With the depth of the Firestone Indy Lights field, it was expected that the 11th series champion wouldn't be crowned until the season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
That's exactly how it will play out.
Tristan Vautier reclaimed the points lead with a commanding victory in the Grand Prix of Baltimore. The 2011 Star Mazda champion, driving the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb Agajanian car, takes an 11-point advantage over teammate Esteban Guerrieri into the Sept. 15 race on the 2-mile oval in Fontana, Calif.
Vautier swept the bonus points for earning the Sunoco Pole Award and leading the most laps on the 2.04-mile, 13-turn temporary street circuit. He won by 15.3783 seconds over Gustavo Yacaman, who got past Guerrieri on Lap 4 after their cars made contact battling for second entering the sharp right-hand Turn 1.
"This win feels great. From the start of the weekend the car was hooked up," said Vautier, who turned 23 on Aug. 22. "I’d like to thank Sam (Schmidt) and Mazda for putting me in the car this weekend. We scored lots of points so that was very good for us with an oval at Fontana coming up next. We have to stay focused and arrive ready in California."
"He has been stellar all weekend," team owner Sam Schmidt, who recorded his 53rd Firestone Indy Lights win, said of Vautier.
It was the fourth victory for Vautier (all from the pole), whose consistency (nine top-five finishes in 11 races) has been a factor in accumulating the points toward the championship. He also won the Star Mazda race last year on the street circuit. Similarly, Guerreri claimed his eighth podium finish (three victories) in his second season in the series.
"Basically, since Trois Rivieres we are not quick on the race pace and we didn’t have it here," said Guerrieri, driving the No. 11 Pistas Aregentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb Agajanian car. "Obviously, you want to fight for positions and go to the front, but it didn’t work out. Of course, it’s good to finish the race and in the end get the podium and the points to still get a shot at Fontana. But it’s not the way you want to do it.
"I want to be quick and go forward, and it’s not working. We have to sit down realize that what is done is done, but still going to push for the last one for sure."
Yacaman, who won the 2011 race, earned his fifth podium finish of the season in the No. 2 TMR-Tuvacol-Xtreme Coil Drilling car.
"I had a really, really good car, but the impact with Esteban just shattered all the chances of a better result," he said. "But I can’t complain that we finished second. At this point in the season, I’ve completed every lap since Race 1, so the consistency is the name of the game."
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