FONTANA, Calif. (Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012) – When the checkered flag dropped on Saturday’s Auto Club Speedway Foundation 100, Frenchman Tristan Vautier became the sixth driver to win a Firestone Indy Lights Championship for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Vautier finished fourth in the 50-lap race on Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile, D-shaped oval to clinch the championship. He edged out teammate Esteban Guerrieri for the crown by just eight points at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Though Guerrieri finished third and ahead of Vautier, he could only gain three points on his teammate. Guerrieri has now finished second to an SSM teammate in the Indy Lights championship in back-to-back years. He was runner-up to Josef Newgarden in 2011.
As they were all season, Guerrieri and Vautier were never far from each other on the track Saturday. The pair ran side-by-side in second and third for the first four laps of the race before Vautier pulled away from Guerrieri.
Displaying the patience he has practiced all season, Guerrieri stalked Vautier and finally passed his teammate on Lap 39. The pass was only for third place, however, as David Ostella had moved into second several laps earlier.
Team Dialy-Ser’s Carlos Munoz won the 50-lap Auto Club Foundation 100 over Ostella by .6344 seconds. The win was the second for Munoz in 2012. He averaged 159.410 mph over the 100 miles.
Rounding out the top five behind Guerrieri and Vautier was SSM teammate Victor Carbone, who had started 10th. SSM’s fourth driver, Oliver Webb, finished eighth.
Vautier is the third straight SSM driver to win the Firestone Indy Lights Championship and sixth to win the title since 2004. He joins Newgarden (2011), J.K Vernay (2012), Alex Lloyd (2007), Jay Howard (2006) and Thiago Medeiros (2004) as SSM Indy Lights champions.
SSM Driver Quotes
Tristan Vautier (Finished 5th and clinched Championship), Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM with Curb-Agajanian Dallara: “I came over to the USA because of the Mazda Road to Indy. I was struggling getting up the ladder in Europe, and I knew that if I was coming over here and was able to win the Star Mazda Championship, I would be able to get into the bigger cars. That was the goal. I won the championship last year. I cannot be thankful enough to Mazda for what they do for young drivers. Obviously, you have to earn it. You have to win championships. But it really rewards the winners, and you know, they don’t pick you up because they like you. They pick you up because you earned it. You have to win to get into this scholarship system, so I’m really thankful to that. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Esteban Guerrieri (Finished 3rd and second in Championship), Driver of the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM with Curb-Agajanian Dallara: “The race was quite the same from half way onwards. There wasn’t much we could do from mid-race on. From the beginning, we tried to pace ourselves, but they had more than us. There was nothing we could do there. I tried to save my tires. I thought the vibration was going to be more. But in the end, I tried to go flat out and that’s all I could do.”
Victor Carbone (Finished 6th), Driver of the No. 3 MAV TV/SSM Dallara: “I had a clean start and managed to get out of trouble. From then on, I just tried to save my tires, just to be conservative on them. And I started to pick off one by one. Once I got to fifth, everyone was spread out. There was not much action in the last third of the race. I managed to take home another top five. It’s a good result. My teammates finished third and fourth. The team was lacking a bit of speed this weekend. They’ll look at the data and work and see what we’re missing.”
Oliver Webb (Finished 6th), Driver of the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM Dallara: “The beginning of the race was really good. I had a good start. I had a good position. I was battling with Gustavo in the beginning. That was really good. I think maybe I just pushed too aggressively at the beginning. Ostella was in my mirror. He was just taking the high line, buying his time. When he got past me, he managed to pull away and then I was just lifting and struggling to have some grip on the exit at two and four. I think I just pushed too hard at the beginning.”