It seems that the Baltimore Grand Prix is the place for securing series championships. Petri Suvanto locked up the US F2000 title yesterday, Tristan Vautier secured the Star Mazda championship this morning, and this afternoon Sam Schmidt Motorsport’s Josef Newgarden charged from the back of the grid after initiating two FCYs during qualifying to finish in P2. He lead the Firestone Indy Lights Championship by 68 points coming into the Baltimore weekend, which of course put him in a strong position, but now he heads to the last two races with a 90-point buffer. So long as Newgarden shows up to the track at either Kentucky or Las Vegas, he will be the 2011 champion.
Newgarden wasn’t the only driver to have great day. Series veteran, Gustavo Yacaman, channeled his inner Danny Sullivan and recovered quickly from a mid-race spin and clawed his way back to the front! The Baltimore GP circuit severely punishes driver errors. Three separate drivers lost the lead following mistakes. The first was Conor Daly who caught a manhole cover wrong and ended up in the wall, then his teammate Esteban Guerrieri caught the inside wall of the Turn 3 hairpin. That put Anders Krohn in the lead for the restart after Guerrieri’s FCY, but he missed his braking point headed down to Turn 1 and yielded the lead to Gustavo who ran in the lead for the remainder of the race.
“This is an amazing feeling and I hope we can do this again. I want to thank my team. They did just an amazing job to put this car together. I made a mistake early on (spin that dropped him three spots) but I was able to fight back.” — Gustavo Yacaman, #2 Team Moore Racing
Gustavo spun while trail-braking into Turn 3 in an effort to catch up to then leader Conor Daly. Gus was able to get his #2 Team Moore Crepes & Waffles machine turned around and back in competition very quickly and began making his charge back to the front. In what has been Yacaman’s best of his three seasons in the Firestone Indy Lights season, he showed obvious relief in Victory Lane after securing his first ever victory in the series. He also showed great humility. Well done, there!
So now the Firestone Indy Lights Championship heads to the 1.5-mile ovals of Kentucky and Las Vegas where we will see who is able to claim the “best of the rest”. Sam Schmidt Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri leads the rest of the field with 399 points, Andretti Autosport’s Stefan Wilson sits in P3 with 373 points, and today’s winner Team Moore’s Gustavo Yacaman is in P4 with 352 points. Keep in mind that a lot of these young drivers will also be seeking to impress team owners and potential sponsors as they begin to sort out their 2012 plans. While the championship may be settled, the final two races should still be very exciting.