BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Ed Jones became the fourth different winner in four Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races to date this season when he led from flag-to-flag this afternoon in the first of two races that will comprise this weekend’s Legacy Indy Lights 100 at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Dubai-based Englishman never was able to relax as his Carlin Dallara-Mazda was pushed virtually every inch of the way by Puerto Rican teammate Felix Serralles, who started 11th but finished only 1.5581 seconds behind after 35 laps around the scenic 2.3-mile road course in rural Alabama. Zach Veach completed the podium for Belardi Auto Racing.
The first attempt at a start was aborted when front row qualifier Dean Stoneman’s Andretti Autosport car abruptly stopped on course during the pace lap. The unfortunate Englishman rejoined at the back of the field and made several subsequent pit stops due to a persistent mechanical problem.
RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) held second place when the race was started properly the next time around, chased by Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing), who had vaulted from seventh on the grid to squeeze ahead of Enerson’s teammate Santiago Urrutia, from Uruguay. Next up were Canadian Scott Hargrove (Team Pelfrey) and Nashville, Tenn.’s Shelby Blackstock, who had been pinched onto the grass at the exit of Turn One (“That’s OK,” he said, “I’d have done the same thing”), then lost another couple of places a little farther around the lap at Turn Five.
Next time around, Urrutia’s attempt to overtake Rosenqvist at Turn One went awry as the resulting contact pitched Rosenqvist backward into the gravel trap and earned Urrutia a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. Urrutia bounced back to finish 11th, earning a championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race, while the unfortunate Rosenqvist finished 14th after his car was extricated from the runoff area and resumed one lap in arrears. The incident also ensured a brief full-course caution.
Soon after the restart, Hargrove’s attempt to wrest second place from Enerson at Turn Five resulted in light contact between the pair on the exit of the turn. Enerson lost several positions as he wrestled his car over the curb, across the grass and back onto the race track. Hargrove sustained a punctured right-front tire dropping him to the back of the field.
After all the various dramas, Serralles suddenly found himself in second place ahead of Veach, who started sixth, and Blackstock. Serralles quickly closed onto Jones’ tail but was unable to find a way past as the race leader circulated with admirable consistency and not the hint of a mistake to secure the fourth Indy Lights race win of his career – and his first since Long Beach in 2015.
Championship leader Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) ran a lonely fifth place most of the race, keen to score some valuable points, only for his hopes to be dashed after 26 laps with a mechanical issue.
Teammate and rookie Zachary Claman de Melo, from Montreal, Que., Canada, inherited the position to post by far his most impressive result to date. De Melo’s performance was all the more remarkable for the fact he started last in the 16-car field after his (impressive second-fastest) qualifying time was disallowed due to a technical infraction.
Enerson recovered to seventh in the action-packed race, while Colombia’s Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey), Brazilian Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson) and Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) completed the top 10.
Serralles now holds a one-point advantage in the championship, 88-87 over Kaiser, with Jones moving up to third place on 82 points heading into tomorrow’s fifth race.
Ed Jones (#11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels-Carlin): “It’s a big relief. St. Pete (scene of the first two races of the season) was very hard for me, after being so dominant last year. Things didn’t go our way for some reason, but we’ve always been fast. We worked even harder in between and we’re back where we need to be. We came in to attack, and to get both pole positions and the win is just fantastic – I hope we can continue this way. It’s made a big difference to know the track this weekend, since every track was new for me last year. Now I have experience here, so I know how the track evolves. It’s definitely a benefit and we’re trying to take advantage as best we can. There are things we can improve on the car, because I expect it to be tough again tomorrow. Hopefully we come out of the weekend with two wins!”