Salvador De Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico, drove to an accomplished victory in this afternoon’s VP Racing Fuels Oval Challenge of St. Louis at World Wide Technology Raceway. It was his second win of the season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team but the first time De Alba had actually seen the checkered flag and received the plaudits in Victory Lane, as his earlier triumph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course had come at the expense of teammate Braden Eves, whose car failed post-race technical inspection.
Nolan Siegel finished second for DEForce Racing, while Eves came home in third despite falling back to 10th in the early stages of the all-green 55-lap race.
De Alba was the man to beat from the moment the cars ventured onto the challenging 1.25-mile oval Friday for a couple of test sessions. The 22-year-old veteran of the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, in his very first season of open-wheel racing, continued his fine form by snaring his first Cooper Tires Pole Award in qualifying this morning, posting a two-lap average of 138.560mph, and was never seriously challenged in the race.
He soon began to edge clear of Siegel, who vaulted from fourth to second on the opening lap, and never looked back. De Alba cemented his authority by posting the fastest race lap just eight laps from the finish before easing off on the final circuit to cement victory by 5.9398s. The Mexican’s fine performance ensured a third PFC Award of the season for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.
“We managed to put everything pretty much perfect,” De Alba said after the race. “We have been on top of the board all weekend, both myself and Braden. Our cars were definitely one of the best on track. Starting on pole was a huge advantage the first couple of turns. I had about five car lengths which gave me a lot of advantage and then I was pulling off a little more advantage lap by lap from Nolan. The car was pretty much on rails and I think I did my fastest lap around lap 50. I am very grateful to all the team for making this possible and, of course, to all of my sponsors.”
All eyes instead were on the battle for second place. Siegel extended his own margin over third place to as much as 1.8s after 14 laps but was then steadily tracked down by Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport). By lap 22, the margin between them was virtually nothing. Championship leader Louis Foster (Exclusive Autosport) also was in the thick of the battle, and by the halfway point, Eves, too, had joined in the fun after storming through the pack following a tardy opening lap.
Siegel and Green exchanged positions several times during the middle stages of the race before Siegel regained the upper hand with 10 laps remaining. Shortly afterward, a big slide between Turns 1 and 2 sent Green high into the marbles, which allowed Eves, who had stormed past Foster on the 37th lap, through into third. Foster also took advantage of Green’s slip.
Siegel narrowly held off the charging Eves at the finish with Foster hot on their heels in fourth.
Green slipped back a little in fourth but still finished well clear of Reece Gold who ran a lonely race ahead of Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate Enaam Ahmed.
Ahmed was chased by Australian rookie Marcos Flack, who impressed on his debut with Jay Howard Driver Development, and Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) who picked up the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way from 15th on the grid.
Foster’s fourth-place finish enabled him to extend his championship lead to a commanding 77 points over Gold with just a single triple-header event remaining at Portland International Raceway on September 2-3. Depending on the number of starters, Foster likely will need only to start each of the three races to ensure himself of a scholarship valued at $614,425 to graduate into Indy Lights, the top step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2023.