Long Beach, Calif. – Dubai-based Briton Ed Jones and his Carlin team kept their Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires winning streak alive with a fine performance in the Grand Prix of Long Beach Presented by Allied Building Products. Jones, however, was forced to work hard for his third win in a row by fellow rookie Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing), who pulled off three impressive passes during an exciting 42-lap race on the unforgiving street circuit. Felix Serralles rounded out the podium for defending champion team Belardi Auto Racing.
The race began in dramatic fashion when third-place qualifier Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) left his braking too late at Turn One and clattered into the rear end of top qualifier Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian). Both cars ended up against the barriers, and Pigot had to work a minor miracle to avoid the incident as it unfolded directly to his left. Serralles, who started fifth, gratefully avoided the melee to emerge in the lead, followed by Jones and Schmidt Peterson teammates RC Enerson and Scott Anderson. Pigot resumed in fifth.
After three laps under caution to remove Kaiser’s stricken car, Jones timed his restart to perfection and was able to slip ahead of Serralles on the run down Shoreline Drive. The two leaders soon began to edge away from Enerson, Anderson and Pigot who remained in close formation. Pigot, though, was anxious for more, and on Lap Eight pulled off a fine pass on Anderson under braking for Turn Nine. Six laps later, Pigot repeated the maneuver to take third place from Enerson, then quickly set about reducing a deficit of two seconds to the lead duo.
By Lap 19, Jones had edged away to a 1.7-second lead over Serralles, who now, instead of trying to find a way past Jones was instead focused on keeping Pigot in his mirrors. He wasn’t able to do so for long. On Lap 21, Pigot once again braked as late as possible and dived to the inside in Turn Nine. Serralles tried his hardest to rebuff the challenge but slid a little wide on the exit and Pigot was through. The pass earned Pigot his second RePlay XD Move of the Race Award of the young season.
Moments later, another full-course caution was necessary after Juan Piedrahita (Belardi) and Harvey tangled in Turn Eight. The incident ended a miserable day for Harvey, who had returned to the fray five laps in arrears following the earlier incident and a lengthy pit stop for a new rear wing.
A total of 17 laps remained when the green flags waved again. Pigot, the winner of last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, tried every trick in the book to find a way past Jones, but there was no hint of a mistake from the leader and he had to be content with second.
Serralles posted the fastest lap of the race (1:12.9009) on the very last lap as the top three finishers were covered by just 1.8 seconds. In total, seven cars bettered the existing track record of 1:13.8995 set by Conor Daly in 2011.
Enerson took his best finish in fourth, followed by ex-F1 racer Max Chilton (Carlin), who had started 10th after an incident in qualifying.
The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competitors will return to action next weekend with two more races when the entire Mazda Road to Indy runs once again in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
Ed Jones (#11 Toys for Boys Miami/United Rivers-Carlin): “I knew it was going to be a bit hectic at the start because the temperatures were cold, the tires were cold. I didn’t get the best start and dropped back to fifth. But then I saw the collision happening up front, so I braked a little bit earlier, took the inside and got around to the left. I got around Felix on the restart and we had a good battle for the next few laps. Then I had to deal with Spencer. You don’t want to make any mistakes, but you have to push really hard. It’s hard, because if you’re too conservative, you’ll get caught. It was difficult; I risked it a bit but fortunately, I didn’t make any mistakes and that’s what kept me the lead. We struggled with pace this weekend. We didn’t have the fastest car so to come away with the win is fantastic.”
Spencer Pigot #12 Mazda/Doug Mockett & Company/Rising Star Racing/The Stutz/BAD/OMP-Juncos Racing): “What happened on the start was unfortunate, but you can’t dwell on it. There’s a quick “aw, dang” but after a couple of corners under yellow, it’s back to focusing on who’s in front of you and where you’re quicker than they are, and trying to get past. We had a lot of pace today. We were the quickest car on track for the bulk of the race. I gave it my all to try and pass Ed but I didn’t have quite enough to get by him. I was able to get good runs through Turns Eight and Nine, so that’s where I made all my passes. The push-to-pass is a new tool for us and when you get all 500 horsepower from the Mazda engine, you really feel it in the back. I tried to use it on Ed, but it wasn’t quite enough. But there are so many positives to take away from here. The Juncos team did a great job from St. Pete to here. We’re happy with second today but we’re ready for a win.”
Felix Serralles (#4 Belardi Auto Racing): “Coming from F3, there’s always something at the start, so I’ve always been aware of being careful and active in where I need to go. I made the right choice at the start and stayed on the left. I saw that Jack and Kyle were really close and I knew something was going to happen because I saw the 400 (foot) board coming pretty fast. I was pretty lucky. I was leading at that point but lost the lead to Ed on the restart. I wasn’t as quick as Spencer and Ed at the start but by the end of the race, I had changed a few things driving-wise and in shifting, and I was quickest. We struggled with pace at St. Pete, which was disappointing. But we’ve worked hard since then and we are much quicker here. It was actually disappointing in qualifying – I was P1, P2 for most of the session, then four guys beat me on the last lap! So I’m happy to be closer to the pace but really, you’re never happy unless you’re first. And even when you’re first, you’re not happy!”