As Firestone Indy Lights moves on to Long Beach with the IZOD IndyCar Series, it will be bringing 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear third-place finisher Nick Andries along for the ride.
Andries will pilot the No. 28 Tbolt BHA car with Bryan Herta Autosport in his first ever Firestone Indy Lights start. He will become the third 2011 Star Mazda driver to debut in the series this season (Tristan Vautier, J.V. Horto).
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The 21-year-old from Pinellas Park, Fla., gathered the most podium finishes of any driver in the Star Mazda Championship last season with eventual team champion Team Pelfrey. He tested a Firestone Indy Lights car in 2010 with Andersen Racing, and also got a chance to test with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Putnam Park and Kentucky Speedway at the end of 2011.
“I know what the car feels like and what to expect,” Andries said. “[…] I definitely learned a lot in those two days of testing on an oval and at Putnam. I got to test with a good team that was very informative in getting us on the learning curve very quickly.
“I’m not expecting to go out there and light the world on fire in my first race. I just want to get some experience and learn the car, learn the drivers in the series and make it a good solid outing for the team and for myself.”
Andries has had plenty of time to gather his notes on the series and its returning competitors throughout his time in Star Mazda. The Long Beach field boasts an impressive group of seven veterans, of which Gustavo Yacaman, Esteban Guerrieri, Victor Carbone and Sebastian Saavedra have race wins. The remaining eight are a talented group of rookies that also has a win from St. Petersburg 100 pole-sitter Vautier.
“Whenever you’re younger and in the Mazda Road to Indy program from Skip Barber, to USF2000, to Star Mazda, you always watch the series above you because that’s where you really aspire to move up to,” Andries said. “I think it’s important to watch those races and know who your competitors are going to be in the future, or watch the more experienced guys and why they’re so successful.”
Last year in Long Beach, American Conor Daly claimed his first Firestone Indy Lights victory after inheriting the lead when eventual series champion Josef Newgarden nosed into the Turn 8 barrier and the race finished under caution. Guerrieri had the pole and finished second.
With the notes of his new team and help from former Team Pelfrey driver coach and three-time Indy 500 competitor Rocky Moran, Sr., Andries is dealing with the pressure of a series debut in the best way possible.
“I feel like I have a better idea of what it will be like on Long Beach than I did in my Star Mazda debut on a street course at St. Pete,” he said. “I think there’s two different kinds of pressure, for some people it’s anxiety and nervousness, and for me, I think whenever I feel pressure I get more excited and look at it as an challenge. I’m more excited for the opportunity than anything, so I’m just excited to be at Long Beach. It’s the Indy 500 of street races.”
The 2012 Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on Sunday, April 15 at 1:45 p.m. (ET), and will be aired on NBC Sports Network April 19 at 5 p.m. (ET).