By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — After a hectic start to the first race of the weekend for the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, Nico Jamin picked up his first Indy Lights win for Andretti Autosport.
In an aborted start, Colton Herta, Santi Urrutia and Pato O’Ward all suffered damage that severely hampered their race performances as they started second, fourth and sixth.
When the green flag came out, Jamin started second behind polesitter Kyle Kaiser. Jamin was able to get around him on the restart heading into Turn 5 and never looked back, leading the remaining 27 laps to victory.
Behind Jamin and Kaiser, Carlin had three cars finish third, fourth and fifth. American Neil Alberico was third ahead of Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman De Melo.
For Jamin, it’s the first French victory in Indy Lights since Alexandre Baron in 2014. Jamin hopes to become the third French Indy Lights champion after JK Vernay and Tristian Vautier but is feeling very confident after the victory which makes him the first non-American to win on all three steps of the Mazda Road to Indy.
“It’s great, it’s exactly what we needed,” Jamin said. “It’s exactly what I needed to build up my confidence after St. Pete and it’s what my crew guys needed as well, I know they never give up and they’re always super motivated but it’s great to put a smile on their faces today. Big thanks to the whole Andretti team and my sponsor Synova and we’ll try to do it again.”
“We’ll have a good dinner tonight, a little celebration, not too much and tomorrow morning we’ll do it all over again,” Jamin added.
As for Kaiser, he did what he thought was the right thing on the start since the start zone was moved.
“The have the start zone, normally people have been going like right at the apex of Turn 17 but they moved the start zone a little bit further [down] so I waited a little bit longer but it was still right at the start of the start zone is when I accelerated so I don’t think it was ridiculously late,” Kaiser said.
“I feel like I went at a good time, I got a little good jump on Colton but I wasn’t looking in my mirrors, let’s just say that,” Kaiser added.
In Alberico’s case, it was his second podium in three races this season, a welcome result after the disastrous second race of the year in St. Petersburg.
“When we finish races, we finish well so I think our goal is to continue to finish races and be consistent and all in all that’s what we’re going to need to win this championship and the wins will come if we keep putting ourselves in position to finish up front eventually we’re going to get a win,” Alberico said.
Leist’s fourth place result was his best of the season so far. The 2016 BRDC British F3 champion was last in points heading into Saturday’s race thanks to some bad luck in St. Petersburg but a fourth place finish will see him climb the standings.
“It was a difficult race, it was difficult to drive the car with the flat spot, it feels good to be in the top five for the first time, looking forward for tomorrow in qualifying two and race two, we have the pace to be in the top three,” Leist said.
The three drivers involved in the opening lap incident had mixed fortunes. Herta started second but damaged his front wing, and because he sped up to get back to the pits instead of maintaining pace car speed, he was told to go to the back of the field. Herta finished tenth.
Urrutia finished last in the 15 car field after his rear wing was damaged when O’Ward ran into the back of him. The Uruguayan lost a few laps in the pits at the start but came back out for a few laps before some more damage manifested itself and brought him to the pits to retire the car.
O’Ward started sixth and after getting a new front wing charged his way to an eighth place finish, passing teammate Juan Piedrahita for eighth with only a few minutes to go in the race and was preparing to hound Shelby Blackstock for seventh before getting the checkered flag.
“I don’t really know [about the start], I guess they called the green and then they called the yellow and everybody was bunched up and the guys in front suddenly stopped and I went on top of Urrutia. Unlucky for both of us, obviously I didn’t do it intentionally, it was something that the guys in front just slammed in front and then ‘boom!’ I launched in the air behind Urrutia.”