St. Pete: J.K. Vernay race report

J.K. VERNAY DOMINATES RAIN SOAKED MELEE IN ST. PETE, FL ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Newcomer to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and a rookie in Firestone Indy Lights, CJ Driver J.K. Vernay took the rain soaked checkered flag in the downtown city street...

J.K. VERNAY DOMINATES RAIN SOAKED MELEE IN ST. PETE, FL

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Newcomer to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and a rookie in Firestone Indy Lights, CJ Driver J.K. Vernay took the rain soaked checkered flag in the downtown city street circuit of St. Petersburg, Florida, on Sunday afternoon in the season's first race.

J.K. ringed out his driving gloves for emphasis after climbing from the No. 7 Lucas Slick Mist/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car on pit lane. The soaking he received in the rain-saturated Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, though, was of little consequence as Vernay dominated in his Firestone Indy Lights debut and victory for the Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports/CJMotorsport entry.

The race was stopped after just a handful of laps so that competitors could change from slick tires to rain tires. When the race resumed, Vernay took the lead and never looked back as he dominated the remainder of the event, leading 31 of the races 35 laps.

Vernay, 22, who started on the outside of the front row, held off open-wheel racing veteran Jan Heylen on a Lap 29 restart 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.

"I didn't know this track, so I had to learn a lot," said Vernay, who competed in the Formula 3 Euro series the past three years (two victories and five podium finishes in 20 starts in 2009, including a new track record and a second place finish in the famed Macau Grand Prix). "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."

Team Owner, Sam Schmidt, "Anytime we come away with a victory, there's obviously some form of gratification. That was quite the event. The rain definitely threw everyone a curve ball, but it also gave J.K. the platform to showcase just how talented he is. I'm glad to get the season off on the right foot with a victory, and I hope it's the first of many for this year."

The debut race victory for Vernay was only the Eighth time an Indy Lights Driver has ever won in his Rookie debut and the fourth time Sam Schmidt Motorsports has won in St. Petersburg, and the 31st overall for the team (including a joint victory with Andretti Green Racing in 2006).

-source: jk vernay PR

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Jan Heylen