RLR/Andersen Racing finds itself in familiar territory after four races in the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship, leading the way with rookie Jonathan Summerton as the series heads to Indianapolis.
The team, which scored its first victory in the series with JR Hildebrand a year ago to find itself leading the point standings ahead of the biggest race of the year - the Firestone Freedom 100 - is now enjoying a reprise as Summerton holds a four-point advantage over fellow rookie Junior Strous.
“It was a great day for RLR/Andersen Racing,” team co-owner John Andersen said after the Kansas Lottery 100. “We had two kids who'd never driven on an oval before, but both had outstanding runs.”
Summerton is one of two drivers to post top ten finishes in each of the first four races of 2009 - the unheralded Daniel Herrington of Bryan Herta Autosport is the other - and drew praise from his team for making the most of a car that wasn't a contender when it began Sunday's 100-mile race.
"At the beginning of the race, Jonathan's car was loose, but we adjusted it and, towards the end, he was as fast as the leaders,” Andersen said, “If there weren't so many yellows, he would have been right there at the end too. As it was, he took the points lead, so we're really happy."
The 21-year old American made in-cockpit adjustments to alleviate the loose condition, and then he did the best he could to advance when the track was green. Having hovered between eleventh and 15th until lap 41, he broke into the top ten on lap 43, and was ninth two laps later. He got eighth when Hildebrand fell back due to a cut tyre on lap 46, and advanced one more spot by passing James Davison on lap 52, before the race ended under caution, leaving him seventh.
"I think if the track had stayed green, we could have won," Summerton insisted, "Our car was better in longer runs, but unfortunately we didn't have too many of them. However, when we were running, we were catching the leaders every lap. We definitely had a car that could have won the race."
While Summerton caught the attention by seizing the points lead, rookie team-mate Mario Romancini was achieving something the American has yet to do by finishing on the podium. The Brazilian was competitive from the start, running among the leaders despite the numerous cautions at the beginning of the race before a late-race pass on countrywoman Ana Beatriz confirmed a top three finish.
"I'm very happy with my first oval race,” Romancini said, “Once, I got loose between turns three and four and thought I was done, but I was able to save it. Every lap, I'm still learning, but now it's on to Indy. I'm really looking forward to that as I watched the Indy 500 every year since I was about seven or eight, and it's a huge deal for me to be able to run there. It's the most important race of the season, and I'm looking forward to it."