MONTEREY, Calif. – Kyle Kaiser shrugged off any additional pressure from competing at his home track to score a convincing victory in this afternoon’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires. The 20-year-old from Santa Clara, Calif., qualified on pole position earlier today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, then led throughout the 30-lap race to claim his second victory of the season for Juncos Racing and his first since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series last ventured anywhere near the West Coast – on the Phoenix International Raceway oval in Arizona way back in April.
Dubai, UAE-based Englishman Ed Jones finished second for the Carlin team to reclaim the championship points lead from Uruguayan Santiago “Santi” Urrutia, who could manage only fifth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
Ohioan Zach Veach, the winner one week ago at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York, rounded out the podium for Belardi Auto Racing.
After the first attempt at a start was waved off due to some incorrect positioning, Kaiser made full use of his pole advantage to fend off fellow front row qualifier Jones into the first heavy braking area at Turn Two. Urrutia, who had qualified third fastest, found himself shuffled down to fifth place on the opening lap behind Veach and Sean Rayhall (Team Pelfrey), from Winston, Ga., who made an impressive return to the series for the first time since the corresponding event at Mazda Raceway one year ago.
Kaiser set the tone by posting new fastest laps on six of the first seven laps to extend his lead by over two seconds. He then continued to pull away from the field in convincing style before taking the checkered flag almost eight seconds clear of Jones, who remained under race-long pressure from Veach.
Rayhall couldn’t quite match their pace in the closing stages but still secured a strong fourth place finish ahead of Urrutia.
Canadian Garett Grist looked set for sixth on the second Team Pelfrey Dallara-Mazda until suffering an electrical problem with just over a lap to go dropping all the way to 11th.
Neil Alberico, from Los Gatos, Calif., enjoyed another strong drive for Carlin, rising from 12th on the grid to sixth ahead of Canadian Dalton Kellett, who headed the Andretti Autosport brigade, and Felix Serralles (Carlin), who started fifth but fell back to 14th following an early incident.
Second place for Jones – his first podium finish since Round 11 at Iowa Speedway in July – was enough to vault him ahead of Urrutia by just seven points, 343-336, going into tomorrow’s 18th and final race of the season. At stake is a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1M to ensure entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2017, including the 101st Indianapolis 500.
Kaiser has moved from fifth in the points table to third on 312 but, along with England’s Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), who received a drive-through penalty for his involvement in a pair of incidents, Veach and Serralles, has now been mathematically eliminated from contention.
Kyle Kaiser (#18 InterVision/NetApp/Juniper Networks-Juncos Racing): “This is what I was hoping for since I saw this race on the schedule last year. I’ve driven the track so much and know it so well, and I had the support of all my family and friends today. This is just the perfect scenario: all the people who have been with me since my karting days were here today to see me dominate the race in Indy Lights. I’m hoping for the same thing tomorrow. Ed got alongside me in Turn 2 but I knew he had a lot to lose so I just kept my foot in it. He gave me room and we came out one-two. I tried to pull out as big a gap as I could as the race progressed. I saved my Cooper tires in case there was a yellow before the end, but they were very consistent.”