Belardi Auto Racing takes the crown in tight battle that ends in a tie.
Less than nine hours after a major earthquake hit the Napa Valley region of Northern California, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires contingent took to the nearby Sonoma Raceway road course for their eagerly awaited championship finale. Title rivals Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey (in photo) were separated by just a dozen points after 13 races.
The 38-lap race might not have replicated yesterday's action-packed closer to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, but there was still plenty of drama as Harvey swept to another emphatic victory for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport with Curb-Agajanian. The Englishman had done all he could in the #42 Racing Steps Foundation Dallara. His fourth race win of the season tied him on championship points and race wins with series leader Chaves (Belardi Auto Racing), but it was the Colombian-American who would take home the championship crown - and a $750,000 Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship to assist with the advancement to next year's Verizon IndyCar Series - by virtue of his tally of five second-place finishes to Harvey's one.
Just as on the previous road course event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Harvey was effectively in a class of his own on the undulating and challenging 2.385-mile natural terrain road course. The 21-year-old from Lincoln, England, started from the pole for the second day running and his only moments of concern came even before the green flag fell as the first two attempts at a start were waved off due to a misalignment of the field. Harvey was adjudged to have anticipated the first attempt, while Chaves was at fault at the next go-round. Thankfully, the third time worked a charm.
Harvey took advantage of his pole position to assume the lead heading up the hill, while Chaves slotted neatly into second. A fine start by Colombian Juan Piedrahita (SPM w/Curb-Agajanian) enabled him to jump fellow second row starter and teammate Luiz Razia for third, while the third title contender, Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport), somehow managed to work his way from eighth to fourth.
Harvey made a break
So far as the front of the field was concerned, that was about it. Harvey made an immediate break, setting what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race (worth one championship point) on Lap 6, then pulled away with every single lap. He ultimately finished a full 18.7018 seconds clear of Chaves, who nevertheless had achieved his goal. Second place was all he needed to clinch the championship.
Piedrahita held off a long train of cars for the majority of the race before making a couple of mistakes under braking for the Turn Nine chicane and sliding across the dirt. The second one cost him dearly, as both Veach and Razia had made their way past before Turn 11.
Veach held onto third in the face of intense race-long pressure from Razia, while Matthew Brabham finished fifth in the second Andretti Autosport entry.
Harvey's victory and Razia's fourth-place finish was enough to clinch the Team Championship for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
Veach takes move of the race
Veach earned the RePlay XD Move of the Race for passing four cars on the first lap of the race. Additional contingency awards included a customized Race Energy charger - the official battery of the ladder series to the winning team of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
"It was the longest race of my life," Chaves said. "There was no reason to push to keep up with Jack - it's a game of speed, but it's also a game of consistency and strategy. We really won the title with tire strategy this weekend. I knew that if I got the bonus point Saturday for the fastest lap, I could finish second in both races and win. But it was just a mix of happiness and excitement at the end. I was asked about the future yesterday and I said that if I won, I was sure I could figure out something for IndyCar next year."
As for Harvey: "What a strange day - it's the worst I've ever felt after winning a race. But we've had a good season. Perhaps a bit of inexperience in Indy Lights over the first three races cost us the championship, not being competitive in Long Beach and Barber. If I could change any two races, it would be them. I've never lost a championship because of the number of second-place finishes. The only thing I said to the team today was 'if we can't win the championship, let's go out and win the race, try to lead the most laps and get the fastest race lap and win by as big a margin as we can.' I certainly feel as though we were the guys to beat in the second half of the season. I'm hoping to stay out here and do Indy Lights again next year, if not IndyCar. So if I can stay here, that's what I'm going to do."