Jonathan Summerton and Junior Strous will be among those Atlantic Series converts preparing themselves for an oval race debut at Kansas Speedway this weekend, but also hoping that their inexperience does not impact to harshly on their Firestone Indy Lights championship positions.
RLR/Andersen Racing driver Summerton's only previous oval experience was a one-and-a-half day test at Kentucky Speedway a month ago - a requirement for him to receive his Indy Lights license to run on ovals - meaning that the Kansas Lottery 100 provides a steep learning curve
“It was a lot of fun,” Summerton said of his Kentucky outing, “I liked it - it plays games mentally. We didn't do any set-up changes, so I kept asking myself 'how can I change my line and make it better'.“
Summerton is currently second in the championship, only three points behind Strous, having finished fourth in each outing so far this season. Going to Kansas - like Kentucky, a high-speed 1.5-mile layout - marks the start of a four-race stretch on ovals, and how quickly Summerton adapts and performs will be critical to his title aspirations.
“I don't have much to live up to,” the 21-year old joked, aware that RLR/Andersen won at Kansas last year with JR Hildebrand, “It's too early to get excited about the championship, but it's good to be in contention. It's good for sponsorship and, as long as we're in the top three in the championship at this point of the season, I'm happy. Consistently good results are what pays off in the end.”
Starting on row three in Long Beach after not getting an opportunity to fit new tyres for fear of losing a couple of laps in qualifying, he was pressured for fifth initially, but managed to hold off the challenges and produced a steady drive without being able to pressure Stefan Wilson for fourth. Unfortunately for the Briton, problems sidelined the Walker Racing entry with less than seven laps to go.
"We had a car that was very consistent - I wouldn't say we had the quickest car, but we were consistent," Summerton remarked, "I think consistency should win the championship, so hopefully that stays true.
"I'm happy with fourth place, but I would have liked to have been on the podium. We struggled with the car and, although we are improving, we are still just short of a great car. I thought we'd have a better car here in qualifying than we ended up with. We didn't have the fastest car and the car finished where it should have. We need to do some development work for our street course setup. But, all-in-all, I'm happy to finish fourth.
"Going into my first oval race just three points off the championship lead is a dream when, less than a month ago, I didn't have a ride. This will be really exciting for me and I hope we can perform well."