ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season-opening Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Lucas School of Racing turned out to be a race of two halves. Returning series veteran Zach Veach looked to have the spoils within his grasp until hindered by a mechanical problem, whereupon Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, took full advantage and sped on to a clear victory.
Serralles’ form and good fortune ensured that the British Carlin team remains undefeated on the streets of St. Petersburg following a remarkable double victory on its debut one year ago. Canadian Scott Hargrove finished a fine second on Team Pelfrey’s Indy Lights debut, while pole-sitter Kyle Kaiser finished third for 2015 championship-winning team Juncos Racing.
Qualifying earlier this morning saw Kaiser spring to the top of the timing charts in the waning moments to claim his first pole position. The young American’s lap of 1:05.8728 edged Swedish newcomer Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing) by a scant 0.0459 second. Veach started third ahead of Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport).
Kaiser made an excellent jump to maintain his advantage at the start, only to leave his braking a fraction too late in Turn One. As Kaiser slid a little wide, Veach, who won at St. Petersburg in 2014 and went on to finish second in the championship, drew alongside on the exit, then braved it out around the outside of Turn Two to grasp the lead.
Some more shuffling of the order during a dramatic opening lap saw Serralles somehow emerge in second place, having started seventh, followed by Hargrove and Kaiser. Santi Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), the winner of the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – as well as a Mazda Scholarship to graduate into Indy Lights – completed the lap in fifth, having started ninth, with front row starter Rosenqvist already bundled back to sixth after inadvertently selecting the wrong electronic engine map at the start.
Serralles kept the pressure on Veach for the first seven laps before Veach was able to make a break, leaving Serralles to fend off the attentions of Hargrove. By Lap 17, Veach’s advantage had grown to a relatively comfortable two seconds. Cruelly, the leader’s car then abruptly lost power on the exit of Turn Three. Veach managed to continue in fourth place, only for the electrical glitch to return a couple more times, eventually forcing him out of the race.
Serralles took over the lead and immediately began to extend an appreciable margin over Hargrove which grew to just over 5.5 seconds by the checkered flag. The victory was Serralles’ second, following his triumph last year on the Milwaukee oval, and came in front of a large contingent of family and friends from Puerto Rico.
Hargrove, winner of the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and runner-up in the 2014 Pro Mazda title-chase, finished a strong second after a race-long battle with Kaiser. Urrutia and teammate RC Enerson also remained in close company throughout.
Brazilian rookie Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson) completed the top six, followed by fellow rookies Rosenqvist, Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), veteran Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) and Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones (Carlin), who was unable to recapture the speed that earned him a pair of wins in 2015.
Race Two will start tomorrow morning at 9:45 am ET.
Felix Serralles (#4 Carlin): “I went to the outside of Scott in Turn Four and the inside in Turn Five and it paid off. Everything I did was right, but it was a little bit of luck and a good car. I struggled with it last year. I made the right decisions, made the right moves and picked the right lines.”
Scott Hargrove (Gap Guard – Team Pelfrey): “Going into Turn Three, I saw that Zach was slowing down and Felix had an opportunity to go around him. They were two-by-two and I was right there ready to make a move. I got a good run out of Turn Nine and in Turn 10, used the push-to-pass. I was committed to the move and bounced off the curb, which bent the toe which made the rest of the race pretty challenging. Kyle was right on me and I was driving as hard as I could – it was the hardest I’ve ever driven in a race. Team Pelfrey has given me an amazing opportunity to come back out here after a year off and show what I can do, that I have what it takes to run up front. This is a good result and we need to keep it going.”