 13 and 14, are literally ponds right now. There is standing water inside on the grass at Turns 1 and 2. Also an issue is there's a place coming out of the pits that you can't tell where the asphalt and the grass line is. But it's less of an issue with that than it is with the standing water and rivers on the parts of the racetrack that don't have very good drainage. While our cars are equipped to run in the rain, we take the safety of our teams, event workers and fans very seriously. And with those conditions, even with the Firestone Firehawk rain tires and rain lights that we have, visibility would still be an issue. Checking the radar, there's still heavy rain coming and anticipation of the rain continuing through the middle of the night, through maybe 3 and 4 a.m. So we just felt it was in the best interest of everybody. And even if it stopped raining right now and cleared up, the standing water and rivers that are out there would take a couple of hours to clear up the way it's raining right now."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD): "It's for sure disappointing. I think it's going to be wet out there tomorrow. The biggest disappointment is for the fans. This is probably the best turnout for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg we've ever had, so to have them all out here and have them go home and come back out tomorrow is a disappointment for us. IZOD has been doing a lot of offseason advertising, and it's really ramped up for this U.S. race debut. Nonetheless, the series is very healthy, and everybody is ready to go."

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic): "I think it was a good decision to postpone the race for the safety of the fans and the teams. If we were to go out and try to race, maybe there would only be one car that would finish. The fans deserve to see a good race, so I hope the ones that were here are able to come back. The car was good in the warm-up this morning, so I know it will be good for the race in regular conditions."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 FAZZT Race Team): "It is always disappointing to not get to race not just for the teams, but especially for the fans. They came here for a great street course event expecting beautiful weather, and now this. Racing on Monday is unfortunately never the same as racing Sunday. I think we will be ready to race tomorrow. Our car was ready to race in tough conditions, so we'll wait and see what the forecast is for the weather tomorrow and make our last-minute decisions based on things tomorrow."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co. A.J. Foyt Racing): "You can't complain about what you can't control, but this is disappointing for the fans. This could play to our advantage, who knows? It will change the mindset because it will be a new track tomorrow. It will be green and have no grip, plus it will change a lot throughout the race. Adaptation is going to be key."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 67 Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing): "I'm disappointed the race didn't happen, but it just wasn't safe for any of us to be on track. I went around with Dario (Franchitti) and Brian Barnhart, and it was nowhere near racing conditions. I love driving in the rain and would have been the first to do it, but today it wasn't meant to be. Now we will focus on preparing ourselves and making everything better for tomorrow."

-source: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Michael Andretti , Alex Tagliani , Bryan Herta , Wayne Taylor , Sam Schmidt , Charlie Kimball , Skip Barber , Derek Daly , Jan Heylen , Will Power , Junior Strous , James Hinchcliffe , Phillip Major , Sebastian Saavedra , Martin Plowman , Jonathan Summerton , James Winslow , Jamie Little , Stefan Wilson , A.J. Foyt , Conor Daly , Gustavo Yacaman , Sage Karam
Teams Andretti Autosport , Bryan Herta Autosport , FAZZT Race Team , HART , Wayne Taylor Racing