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 return to the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires driver development ladder following a one-year hiatus. American teammate Benjamin Pedersen followed him home in second place, just ahead of Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco, 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 1m11.5149s represented a new qualifying lap record.
Lundqvist’s task today was eased considerably on the opening lap when HMD Motorsports teammate David Malukas was inadvertently nudged off the road and into the barriers at Turn 1 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 5.3517s ahead of Pedersen to ensure a dream Indy Lights debut for the Scandinavian pair.
“This was the dream, to continue the streak from last year, but we knew how tough this championship has been,” said Lundqvist. “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 1, otherwise we could have had a good fight on our hands. That will have to wait until tomorrow.”
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 6 on the seventh lap to move up to third. DeFrancesco slipped as much as 2.5s 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, 1m12.7718s, 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 New Yorker Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), 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) and Kirkwood.
The second round of the championship will see the green flag tomorrow at 12:20 p.m. CT, immediately prior to the IndyCar race.