JK Vernay, who won on the bumpy, rain-soaked Streets of St Petersburg, has followed his success up with a second triumph – this time on the smooth, flowing and sunny road course at Birmingham, Alabama.
The Frenchman, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified on pole but appeared to be beaten away at the start by Charlie Kimball. However race control ruled the Californian had overtaken before the green flag and ordered him to surrender the place.
After that Vernay never looked in danger of defeat, although Kimball stayed in touch for the remainder of the race.
Vernay said: “I was confident that we’d be able to do well since the beginning of the championship, but to say yes, for sure, we’d win the first two races – no, nobody can say that. The competition level in Indy Lights is very high, and you have to work very hard if you want to get the pole or win the race.”
Behind them, Sebastian Saavedra jumped Martin Plowman at the start, then held the advantage for the rest of the race. “Not happy with that start, but sometimes people get away with stuff,” said Plowman later. James Hinchcliffe and Stefan Wilson had untroubled afternoons on their way to fifth and sixth.
Outside the top six, the race was livelier. Dan Clarke and Pippa Mann shared row six at the start, but their races developed very differently. Clarke, making his debut, climbed four places to seventh and later declared “Speedy Dan is back – just shook the rust off, got to fix qualifying next”.
Mann, however, struggled. By the end of the race she had picked up some wing damage and was fortunate to fend off Adrian Campos Jr to keep 12th – behind the pair were only cars that had been forced into the pits or had crashed out of the race altogether.
“Bent the front of my car with eight laps to go,” she said later. “Real struggle to hang on till the end. Grateful my tyre didn’t pop, hung on for p12. As a side note, a really tough race today but still better than my best road/street course race last year – food for thought.”
James Winslow was another Sam Schmidt driver whose day did not go to plan. Qualifying ninth, he found himself defending against a queue of cars headed by Clarke and Junior Strous as rivals ahead of him opened up a gap. He was eventually passed, and then had to pit to change a damaged front wing. In a series that doesn’t usually do pit stops, this left him as the last runner, 15th of 17.
Vernay now has a commanding lead in the championship, having taken 105 of the 106 points available for winning, earning pole and leading most laps. Kimball is next with 72, then Wilson with 63 and Plowman with 60. Winslow is ninth with 41, Mann 13th with 35 and Clarke 16th with 26 having run one race fewer.