Junior Strous doubles up in St. Pete
Ex-Atlantic driver Junior Strous took the Indy Lights field to school again on Sunday. The move paid dividends for Junior Strous a day earlier on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit so why not attempt it again? Great idea.
Strous became the third Firestone Indy Lights driver to sweep the St. Petersburg doubleheader, joining Raphael Matos (2006) and Alex Lloyd ('07), by beating Sebastian Saavedra to the checked flag by 0.4428 of a second. James Hinchcliffe finished third, Jonathan Summerton fourth and Daniel Herrington fifth.
Strous, who started second in both races in the No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP car for the Winners Circle Group, overtook Saavedra in Turn 2 coming out of a Lap 32 restart and held on in the 40-lap race. In Race 1, he made an inside move on J.R. Hildebrand in Turn 1 following a Lap 22 restart and went on to beat Summerton by 0.7205 of a second.
"The team has done an amazing job," said Strous, one of the 15 rookies competing in the season-opening weekend. "We're a new outfit so this gives us a lot of confidence for our next race at Long Beach. We saved our tires in qualifying, so for both races we had a new set of tires while the other guys ran used tires. Both races it was hard to get the temperature in, but after about ten laps the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race."
|Junior Strous dives under AGR's Sebastian Saavedra to take the lead and the win|
“This is just amazing,” said an elated Strous immediately following the race. “I have to thank the Winners Circle Group team for making this happen again. We’re a new team and this has given us confidence.”
Team Manager Paul Diatlovich was likewise elated at the repeat victory.
“Like I said Saturday, the sky’s the limit with this kid,” Diatlovich said. “He got passed for second place, but he never got flustered. Then he got that position back, hounded the leader and got the lead.”
The latter reference was Strous’s pass for the lead on Lap 33. When race leader Saavedra went a little wide exiting Turn 1, the rising Dutch star zipped past into first place. There he would stay.
At the drop of the green flag, J.R. Hildebrand got what seemed to be a better start and swept Strous for second place. Strous settled into third, but was elevated back to second when race officials determined he had jumped the start.
Strous stayed within a second of race leader Saavedra, but on Lap 14, Hildebrand got inside of Strous in Turn 1 to knock the Dutch driver to third. Twelve laps later, Strous made a nice inside move in Turn 1 to retake second place from Hildebrand.
"I'm much happier than yesterday," said Saavedra, who fell 24 positions to 27 in Race 1 because of a mechanical issue that knocked him out after six laps. "The team did a great job with the set-up. We had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could. In the last restart, I don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tires, so I was not able to break (Strous). But I'm happy. It is a great success for AFS/Andretti Green Racing."
The top five finishers represented five different teams. The Winners Circle Group, with veteran open-wheel racing team owner Paul Diatlovich leading the effort, and Bryan Herta Autosport, with former IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta at the helm, made their Firestone Indy Lights debut. Herrington, driving the No. 28 LeBleu/Bryan Herta Autosport car, advanced six positions to fifth.
|Junior Strous (C) AGR's Sebastian Saavedra (L) and James Hinchcliffe (R)|
"We made some changes overnight that really helped out the car," said Herrington, who moved up four spots to finish seventh in Race 1. "The car was much faster than it showed; it's just really hard to get around this place with other cars. So we took advantage where we could and ended up fifth, which was great."
Summerton, driving the No. 9 Andersen/Allied Interior Products car for RLR/Andersen Racing, also had a fast car that was able to avoid numerous incidents on the track.
"It was awesome," said Summerton, who started 14th. "I don't think you could have asked for much more. My goal was top five and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It's just a shame we couldn't get clear air to run the lap times because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure. We started off rough and ended on a high."
Mario Romancini, starting 10th in the No. 5 Revita/Win Brazil/Allied car for RLR/Andersen Racing, moved up to sixth. Team Palm Beach International Raceway teammates Charlie Kimball and Jay Howard finished seventh and eighth, respectively, while Gustavo Yacaman advanced seven positions to ninth in the No. 44 Crepes & Waffles/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. Genoa Racing's Richard Philippe finished 10th.
JUNIOR STROUS (No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP, first): “The team has done an amazing job. We're a new outfit so this gives us a lot of confidence for our next race at Long Beach. We saved our tires in qualifying, so for both races we had a new set of tires while the other guys ran used tires. Both races it was hard to get the temperature in, but after about ten laps the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race.”
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., second): “I'm much more happy than yesterday. The team did a great job with the setup. We had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could. In the last restart, I don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tires, so I was not able to break him (Strous). But I'm happy. It is a great success for AFS/Andretti Green Racing. We'll hope for the best next race.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 7 Hinchtown/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, third): “It's a really tough track, especially in this heat. It was slippery out there. I don't think we had the quickest car, but the No. 7 Hinchtown.com car was very consistent. We just managed to drive smart and stay out of trouble. I think that was the key today. I don't know if I would have been able to make it in front of some of the guys without that. We were running seventh for a good part of the race. But like I said, I was able to keep my nose clean. There were some close calls out there. The team did a great job. They worked hard on this car all weekend long, so for us to finish on the podium is just awesome.”
JONATHAN SUMMERTON (No. 9 Andersen Racing/Allied Interior Products, fourth): “It was awesome – tons of fun. We went from 16th to fourth. I don’t think you could have asked for much more. My goal was top five and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get clear air to run the lap times, because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure. The car was awesome. Allied and Andersen have done a good job putting the car together. I really thank them this weekend. We started off rough and ended on a high.”
DANIEL HERRINGTON (No. 28 LeBleu/Bryan Herta Autosport, fifth): “It went pretty well. We obviously took advantage of some incidents out there and made one or two passes. We made some changes overnight that really helped out the car. The car was much faster than it showed, it’s just really hard to get around this place with other cars. So we took advantage where we could and ended up fifth, which was great. We got a pretty solid result out of it. It’s too bad we couldn’t have started further up, because I think we could have run in the top three speed-wise.”
Junior Strous is the first driver to win the Firestone Repeat Bonus for winning back-to-back races since the program was introduced at the start of the 2008 season. Strous wins $5,000 and is eligible to win another $5,000 if he wins on the streets of Long Beach on April 19.
Results Race 2
||Junior Strous (18)
||Sebastian Saavedra (27)
||James Hinchcliffe (7)
||Jonathan Summerton (9)
||Daniel Herrington (28)
||Mario Romancini (5)
||Charlie Kimball (35)
||Jay Howard (37)
||Gustavo Yacaman (44)
||Richard Philippe (36)
||Wade Cunningham (11)
||Sean Guthrie (4)
||Rodrigo Barbosa (55)
||Andrew Prendeville (2)
||Martin Plowman (15)
||Sergey Mokshantsev (3)
||James Davison (21)
||Brandon Wagner (32)
||Jesse Mason (49)
||Ali Jackson (59)
||JR Hildebrand (26)
||Stefan Wilson (19)
||Ana Beatriz (20)
||Pippa Mann (16)
||Logan Gomez (24)
||Pablo Donoso (33)
||Duncan Tappy (63)
Winner's average speed: 73.404 mph
Time of race: 58:51.1100
Margin of victory: 0.4428 of a second
Cautions: 6 caution flags for 18 laps
Lead changes: 1 among 2 drivers
Lap leaders: Saavedra 1-32, Strous 33-40.
Point standings: Strous 100, Summerton 72, Hinchcliffe 63,
Herrington 56, Howard 54, Romancini 50, Saavedra 47,
Hildebrand 47, Kimball 46, Yacaman 40.