Woman beats all the men in Kentucky Pippa Mann did everything right to win her first Firestone Indy Lights race. J.K. Vernay did just about everything right during the season – and just enough in the Drive Smart. Buckle Up Kentucky 100 – to virtually wrap up the series championship.
Mann, the pole sitter, jumped to a large lead after a Lap 5 restart and cruised to the victory on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway. She’s the second female (Ana Beatriz at Nashville and Iowa) to win in Firestone Indy Lights.
“This weekend, we started out right and got it in qualifying and took it in the race,” said Mann, whose previous high finish was second a week earlier at Chicagoland Speedway. “I said my game plan was to run away and hide, but realistically I didn’t think it would happen. I am so pleased and my team gave me an awesome car.
“I was praying that a caution didn’t come out because if a caution didn’t come out we had a really good chance of winning. I was praying that no one got into it behind me.”
James Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car, finished 6.8372 seconds back and Vernay was third in the No. 7 Lucas Oil/CJ/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. He takes a 48-point lead over Hinchcliffe into the season finale Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and only needs to take the green flag to clinch the title.
It was Hinchcliffe’s seven podium of the season (he’s finished out of the top 10 once this year), but the fine season hasn’t been enough to overtake Vernay’s 10 top-five finishes that include five victories.
“I have never seen a 1.5-mile oval play out like that in Firestone Indy Lights,” said Hinchcliffe, who led Mann across the finish line at Chicagoland by 0.0159 of a second. “It just shows how we mix it up because at Chicago we had the third-closest finish and this was probably the biggest winning margin in history of 1.5-mile ovals.
“I am a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get the chance to go up and fight against Pippa because we set the car up to be good in traffic. When we were running in clean air we weren’t quite slippery enough. We have to be happy with the points today and look ahead.”
Vernay, a rookie in the series from France, matched his season high of third (Iowa) and will seek to complement his road/street course victories with one on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval on Oct. 2.
“I took a good start after I was able to overtake Martin Plowman,” said Vernay, who started fourth. “If I would have caught him sooner, it would have been a different story. The car was great for me, but at the end we experienced some understeer. I wanted to keep my place and finish behind James Hinchcliffe to keep the championship.
“It was a great race and I am really happy. I want to congratulate Pippa for doing a great job and Sam Schmidt Motorsports.”
Adrian Campos Jr. tied his season high of fourth in the No. 22 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car, and Gustavo Yacaman advanced eight positions to finish fifth in the No. 10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car. AFS Racing Andretti Autosport teammates Charlie Kimball and Martin Plowman followed.
“Today was one of those days,” said Plowman, who started on the front row for the fourth time this season. “We had a great car yesterday but conditions are changing all the time. Our car was just a bit off today. We were struggling from the get-go. It's obviously disappointing; it's not what we expected or wanted. But we'll come back stronger and come out with a good result in Homestead.”
Brandon Wagner, competing in his fourth race with Davey Hamilton Racing, tied his season best of eighth. Arie Luyendyk Jr. finished ninth in the No. 24 Alliance Motorsports car and Dan Clarke posted his eighth top 10 in the No. 40 Wasteco Deans Knight Special for Walker Racing.
The race was red flagged on Lap 3 because of a Turn 4 crash involving the cars driven by Stefan Wilson, Philip Major and Daniel Herrington. All three were checked and released from the infield care center.
Herrington was filling in behind the wheel of the No. 29 William Rast/Bryan Herta Autosport car for Sebastian Saavedra, who qualified 12th but informed team owner Bryan Herta after the final practice of his intent not to compete.
“I was just trying to get off to a conservative start since I haven’t been in the car all year,” said Herrington, who has been the spotter this season for the No. 34 Conquest Racing car driven by Bertrand Baguette. “I was looking to run well and get a few laps under our belt. Unfortunately, we started in the back and sometimes everything just happens in front of you.
“The car spun in front of us and we didn’t have anywhere to go, and I kind of collected him. I don’t know what to say. Bryan really put a lot of faith in me to jump back in the car and I’m just sorry to let him down like that.”
Saavedra, who started third and finished 11th in the Chicagoland 100 a week earlier, entered the weekend fifth in the Firestone Indy Lights standings. He has seven top-10 finishes and one pole start in 11 races in the No. 29 car. He also competed in the Indianapolis 500 in a Bryan Herta Autosport entry. Wilson also was driving a Bryan Herta Autosport car.
Results Saturday of the Drive Smart Buckle Up Kentucky 100 Firestone Indy Lights Series event on the 1.48 mile Kentucky Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, laps completed and reason out (if any):"
1. (1) Pippa Mann, 67, Running
2. (6) James Hinchcliffe, 67, Running
3. (4) JK Vernay, 67, Running
4. (7) Adrian Campos Jr, 67, Running
5. (13) Gustavo Yacaman, 67, Running
6. (3) Charlie Kimball, 67, Running
7. (2) Martin Plowman, 67, Running
8. (8) Brandon Wagner, 67, Running
9. (9) Arie Luyendyk Jr, 67, Running
10. (5) Dan Clarke, 66, Running
11. (11) Rodrigo Barbosa, 64, Running
12. (14) Daniel Herrington, 2, Accident 13. (12) Philip Major, 1, Accident
14. (10) Stefan Wilson, 1, Accident
Winner's average speed: 174.581
Time of Race: 34:04.7529
Margin of victory: 6.8327 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 0
Lap Leaders: Mann 1-67
"Point Standings: Vernay 479, Hinchcliffe 431, Kimball 371, Plowman 364, Saavedra 303, Clarke 291, Mann 282, Yacaman 279, Wilson 278, Major 275.