AVONDALE, Ariz. — official series release — Chris Jones/IndyCar photo —
Kyle Kaiser and his Juncos Racing team put on a clinic Saturday when the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder — Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires — made its return to the Phoenix Int’l Raceway oval following a 10-year hiatus.
Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones, 21, pushed as hard as he could for the Carlin team but never quite had the pace to challenge for the lead. R.C. Enerson, 19, from New Port Richey, Fla., completed the podium in the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Phoenix for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
After the initial start was waved off due to poor formation among the 16-car field, Kaiser, 20, from Santa Clara, Calif., took full advantage of the second pole of his career by romping into a clear early lead in the 90-lap contest. Jones slotted into second place, while Enerson outfoxed teammate Santiago Urrutia to snatch away third place within the first couple of turns.
Brazilian Andre Negrao, driving another Schmidt Peterson Dallara-Mazda, also made a fine start to vault from sixth on the grid to fourth ahead of Urrutia and fifth-place qualifier Felix Serralles (Carlin).
Also on the move was Indy Lights veteran Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), who made up four positions on the opening lap after having to start at the back of the field following an accident during practice on Friday.
Kaiser set a torrid pace at the front of the field, circulating at an average speed of over 160 mph and quickly edging away to a one-second lead over his pursuers.
Veach continued to move up the order, rising to 10th after 14 laps, while Andretti Autosport’s English rookie Dean Stoneman made an impressive pass on Canadian Zachary Claman de Melo (Juncos Racing) to take over seventh place in Turn One on Lap 30. The resulting loss of momentum saw de Melo also lose places to Neil Alberico (Carlin) and Veach.
Two laps later, Urrutia’s pressure on fellow South American Negrao paid off as the Uruguayan took over fourth place.
The most worrying moment for race leader Kaiser came on lap 34 when Heamin Choi lost control and spun on the exit of turn four just as he was about to go a lap down. The Korean did well to keep his car off the wall, but the incident ensured a full-course caution and instantly erased Kaiser’s 1.3-second lead.
Undeterred, Kaiser took off again at the restart and sped away to as much as a 1.5-second lead before easing off in the final few laps to take the checkered flag 1.0088 seconds ahead of Jones.
“I felt last year that we were missing just a small piece to really break through and show what we had – and I think it was qualifying,” Kaiser said. “When you start up front, it’s so much easier to stay up front than it is to start mid-pack and try to work your way forward. So I have a different mindset this year; I have confidence going into every race weekend.
“But I was pretty nervous today, right up until the checkered flag came out because you never know what’s going to happen. The team, along with Mazda and Cooper Tires, really gave me a good car. It was perfect from start to finish. I was in conserve mode early because I knew it was a long race, so all I had to do was to maintain the gap between me and Ed to get the win.”
Enerson, who earned the Hi-Tide Boat Lifts “Spirit” Award as voted on by Hi-Tide guests from the local area Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, fought off a determined late challenge from Urrutia for third, while Stoneman drove an impressive first oval race, passing Negrao on lap 72 to finish a very strong fifth.
Negrao had to settle for sixth ahead of Serralles, Veach, Alberico and Dalton Kellett, who rounded out the top 10 for Andretti Autosport.
Kaiser’s commanding victory — which included a fastest race lap of 22.5541 seconds (163.128 mph) that eclipsed the old record of 23.227 seconds set by Greg Moore in 1995 — moved him to the lead of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points standings by 18 markers over Serralles.
The series returns to action at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. with a road course double-header, April 22-24.
CREDIT: Andersen Promotions