ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – For the second day running, a driver named Felix won on the streets of St. Petersburg. This morning’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Lucas School of Racing was all about Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who led from flag-to-flag to claim a dominant victory for Belardi Auto Racing.
Yesterday’s polesitter Kyle Kaiser finished second for Juncos Racing, while Rosenqvist’s teammate, Zach Veach, completed the podium ahead of Saturday race winner Felix Serralles (Carlin).
The result was particularly rewarding for the Belardi Auto Racing team. Rosenqvist’s efforts in yesterday’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires opener had been blunted when he inadvertently selected the wrong engine electronic map, resulting in an unrepresentative seventh-place finish, while a magnificent drive by Veach, who led comfortably, ultimately was thwarted by another electronic glitch.
Rosenqvist, last year’s FIA European Formula 3 Champion and two-time winner of the majestic Macau Grand Prix street race, was flawless today. He made a perfect start to lead at Turn One and, after a brief early caution due to an incident in Turn Four, quickly assumed control. Rosenqvist’s only concern came soon after the midway point in the 40-lap race when he came up to lap a battling Santi Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) and Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), both of whom had been delayed in the early stages.
The leader’s advantage over Kaiser dwindled steadily from 3.6 seconds on Lap 24 to just over one second on Lap 29 as Rosenqvist looked with increasing desperation for a way past. Finally, Urrutia, last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, moved over at Turn 14 to allow the leader through. Blackstock also took advantage of the Uruguayan’s sporting gesture, slipping through into 13th place before also allowing easy passage for Rosenqvist just a few corners later.
Rosenqvist then set about rebuilding his advantage over Kaiser, who had grasped second place with a clean move on front row starter Veach at the first corner. The eventual winning margin was a comfortable 4.3675 seconds.
Kaiser, Veach and Serralles, who lost a place to Brazilian Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson) at the first turn but then gained it back with a bold around-the-outside maneuver at Turn Four, all ran relatively lonely races, although Negrao had to work rather harder to fend off the attentions of Briton Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport). Last year’s double winner, Ed Jones (Carlin), also was part of this battle until an optimistic attempt to pass Negrao at Turn One on Lap 36 ended with a spin under braking.
Canadian rookie Zachary Claman de Melo (Juncos Racing) impressed in the early laps, holding down sixth place until halted by an electrical problem.
Saturday race winner Serralles holds a one-point lead over Kaiser, 49-48, with Rosenqvist now just one point further back, while Belardi Auto Racing leads Carlin by 46-42 as the series heads next to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for Round Three, once again in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series, on Saturday, April 2.
Felix Rosenqvist (#4 Karlsson Svensson Projekt-Belardi Auto Racing): “This weekend was the first chance we’ve had to really see where we all stack up, pace-wise. We have been right up there from the beginning. I’m not used to racing so long, so it was difficult. Most of the races I’ve done are half an hour, and the longer races have pit stops where you can reset and exhale a bit. Here, you have to be on it every lap and keep your concentration up. So it’s mental and physical. I have to keep training to make sure I’m fit enough to do the long races. The car was great today. That’s why I decided to go with Belardi – I have a great relationship with everyone on the team, and Zach get along great. Everyone is working in the same direction and I think that’s the key to success.
“But there is a lot of pressure because I’m a rookie. I have a lot of experience and I’m not the youngest guy in the field so people expect me to deliver – and I expect myself to deliver. I have to make sure I’m right up there. I feel as though we’ve done everything right and aside from the mistake yesterday, we couldn’t have a better start.”