ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Saturday, March 24, 2012 – Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) grabbed four of the top five positions including the top two steps on the podium in an impressive showing in the Firestone Indy Lights’ season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Team and series newcomer Tristan Vautier led all 45 laps en route to a memorable win in his first Indy Lights race. The 2011 Star Mazda champion’s No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM machine was the class of the field from the drop of the green, setting the fastest race lap on his 18th circuit with an average speed of 95.325 mph around the 14-turn, 1.8 mile street-course. In a race slowed by four caution periods, Vautier averaged 83.262 mph over the 45-lap race.
Vautier’s closest challenger was SSM teammate Esteban Guerrieri. The Argentine pursued Vautier the entire race, but could not challenge for a pass. Guerrieri returned to SSM in 2012 after an impressive second-place finish in the Indy Lights championship a year ago. The driver of the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car finished the race with a strong second-place result.
Indy Lights rookie Oliver Webb impressed in his debut for SSM on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Webb, a native of Manchester, England, wheeled his No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports to a fourth-place finish, just shy of his career best in Indy Lights which was a third in Edmonton last year.
Rounding out the top five was second-year SSM driver Victor Carbone in the No. 3 Mav TV/Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. Carbone drove a solid race from his fifth place starting position and held off a challenging Gustavo Yacaman to secure the top-five finish.
Sandwiched between the SSM entries in the top-five was former IZOD IndyCar Series driver Sebastian Saavedra. The Colombian managed to improve upon his fourth-place qualifying result to finish third in his return to the Firestone Indy Lights series.
The next Firestone Indy Lights Series race is Sunday, April 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., part of the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama weekend. It will be aired in its entirety on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) on Thursday, April 5 at 5 p.m.
Notes and Quotes
Tristan Vautier (Finished 1st), Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM Dallara:
“I could see my mirrors were full on the last restart, so I gave it all I had. What a great first day in Firestone Indy Lights! It was an awesome job by the Sam Schmidt guys today and they were rewarded for all their hard work. It is great to be part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and what an awesome track to win at for the first time. You’re only as good as your race car. The win is good, but we have to start all over again next weekend. I still have a lot to learn. I learned a lot this weekend, but I still need to keep learning. I have never raced on speedways, so I still have lots to learn in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. My goal is to work hard and be on top every day.”
Esteban Guerrieri (Finished 2nd), Driver of the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM Dallara:
“It’s not a bad result, definitely good to be one-two for the team to start the season. It’s solid points, and congratulations to Tristan. He ran a very good race because there were a lot of safety cars and it gets tricky with the cold tires. So, I think he did a good job. I was fighting a little bit of understeer in the beginning which improved a little bit in the end. In the end, I think he and I were matching pace. I tried to push him hard, hoping for him to make a mistake. But, he did a good job. I am enjoying the second place, so it’s quite a good start.”
Oliver Webb (Finished 3rd), Driver of the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM Dallara:
“I’d say average probably sums up my race. We were really good in qualifying, very close to pole. The team has been great. We’ve all been up there. As for the race, my start and my first restart were really good. But on the restart that Saavedra got past me, I felt like I had a rear puncture. Then I had the same thing happen to me in the race that happened to me in practice, which is the brake seal broke. I had a lot of oil in the bottom of the car after that. We’ll have to find out why that is happening. Maybe I’m over-braking. I felt like I had a faster car at the end, so I’m a bit disappointed overall.”
Victor Carbone (Finished 5th), Driver of the No. 3 Mav TV/Nevoni/SSM Dallara:
“From last year to this year, my event went much better. I am much more comfortable in the car than last year. But I am still learning. The Sam Schmidt guys work really hard and give us really good race cars. With me being more comfortable in a good race car, my learning curve should be better this year. I’m starting the season in the top five, and we can build a good season from here.”
DATE: March 24, 2012
EVENT: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
SERIES: Firestone Indy Lights Series
LOCATION: Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
WINNER: Tristan Vautier
SSM DRIVERS: Tristan Vautier (Started 1st, Finished 1st/Running, completed 45 of 45 laps)
Esteban Guerrieri (Started 2nd, Finished 2nd/Running, completed
45 of 45 laps)
Oliver Webb (Started 3rd, Finished 4th/ Running, completed 45 of 45
Victor Carbone (Started 5th, Finished 5th/ Running, completed 45 of 45 laps)