Veach wins again, but Jones is champion
Zach Veach took his third Indy Lights win of the season at Laguna Seca, but Carlin Racing's Ed Jones took fourth place – enough to beat Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's Santiago Urrutia to the championship by two points.
With grid positions for this second race of the weekend set according to their second fastest laps in qualifying, Ed Jones was on pole alongside yesterday’s polesitter and winner Kyle Kaiser, with Santiago Urrutia third alongside Belardi Auto Racing’s Zach Veach. The second Carlin car of Felix Serralles lined up fifth with series returnee Sean Rayhall sixth for Team Pelfrey, ahead of teammate Garett Grist, Schmidt Peterson’s second car of Andre Negrao, and then on the fifth row, the Andretti Autosport pair of Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock.
A brilliant start by Veach saw him muscle past Jones, sitting it out with the Carlin car for two corners, with Urrutia then following him through to grab second. So conservative was Jones, that Kaiser and Serralles also got through to demote the championship leader to fifth. Were the positions to remain static – Urrutia second, Jones fifth – the pair would be tied on points with the Uruguayan edging it on wins, 4-2.
The full-course caution flew when Grist spun off at Turn 4, but the order remained static on the restart; behind Jones, Negrao and Stoneman had taken advantage of Team Pelfrey’s bad opening lap, passing Rayhall to occupy sixth and seventh respectively.
Rather than trying to catch Veach, Urrutia was having to play a defensive game, falling two seconds off the lead by Lap 9, and feeling under constant pressure from Kaiser. The SPM driver really needed the cushion of being in front, for if Carlin asked Serralles to relinquish fourth place to teammate Jones, it would be the Briton who grabbed the crown. He sat poised, less than one second behind Serralles, and kept hoping.
Compatriot Stoneman was less composed on Lap 16, falling off the track on the run up to Turn 6 while chasing Negrao, and giving up places to Rayhall and Blackstock. Mad at himself, Stoneman then set his fastest lap of the race next time by.
But it was a 1min18.2sec – no match for Veach’s best which was a 17.6, and had helped the diminutive American build a five-second lead by Lap 19. Urrutia, meanwhile, was still keeping an eye on his mirrors for Kaiser, the pair of them 4.5sec clear of the Carlin duo who remained less than a second apart. Interestingly they were now falling into the hands of Negrao, who would surely do everything in his power to help Schmidt Peterson teammate Urrutia, By Lap 22 he was just 1.5sec adrift and closing at two or three tenths per lap.
However, his progress stopped right there as a charge from Rayhall brought him up onto Negrao’s tail, forcing Andre to alter his lines and protect his sixth place.
On the plus side for Schmidt Peterson, Urrutia was looking more secure in second; he stabilized the gap to Veach at around the 5sec mark and had pulled a 1.5sec gap to Kaiser who had decided it probably wasn’t tire-smart to have his car sliding around in the Schmidt car’s slipstream indefinitely. When he wanted to, with five laps remaining, the Juncos car had the pace to move right up to hassle Urrutia once more.
Having now edged 2.5sec clear of Negrao, the Carlin pair became the focus of attention as the laps ticked away. Would Serralles let Jones through? Would Jones make a legitimate pass? Would some horrendous error of judgment eliminate them both?
On the final lap, on the exit of Turn 2, Felix played nice and moved aside, Urrutia’s title slipped from his grasp, and Ed Jones and Carlin Racing became Indy Lights champions at the second time of asking.
Veach’s third win of the season was somewhat overshadowed, which was especially sad for he appeared to drive the perfect race, and vaulted himself into fourth in the championship, having scored more points in the final eight races than any of his rivals.
Urrutia was a sad runner-up, 0.7sec ahead of Kaiser, with Jones 16sec down in fourth ahead of Serralles, Negrao. The charging Zachary Claman De Melo sliced through the lower orders of the Top 10 to grab seventh from Rayhall on the final lap. Stoneman was ninth with the third Carlin car of Neil Alberico completing the top 10 after Blackstock had a long lazy spin through the sand at Turn 6.
Kaiser wins easily, Jones takes points lead
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