LEEDS, Ala. – Nico Jamin made a textbook pass for the lead in the early stages of this afternoon’s opening leg of the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, then edged away to become the third different winner in as many races this year in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
The 21-year-old Frenchman, driving for Andretti Autosport, who also won at Barber in 2015 en route to winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, became the 132nd different winner in the 31-year history of Indy Lights, which tomorrow will celebrate its milestone 400th race. With the win, Jamin joins Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham and Aaron Telitz as drivers to win on all three rungs.
Californians Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Neil Alberico (Carlin) completed the podium.
Kaiser had claimed the pole position this morning, with series leader Colton Herta lining up second for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing. But there was drama even before the green flag as Aaron Telitz, who started a lowly 13th after experiencing a mechanical problem in qualifying, inadvertently clipped the rear of Belardi Auto Racing teammate Shelby Blackstock.
The start was immediately waved off, only for Herta to then clip the rear of Kaiser’s car as the leaders, who were already anticipating the green flag, began to slow for Turn One. A little farther back in the pack, pre-season title favorite Santi Urrutia’s misfortune continued when his Belardi car was assaulted from behind by Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) in Turn One. Both made pit stops for repairs, along with Herta and Telitz.
After three laps behind the pace car, the race was green-flagged properly with Kaiser still leading from Jamin, who had qualified third, then Alberico and his Carlin teammates Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman de Melo, who had qualified seventh and ninth, respectively.
But Kaiser held the lead only as far as Turn Five, where Jamin made an incisive move to the inside, then left his braking until the last possible moment before scything into the lead.
Jamin quickly established himself out front, posting the fastest lap of the race as early as the sixth lap as he left Kaiser to hold off the attentions of Alberico.
Jamin gradually extended his advantage to more than three seconds before easing off on the final lap to take the checkered flag 2.6525 seconds head of Kaiser, who remained under pressure throughout from Alberico.
Leist, from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, and Tilton Hard Charger Award winner De Melo, from Montreal, Que., Canada, also were closely matched in fourth and fifth, with another Canadian, Dalton Kellett, claiming a relatively lonely sixth for Andretti Autosport.
Blackstock finished seventh, narrowly ahead of O’Ward, who had found a way past his own teammate, Juan Piedrahita, midway through the race but was unable to usurp the Tennessean.
Jamin, who jumped from 11th in the points table to fourth following his maiden Indy Lights win, also earned the Staubli Award. Herta still leads the points by a 10-point margin over Kaiser, 70-60, prior to tomorrow’s 400th Indy Lights race, for which the green flag will wave at 12:00 noon CDT, following another qualifying session at 8:00 am.
Nico Jamin (#27 Andretti Autosport Mazda): “It was just incredible – when I got to Victory Lane and everyone wanted to talk to me, I didn’t know what to say! I was so emotional. It was a good thing I had good reflexes and put on the brakes in time to not break the front wing like my teammate did. Here, you can start on pole and get away or you have to get it done early, so I was in attack mode right away. I went on push-to-pass, broke late and made the pass stick. The Cooper Tires were very consistent through the whole race so that made it easy. So I’ll go cool down now, have a little celebration tonight, and try to put it on pole tomorrow morning. We had room for that this morning, but I got caught in traffic. Everyone wants to win the 400th Indy Lights race.”
Kyle Kaiser (#18 Juncos Racing): “I saw the start was waved off so I slowed up and I felt a little nudge from behind. I feel bad for Colton but these things happen. I know it’s tough to run close behind someone here because of the aero wash, so when Nico got by me I thought I would settle in and hope he would make a mistake or something would go wrong. With the field this tight, it’s very difficult to pass here once things settle in. But overall, I ran a pretty decent race except for the beginning. So until qualifying tomorrow morning, we’ll keep an eye on the forecast. We’re expecting it to be wet in the morning so we’ll put on rain tires and hope to be quick again.”