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Junior Strous wins Indy Lights race on first try
Ex-Atlantic driver Junior Strous took the Indy Lights regulars to school on Saturday
Junior Strous got the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season off to a good start on Saturday by driving the No. 18 Shell V-Power/Winners Circle Dallara to victory in the 40-lap race on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Strous, a 22-year-old rookie in the series from Wassenaar, The Netherlands, took the lead on Lap 23 and held the rest of the way to become only the seventh driver in Indy Lights history to win his first race.

“This victory means so much since we are a new team--Winners Circle Group Racing,” Strous said after the race. “This team really needed a victory. We haven’t had a lot of laps in this car and the guys worked so hard for this to come together. I’d like to thank the crew and the sponsors for making this possible.”

Junior Strous (L) talks to his Indy Lights team owner Paul Diatlovich
Team Manager Paul Diatlovich was understandably happy to see his driver win.

“This kid is the answer to my prayers,” Diatlovich exclaimed. “Not since Sam Hornish Jr. drove for me have I had a driver come so far so fast. He’s got the talent. The sky’s the limit.”

Starting second, Strous lost a position to Sebastian Saavedra in the first turn of the race and dropped to fourth behind James Davison a short time later. But the talented newcomer did not let the setbacks fluster him and stayed glued to Davison’s gearbox for the next five laps. On Lap 6, their battle for third became a battle for second when Saavedra made an unscheduled pit stop.

Strous tucked behind Davison on Lap 14 and got past for second as the two cars exited Turn 1. At that point, pole winner J.R. Hildebrand was nearly three seconds in front until a full-course caution for debris allowed Strous to draw closer. On Lap 23, Strous ducked to the inside of Turn 1, effectively blocking Hildebrand, who wisely let him pass.

“That pass was wild—we touched,” Strous said of his move for the lead. “I found I could not brake as well as the others, but I went for it. Kudos to J.R. who did some great driving to give space and not crash out.”

The young Dutch driver built the lead to two seconds, but now his closest pursuer was Jonathan Summerton, who had competed against him last year in Atlantics. With three laps to go, Summerton cut the gap to just under one second, but Strous maintained his composure and took the checker .72 seconds ahead of Summerton. Hildebrand wound up third.

Strous returns for Sunday’s 40-lap with a good chance to win again. In Saturday qualifying, he wound up on the front row after posting quick time in his group for the second straight day.


JUNIOR STROUS (No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP, first): “This victory means so much, especially since we are a new team, Winner' Circle Group Racing. We only had one day of testing, and the guys worked so hard to get this together. I'd like to thank the crew and all of the sponsors for making this possible. It was a tough race. We had a not so good start. The tires weren't warmed up yet, so I lost two positions on the start and then managed to gain another three. It was amazing. I think I had a legendary take-over maneuver in Turn 1, which kudos to JR Hildebrand, who did some great driving to give the space and not crash.”

JONATHAN SUMMERTON (No. 9 Anderson/Allied Interior Products, second): “I stayed clean on the start and just paid attention to where everyone was going. It was chaos. You could see it coming. Then I basically kept following Junior (Strous). Each pass he made, I just kept following him. It was really good. I think we had a quicker car, but in the end, following him was a little rough. I lost some of the downforce on the car. All in all, I'm quite happy with second place.”

J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 26 ARPRO, third): “We got out to a good lead at the beginning. A couple yellows came out, and after the second yellow the car wasn't pulling off the top end down the straight. I had a tough time getting into sixth gear. It turns out that we had a battery going dead. That just held me up down the straights. I was kind of a sitting duck. Other than that, the car was really good. I think we even set a fast lap, even with it like that. The car is good. We just have to throw some things out so we can keep down the straight tomorrow.”

ANA BEATRIZ (No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Mtrspts, fourth): “It was fantastic. I had a lot of fun. We were overtaking a lot of people. We had amazing restarts today. Unfortunately at the end, I lost the rear in corner one and (J.R.) Hildebrand passed me again. I couldn’t see anything. My tear-offs were so dirty with oil and dirt and I missed a brake. I think the Sam Schmidt Healthy Choice team deserved a podium today, but we have another race tomorrow so we’ll see. I feel confident going into tomorrow’s race. I think we have a pretty good car. At the end it was hard. It was really hot, and we had a lot of oversteer, but we can fix that and try to get better points tomorrow. We are starting better tomorrow, so I think we have a good chance.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 37 Palm Beach International Raceway, fifth): “It was pretty exciting. There was a lot of stuff going on. I actually made contact with Bia (Ana Beatriz) at the start. I don’t think it was her fault. She just slid wide and didn’t anticipate how slippery it was. With the trucks out there brushing the track prior, it was real dusty and got really, really bad. I think I must have started about 12th, because several people went by me. But I just kept going, stayed smart, and kept picking them off one by one, and ended up with a good result.”

Results Saturday of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - Race 1 Firestone Indy Lights event April 4 at the 1.8-mile Streets of St. Petersburg, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, laps completed and reason out (if any) and money earned:

1. (2) Junior Strous, 40, Running $25,500
2. (6) Jonathan Summerton, 40, $17,000
3. (1) J.R. Hildebrand, 40, Running $13,500
4. (7) Ana Beatriz, 40, $11,500
5. (8) Jay Howard, 40, Running $11,000
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, 40, $10,500
7. (11) Daniel Herrington, 40, Running $10,000
8. (4) James Davison, 40, $9,500
9. (10) Mario Romancini, 40, Running $9,250
10. (12) Charlie Kimball, 40, $9,000
11. (14) Ali Jackson, 40, Running $8,500
12. (18) Gustavo Yacaman, 40, $8,000
13. (13) Stefan Wilson, 40, Running $7,500
14. (24) Pablo Donoso, 40, $7,000
15. (19) Martin Plowman, 40, Running $9,000
16. (16) Wade Cunningham, 40, $6,000
17. (17) Andrew Prendeville, 40, Running $5,750
18. (20) Pippa Mann, 40, $5,000
19. (27) Richard Philippe, 39, Running $4,500
20. (23) Brandon Wagner, 38, $3,500
21. (22) Jesse Mason, 38, Running $3,000
22. (15) Sean Guthrie, 36, Mechanical $2,500
23. (25) Rodrigo Barbosa, 36, $2,000
24. (21) Logan Gomez, 21, Mechanical $2,000
25. (9) Duncan Tappy, 14, Mechanical $0
26. (3) Sebastian Saavedra, 6, Mechanical $0
27. (26) Sergey Mokshantsev, 1, Contact $1,500
      Race Statistics
      Winner's average speed: 86.211 mph
      Time of race: 50:06.5703
      Margin of victory: 0.7205 of a second
      Cautions: 2 caution flags for 6 laps
      Lead changes: 1 among 2 drivers
      Lap leaders: Hildebrand 1-22, Strous 23-40.
      Point standings: Strous 50, Summerton 40, Hildebrand 38,
Beatriz 32, Howard 30, Hinchcliffe 28, Herrington 26, Davison
24, Romancini 22, Kimball 20.

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