ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tristan Vautier acknowledged he was nervous before the start of the St. Petersburg 100 on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.
Maybe there was ample reasons. The Frenchman who calls St. Petersburg home was making his Firestone Indy Lights debut and was starting from the pole. It turns out, any butterflies vacated when the green flag flew on the 45-lap race.
Click it: St. Petersburg 100 box score
Vautier avoided on-track issues with other competitors, handled three restarts flawlessly and went on to a 1.0391-second victory over Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate Esteban Guerrieri. Sebastian Saavedra moved up one position to claim third place in the No. 27 Team AFS car and Oliver Webb was fourth in his series debut in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.
Vautier is the 10th driver to win his debut race in the series and the sixth who has won his debut at St. Petersburg (Marco Andretti, Raphael Matos, Junior Strous, J.K. Vernay and Josef Newgarden).
"I could see my mirrors were full on the last restart (and) I gave it all I had," Vautier said. "What a great first day in Firestone Indy Lights. Awesome job by the Sam Schmidt guys today for all their hard work. It was great to be part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and what an awesome track – to win at for the first time.
"You’re as good as your race, so the win was good but we have to start all over again next weekend (at Barber Motorsports Park). I learned this weekend but need to keep learning."
Guerrieri, who started second in the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM car, finished sixth at St. Pete in 2011 en route to a runner-up finish to Newgarden in the series championship.
"Definitely good to be one-two for the team to start the season," he said. "I tried to push for an overtake; maybe a mistake from his side, but he did a good job. I didn’t know if I was going to be here two weeks ago, and now I’m here enjoying the second place. So it’s quite a good start."
Victor Carbone finished fifth in the No. 3 Mav TV/SSM car, while Gustavo Yacaman was sixth in the No. 2 TMR-Tuvacol-Xtreme Coil Drilling entry.
"Being with the car and the team for a second season is for sure helping me," Carbone said. "From last year we know where we need to improve. Definitely thanks to my guys for this weekend. As always they work really hard, and I strive to improve for the perfect."
The race will be broadcast at 5 p.m. (ET) March 29 on NBC Sports Network.