Indy Lights – Belle Isle Recap
Who says you can’t pass at Belle Isle? No one told the Firestone Indy Lights drivers that! On a weekend that ended on a sour note as the aging circuit began to disintegrate half-way through the IZOD IndyCar Series race, the Firestone Indy Lights series proved that Belle Isle could provide good, exciting racing.
The car-count woes continue to plague the Firestone Indy Lights series as only 14 entries signed up for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix at Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Of those fourteen, only thirteen would attempt to qualify. Belardi Auto Racing withdrew the entry for their #4 machine leaving Jorge Goncalvez on the sidelines this week. Apparently, the team suffered an engine failure and could not secure a replacement engine in time for the race. Whether the hitch in getting a new engine was logistical or fiscal isn’t clear at the moment. Jorge did quite a number on his car on Carb Day last month, slamming it hard into the wall on the outside of Turn 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with two laps to go in the Firestone Freedom 100. Belardi Auto Racing’s woes didn’t stop with their being unable to secure a new engine for Goncalvez, the driver of their #9 machine, Alon Day, failed post-qualifying inspection after posting a time good enough for P4. Day would start the race at the back of the short grid.
Rodin Younessi was back in the car this weekend, although it still seems that he’s having hard time fully depressing the accelerator as he was nine seconds shy of Juan Pablo Garcia’s P12 time and a whopping THIRTEEN seconds adrift of the pole time. That’s 116% of the pole-sitter’s time and well outside the 105% rule that’s used in the IZOD IndyCar Series and the 107% rule that’s used in Formula 1. While I’m happy that Younessi is supporting Peter Dempsey, I dislike his persistent attempts at competition. It reminds me of the dark days of Dr. Jack Miller and Marty Roth. He was eventually black-flagged 22 minutes into the 45-minute qualifying session as he was becoming an obstacle for others trying to set fast laps.
No surprise that the Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew found themselves dominating the sharp end of the grid, but this week they locked out the first two rows securing P1-P4 after Day’s technical infraction. Oliver Webb in the #7 Lucas Oil sponsored machine won his first pole in the Firestone Indy Lights series setting the only time in the 77-second range with a 1:17.7720. Tristan Vautier started alongside in P2 with a time of 1:18.1299. Esteban Guerrieri and Victor Carbone filled the second row in P3 and P4, respectively.
Team Moore Racing’s David Ostella #22 and Gustavo Yacaman #2 had a hard time keeping their car pointed in the right direction. Both drivers would spin and bring out a red flag thus negating their two fastest lap times. Yacaman, especially, was quick, but the red flag that he brought out midway through the qualifying session would push him back to start in P6 alongside Peter Dempsey who had a fantastic qualifying session. Younessi may not be much of a driver, but his crew can certainly prepare a car! They put a fantastic machine under Dempsey for the second race in a row.
The race started out reasonably uneventfully. Webb stretched out his lead over Vautier by a couple of tenths every lap. Behind the two leaders, however, things were a bit dicey! Ostella would bang his #22 Team Moore Racing machine off of the Turn 5 wall on Lap 2, ending his day all to early. He would make it back to pit lane, however, so no caution period was needed. Esteban Guerrieri would make a driving error and fall back significantly through the grid as Peter Dempsey and Sebastian Saavedra began their climb through the grid.
The smooth and steady driving style of #3 Victor Carbone would serve him well around this very bumpy, tight, and technical circuit, and he overtook his teammate Vautier for P2 on Lap 10. Dempsey had moved up to P4 thanks to Esteban’s error, and Gustavo Yacaman who started back in P7 had made his way up to P5 right behind Dempsey. Keeping up with Dempsey was tough, though, as by Lap 11 he was the first driver to begin setting lap times in the 1:19 range.
As the field approached the still extremely slow car of Rodin Younessi, the field began to bunch up a bit and many drivers sought to take advantage of the rare opportunity to pass. It should be no surprise to anyone that Peter Dempsey, one of the most aggressive drivers on the grid, tried to take full advantage as the field made their way around his team owner. Unfortunately, Dempsey pushed a little too hard in Turn 5 and made contact first with Victor Carbone and the hard contact with the wall. The impact was hard enough that one of the a-arms intruded into the cockpit, piercing Dempsey’s firesuit and bruising his leg.
“I’m feeling good; everything is fine. My legs are little bit burnt in some areas from some carbon stuff. I’m more upset for the team and the guys. Obviously my safety is good; it’s the damage to the car and the setback that hurts us. I was just coming down the back straight and we all got bogged by a little bit of lapped traffic. My team owner was pushing as hard as he could in some ways to help me get a little bit of a run. (Oliver) Webb got bogged into the backstraight, (Victor) Carbone went to the left side, I went to the right, and Carbone just decided to cross to the right and I was already there. Got my front wheel and up I went.” — Peter Dempsey, #15 Younessi Racing
Esteban, who was near the rear of the grid anyway, elected to come to the pits for some quick chassis adjustments and four fresh tires in an effort to regain spots on the restart and early laps thereafter. The race was restarted on Lap 20 and two laps later, Rodin was finally black-flagged for being slower than the squirrels at Belle Isle. Yacaman found his way around Carbone to take over P2 and quickly set to hunting down Webb for the lead. Esteban’s plan worked initially, but he would find himself bogged down in P7 battling with Andretti Autosport’s Sebastian Saavedra for P6. In the end, Saavedra would keep the spot and the two championship contenders would finish P6 and P7.
On Lap 26, Gustavo Yacaman put an absolutely masterful move on Oliver Webb, taking a high entry into Turn 7 which gave him better exit speed and position to take the lead from Webb in Turn 8. Be sure to watch the highlight video linked below. It really was a thing of beauty. Carlos Munoz, who had a fantastic run at Indianapolis a little more than a week ago, also found his way around Oliver Webb on the next lap, Lap 27 to take over P2. The order from here on out would remain unchanged. Munoz continued to gain on Yacaman, cutting an initial lead of 1.4939 seconds down to a mere 0.1638 seconds at the checkered flag. Munoz ran out of laps, but it was one heck of a driving performance.
“I don’t think there are any other places to be passed around here; I think I took them all. It was just insane in the race. We crashed in qualifying and didn’t get the qualifying position we would have liked. We built this car back together and my guys did an amazing job getting everything just perfect. Then the car was just on fire. As soon as the fuel load started going down, it was just faster and faster and faster. I couldn’t believe how much grip I had. I just want to thank my team. This one is for them. And everyone here supporting me.” — Gustavo Yacaman, #2 Team Moore Racing
With the crazy results from the past two races, the championship is completely up in the air! While the front three remain unchanged, although there order has altered a bit, Carbone, Yacaman, and Munoz aren’t too far behind. A race or two more like Belle Isle and things could get REAL interesting!
You can check out the full race broadcast this Thursday on the NBC Sports Network at 5:00pm EDT. The next time the Indy Lights drivers will be on track on June 15th at the Milwaukee Mile!
Firestone Indy Lights Highlights from Belle Isle
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