Things could hardly have gone better for Junior Strous and Winners Circle Group, who finished off an unlikely weekend sweep of the Firestone Indy Lights Series doubleheader weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Strous is the third...
Things could hardly have gone better for Junior Strous and Winners Circle Group, who finished off an unlikely weekend sweep of the Firestone Indy Lights Series doubleheader weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Strous is the third driver to sweep the St. Petersburg doubleheader. Defending series champion Raphael Matos did that in his debut weekend in 2006, while Alex Lloyd kicked off his 2007 title-winning season with the same result in St. Pete in the same year.
"The team has done an amazing job," Strous said. "We saved our tires in qualifying, so for both races we had a new set of tires while the other guys ran used tires. Both races it was hard to get the temperature in, but after about ten laps the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race."
Strous repeated his feat of a day earlier by starting second and passing the pole-sitting AFS/Andretti Green Racing entry at turn one off a restart. There were many of those on this day, with six full course cautions that interrupted the race's flow.
On this occasion the AFS/AGR car that fell victim to Strous's move was Sebastian Saavedra on lap 33. Saavedra had led all but one lap to that point.
"We had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could," Saavedra said. "In the last restart, I don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tires, so I was not able to break (Strous). But I'm happy."
The Colombian rebounded nicely from a fraught race yesterday to finish second, 0.4428 of a second adrift, with James Hinchcliffe earning his first series podium in third for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Jonathan Summerton and Daniel Herrington completed the top five.
"I don't think you could have asked for much more," said Summerton, who started 14th. "My goal was top five and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It's just a shame we couldn't get clear air to run the lap times because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure. We started off rough and ended on a high."
Saavedra led most of the race while chaos was going on behind him. It didn't start that way. His teammate, J.R. Hildebrand, got a great jump from the get-go to pass both front row starters into turn one.
That didn't last long as Duncan Tappy stuffed his Genoa Racing entry into the barriers on the first lap to bring out the first yellow flag. Hildebrand's start was deemed too much of a jump from race control and he was ordered behind Saavedra and Strous.
Things stabilized at the front of the order until lap 12 when Hildebrand took second from Strous, to begin a charge on his teammate.
Down the order, in a scrappy battle for 19th, Ali Jackson and Pippa Mann were very close until Mann locked her brakes into turn eight. Jackson had nowhere to go but under Mann's rear wing, up-ending the Panther Racing rookie to bring out full course caution number two. Logan Gomez and Pablo Donoso also retired at this time with mechanical issues.
The lap 16 restart saw Ana Beatriz pass James Davison for fourth, while Mann's teammate Martin Plowman spun at turn one from P11. Mann, who had since returned from her earlier accident, brought out another yellow after stalling again at turn eight.
Another restart and another ensuing caution followed - this time in a chain- reaction effect. Strous had a run on Hildebrand for second in the fast turns 12 and 13 chicane, but had the door shut which backed up everyone behind them. Richard Philippe punted Davison into a spin, negating each of their top-six runs.
Strous wasn't done trying a pass on Hildebrand. On the restart he made a daring move on Hildebrand into turn one, but as Hildebrand again fell off line and into the marbles, he collided with Beatriz. The two series veterans were done on the spot as the yellow flag waved for the fifth time. Stefan Wilson also got caught up in the skirmish and extended the period after stalling on track with unsuccessful repairs.
Strous passed Saavedra for the lead on the next restart. This was particularly well-timed as Guthrie Meyer Racing teammates Jackson and Jesse Mason collided at turn two, to bring out the sixth and final full course caution.
Saavedra had no answer for Strous on the final restart and settled in behind the Dutchman. Saavedra and Hinchcliffe each salvaged something for their respective teams after the earlier Hildebrand-Beatriz incident that took out two likely championship contenders.
Although it is early with only two of the 15 races complete, Strous has already accumulated a maximum 100 points from two races, and romped to a commanding 28-point lead over Summerton in the series standings.
As Summerton, who drove quietly but impressively from 14th on the grid to fourth this race, is only confirmed for the weekend, the gap could be as big as 37 markers for Strous back to Hinchcliffe who is third.
Either way, the St. Petersburg weekend has served notice that the road to this year's Indy Lights title, in an incredibly deep field of competitors, will go through defeating Strous and the Winners Circle Group. The series resumes in two weeks at Long Beach.