ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (Saturday, April 4, 2009) - Rookie Junior Strous became the seventh driver to win his first Firestone Indy Lights race, taking the checkered flag in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 1 by .7205 of a second ahead of rookie Jonathan Summerton.
Strous started second and passed pole sitter J.R. Hildebrand on Lap 23 following a restart. Strous led the final 18 laps to take the win.
Hildebrand finished third, and Ana Beatriz finished fourth.
The 27 Firestone Indy Lights drivers also qualified for the second race of the weekend doubleheader. Strous will start second in that race. Sebastian Saavedra won the pole.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS RACE 2 QUALIFYING NOTES
* Rookie Sebastien Saavedra wins the pole for Race 2, his first career pole. He will start third in Race 1 this afternoon.
* Saavedra's pole gives AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing a sweep of the pole positions for the two races. Saavedra's teammate, J.R. Hildebrand, won the pole for Race 1. Hildebrand will start third in Race 2.
* Junior Strous qualified second for the second consecutive day.
* James Davison qualified fourth for the second consecutive day.
* Richard Philippe qualified sixth. He is starting 27th in Race 1.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES
SEBASTIEN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., pole winner): (About first Firestone Indy Lights pole): "It's very exciting, especially considering this is my first Firestone Indy Lights race weekend. I'm very happy. My team did an awesome job. The Firestone tires were just amazing for the whole session. I'm just happy to be here and represent my country Columbia in these races." (About starting the race with his teammate behind him): "We're a good team and there's good communication with my teammate. We already have it sorted out, more or less, on how we want the race to go. Obviously, we never know how the pitch is going to come, but we're really positive and have a fast car. The team has done an awesome job with the engineering, so it's just up to us to show what we've got."
JUNIOR STROUS (No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP, second): "We had a good run, there were a lot of cautions. The car was good. We saved a set of tires because we didn't put on a new set of tires halfway through the session, so we have a new set for each race, which is good. The car was handling fine. It was a bit too low - we bottomed out a bit which made it hard. But I think it's a very good race car. I'm looking forward to racing it this afternoon."
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE NOTES:
* Junior Strous is the seventh driver to win in his first Firestone Indy Lights race. Dillon Battistini was the most recent driver to win his first start, winning the 2008 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
* Three of those first time winners did so at St. Petersburg (Marco Andretti, 2005; Raphael Matos, 2006; Strous)
* Jonathan Summerton finished second in his series debut.
* J.R. Hildebrand finished third, the third podium finish in 19 Firestone Indy Lights starts
* Ana Beatriz finished fourth, the 10th top-five finish of her career in 17 starts.
* Jay Howard finished fifth, the 10th top-five finish of his career in 15 starts.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE QUOTES:
JUNIOR STROUS (No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP, first): "This victory means so much, especially since we are a new team, Winner' Circle Group Racing. We only had one day of testing, and the guys worked so hard to get this together. I'd like to thank the crew and all of the sponsors for making this possible. It was a tough race. We had a not so good start. The tires weren't warmed up yet, so I lost two positions on the start and then managed to gain another three. It was amazing. I think I had a legendary take-over maneuver in Turn 1, which kudos to JR Hildebrand, who did some great driving to give the space and not crash."
JONATHAN SUMMERTON (No. 9 Anderson/Allied Interior Products, second): "I stayed clean on the start and just paid attention to where everyone was going. It was chaos. You could see it coming. Then I basically kept following Junior (Strous). Each pass he made, I just kept following him. It was really good. I think we had a quicker car, but in the end, following him was a little rough. I lost some of the downforce on the car. All in all, I'm quite happy with second place."
J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 26 ARPRO, third): "We got out to a good lead at the beginning. A couple yellows came out, and after the second yellow the car wasn't pulling off the top end down the straight. I had a tough time getting into sixth gear. It turns out that we had a battery going dead. That just held me up down the straights. I was kind of a sitting duck. Other than that, the car was really good. I think we even set a fast lap, even with it like that. The car is good. We just have to throw some things out so we can keep down the straight tomorrow."
ANA BEATRIZ (No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Mtrspts, fourth): "It was fantastic. I had a lot of fun. We were overtaking a lot of people. We had amazing restarts today. Unfortunately at the end, I lost the rear in corner one and (J.R.) Hildebrand passed me again. I couldn't see anything. My tear-offs were so dirty with oil and dirt and I missed a brake. I think the Sam Schmidt Healthy Choice team deserved a podium today, but we have another race tomorrow so we'll see. I feel confident going into tomorrow's race. I think we have a pretty good car. At the end it was hard. It was really hot, and we had a lot of oversteer, but we can fix that and try to get better points tomorrow. We are starting better tomorr ow, so I think we have a good chance."
JAY HOWARD (No. 37 Palm Beach International Raceway, fifth): "It was pretty exciting. There was a lot of stuff going on. I actually made contact with Bia (Ana Beatriz) at the start. I don't think it was her fault. She just slid wide and didn't anticipate how slippery it was. With the trucks out there brushing the track prior, it was real dusty and got really, really bad. I think I must have started about 12th, because several people went by me. But I just kept going, stayed smart, and kept picking them off one by one, and ended up with a good result."
SUNDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
6 a.m. Garages open
9:30 a.m. Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 2 pre-race
10 a.m. Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 2 (40 laps/72 miles)