LEEDS, Ala. – Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist this afternoon claimed an emphatic victory for the Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports team as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires made its eagerly anticipated return to the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires driver development ladder following a one-year hiatus. Teammate Benjamin Pedersen, from Seattle, Wash., followed him home in second place, just ahead of Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco, from Miami, Fla., who completed the podium for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.
Lundqvist, the 2018 BRDC British Formula 3 champion who romped to victory in last year’s Formula Regional Americas Championship powered by Honda, laid down a marker by claiming the first Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in qualifying yesterday at the pristine 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course. His lap of 1:11.5149 (115.780 mph) represented a new qualifying lap record.
Lundqvist’s task today was eased considerably on the opening lap when HMD Motorsports teammate David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., was inadvertently nudged off the road and into the barriers at Turn One by two-time Road to Indy champion Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport). The unfortunate Malukas was out on the spot, although he will have an opportunity for redemption tomorrow when he starts from pole position for the second leg of this weekend’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires following a separate qualifying session held on Friday afternoon.
After a pit stop to replace a broken front wing, Kirkwood, winner of the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, rejoined at the back of the 13-car field and was able to move up to ninth by the completion of the 30-lap race.
Lundqvist took off confidently in the lead following a full-course caution while Malukas’ stricken car was recovered. The Swede completed the first full lap of racing 1.6 seconds clear of his Danish-born teammate, and thereafter stretched his lead slowly but surely before taking the checkered flag 5.3517 seconds ahead of Pedersen to ensure a dream Indy Lights debut for the Scandinavian pair.
DeFrancesco profited from the first-lap incident to vault from sixth on the grid to fourth, then took advantage of a slight slip by Englishman Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing), who slid wide at the exit of Turn Six, on the seventh lap to move up to third. DeFrancesco slipped as much as 2.5 seconds behind Pedersen before closing in during the late stages and finishing right on the Dane’s tail. DeFrancesco’s performance earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Sowery recovered to finish fourth. He also took the honor of a new lap record, 1:12.7718 (113.780 mph), narrowly edging out Lundqvist’s best with just a couple of laps remaining.
Australian Alex Peroni finished fifth on the Carlin team’s return to Indy Lights for the first time since 2017, followed by Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), from New York, N.Y., who held off a race-long challenge from teammate Danial Frost, from Singapore, last year’s Indy Pro 2000 champion Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), from Payette, Idaho, and Kirkwood.
The second round of the championship will see the green flag tomorrow at 12:20 p.m. CDT, immediately prior to the headline event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the opening round of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Provisional championship points after 1 of 20 races:
1. Linus Lundqvist, 32
2. Benjamin Pedersen, 25
3. Devlin DeFrancesco, 22
4. Toby Sowery, 19
5. Alex Peroni, 17
6. Robert Megennis, 15
7. Danial Frost, 14
8. Sting Ray Robb, 13
9. Kyle Kirkwood, 12
10. Christian Bogle, 11
Linus Lundqvist (#26 HPD/Global Racing Group/FX Airguns/Paytrim/JULA-Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports Dallara IL-15): “This was the dream, to continue the streak from last year, but we knew how tough this championship has been. Looking at the drivers on this grid, it’s amazing that we were able to get the first pole position of the year and now the first race win as well. It’s my favorite position, to be in the lead and controlling the pace, but you’re still pushing because the field is trying to catch you. You always keep an eye on tire management and manage your laps to his – if there’s a restart, you have to have the tires to keep on pushing. It’s unfortunate for the team that David got taken out in Turn One, otherwise we could have had a good fight on our hands. That will have to wait until tomorrow.”
Benjamin Pedersen (#24 DirtFish/Bell Helmets/The Heart of Racing/Colibri Capital-Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports Dallara IL-15): “I had a good start, with Kirkwood on the inside, and sent it in a bit late and that momentum sent him into my teammate. I feel badly for him. He’s helped me so much in the pre-season and I was looking forward to racing with him. I just kept moving forward, trying to not make any mistakes but keep the pressure on Linus. What a start for this Global Racing Group with HMD effort, our debut on the Road to Indy and in Indy Lights. I can’t say enough about the series, how welcoming they were and how pro everything is. I’m loving every minute of it.”
Devlin DeFrancesco (#17 PowerTap Hydrogen-Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “It’s been a long time coming, my first race in Indy Lights. We’ve been on the back foot a bit but we’ve been making progress and it’s good to start with a podium. We were pushing Pedersen at the end and I think we had a bit more in the pocket for him, but he did a good job of keeping us behind and not making any mistakes. Huge thank you to the Andretti Steinbrenner team and all my supporters – and to Cooper Tires, for giving us a tire that made it possible to race hard and race fair. I can’t wait to get after it tomorrow.”