English Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires rookie shines as new Dallara with Mazda power makes its debut.
The changing of the guard in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires was readily apparent in the first of two races at the Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Peninsula Pipeline. The top level of the Mazda Road to Indy featured a brand-new Dallara IL-15 chassis and 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R engine, so perhaps it was appropriate that a rookie team and driver should take the top honors. In this case it was Englishman Ed Jones and European powerhouse open-wheel team Carlin that showed the way with a dominating performance.
Jones, 20, obliterated the old Indy Lights lap record in qualifying for the first race, setting the pace with a lap at 1:05.3193, more than a second inside the old record set in 2010 by current Verizon IndyCar Series star James Hinchcliffe. Jones duly continued that form in the race, taking the lead at the start and then, following a full-course caution on Lap 2 due to an incident involving Max Chilton (Carlin) and Felix Serralles (Belardi Auto Racing), edged clear almost at will. Jones’ final margin of victory after 30 laps was a comfortable 3.7085 seconds over last year’s championship runner-up Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian).
Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing), last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and MAZDASPEED scholarship, made a fine start to jump from fifth to third, behind Harvey. The move earned Pigot the Replay XD Move of the Race Award. Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., then dived to the inside of Harvey under braking for Turn 10, only to slide wide on the exit and relinquish his position once again to the Englishman. Their positions remained unchanged thereafter to secure the final two spots on the podium.
Scott Hargrove also made a strong debut for 8Star Motorsports. The Canadian, who finished a close second in the 2014 Pro Mazda championship, lost some ground at the start but quickly gained it back. Hargrove spent the remainder of the race fending off a determined challenge from fellow Pro Mazda graduate Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing).
Jones continued the second race where he left off in the previous day’s contest, dominating Race Two. The rookie made an exemplary start from the pole for the Carlin team and led throughout the 45-lap race to maintain his unbeaten record in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Harvey chased gamely in second place while Pigot finished third to mirror the previous day’s podium.
For the first 20 laps, Jones had to contend with persistent pressure from Harvey, who must be tired of finishing second after losing the 2014 championship to Gabby Chaves on a tie-break and then claiming second again on Saturday. Jones then posted what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race, a 1:06.866, on Lap 21, and never looked back. His eventual margin of victory was a commanding 9.0708 seconds.
The battle for the final podium position was rather more entertaining. Pigot made another stellar getaway, this time from fifth on the grid, to move into third on the first lap, earning himself the Replay XD Move of the Race Award, while Chilton went in the opposite direction, falling from second to fourth. The Englishman spent the remainder of the race trying to redress the balance. He did manage to sneak past Pigot once, under braking for Turn 1 just four laps from the end, only for Pigot to execute a perfect over-under maneuver and reclaim the place, which he held to the end.
The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field will return for more street course action in Long Beach, Calif., on April 19.