Arie Luyendyk Jr. pulled through to score his first Indy Lights victory following a nail biting one-lap shootout Sunday in the SunRichGourmet.com 100 at Chicagoland Speedway. Luyendyk passed AFS Racing/Andretti Green teammate Raphael Matos on the final restart for the lead, holding off a hard-charging Ana Beatriz to take the win.
"The last restart I knew I needed to get it done," Luyendyk said. "It was a good opportunity, so I poked my nose through there and [Rafa] wasn't able to close the door in time. It was just a great feeling to finally get that win."
Luyendyk only led one lap, but it was the most important one that finally landed him in victory lane in his 62nd career start. The second-generation racer found his more mature driving style this year to really pay off, despite coming close to victory on a few other occasions. Luyendyk dominated the Iowa race in June, leading 101 laps, but finished second. He saved the best for last Sunday, in the season-finale.
"I think letting go of the frustration of not winning was the biggest thing," Luyendyk said. "Everyone was asking when I would win my first race. When you're in the car, you're overly aggressive. Instead of thinking about the big picture, you're thinking about getting ahead of the car in front of you, and doing anything for it. I really think patience really paid off today."
The AFS Racing/Andretti Green squad walked away with both the win and the championship following Matos' third place finish. The Brazilian headed into today's race with a four-point lead over Richard Antinucci, but the Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver was collected in a crash on lap 26, knocking him out of the race and title hunt.
"I didn't see the video yet but I know the No. 4 car washed up and clipped my tire," Antinucci said. "I'm sure he didn't want to do it on purpose, but he was racing as if it was me and Matos [for the championship]. It wasn't even an intelligent move. There was nowhere else to go. I think it was just a racing incident."
Antinucci's accident with Sean Guthrie effectively handed the championship to Matos, who dominated the race from the start. However, on the final restart with one lap to go, Matos allegedly missed a shift, giving way for teammate Luyendyk to pass on the inside. Matos had to settle for third, but claimed the Firestone Firehawk Cup in his rookie season.
"Unfortunately, by the time [Arie] passed me, 'Bia' was just pushing him," Matos explained. "I had nowhere to go and finished third. But it was the best third place in my life. I really enjoyed racing especially after seeing Richard in the grass. I knew we were the champions.
Matos claimed three wins and eight top-five finishes with AFS Racing/Andretti Green this season. The Brazilian now adds the Indy Lights trophy to his Atlantics, Star Mazda and Skip Barber National titles.
"We pretty much came up with the strategy yesterday and it worked out perfectly between me and Arie," Matos said. "We had a great feeling coming to this race and we were able to put a great effort together. I have to thank everyone at AFS and Andretti Green. We all deserve this one."
After challenging early on, Bobby Wilson in the No. 15 Panther Racing entry crossed the line in fourth, followed by Sam Schmidt Motorsports' James Davison rounding out the top-five.
Four cautions slowed the field for 19 laps. Dillon Battistini and Wade Cunningham crashed out on the opening lap after avoiding a spinning Daniel Herrington. J.R. Hildebrand brushed the wall on lap 8; with Antinucci's championship bid ending early on lap 26. Tom Dyer looped his Michael Crawford Motorsports machine on lap 63, which set up the one-lap shootout.