Rookie Franck Perera led all 30 laps of the Carneros 100 from the pole position to claim his first Firestone Indy Lights victory, becoming the record-setting eighth driver to win a race this season.
The Frenchman used his road course pedigree to claim the pole on Friday, and then managed to hold off Raphael Matos throughout the race around the undulating Infineon Raceway circuit to open his account.
“It's an amazing weekend," Perera commented, "It was a new track again, and we were really good. We tried to catch Raphael in the qualifying - he tested here last weekend, so he had a better chance of being good than us, so it's good that we got the pole. We had a good race. The car was consistent, we didn't have to push it 100 per cent. It was good to have a race like that.”
Perera's victory was the third for Guthrie Racing which, ironically, had previously tasted success with Matos, who now races for the AFS/AGR operation and is challenging Richard Antinucci for the title. The Brazilian chased his Atlantic Series foe from 2007 all the way to the flag to claim a one-point lead in the standings as Antinucci, who had been the championship leader heading into the race, finished third.
“We're trying to maximise the points as much as we can this weekend," Matos commented, "It's important that we come out of this weekend with a real chance at the championship. We're leading now by one point, so it's a good thing Richard finished behind me. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough for Perera, but it was a good race and we'll make improvements for tomorrow.”
“We had that great start but, unfortunately, I had to give way," Antinucci sighed, "Rules are rules. I was just following my line and my row. We had a better start than the other line with Matos on the front row but I had to let him by, so I let him by. I dropped one spot at the end of lap one, in a weird way, and let him by. We had good speed at the end, so I think we're there, and we'll make improvements for Sunday.”
JR Hildebrand finished fourth for his seventh top-five finish of the season, while Logan Gomez rounded out the top five in the second of Guthrie Racing's entries.
"We definitely made some gains in the car," Hildebrand said, "Particularly at the beginning of the race, we definitely had the speed of the guys up front. Then, as we started getting into the race, the front tyres just started going off, so that was affecting me on the brakes. Particularly in some of the slower corners, I was having a tough time keeping up and I fell into the trap of either you're overdriving it a little bit or you're just a little bit slow. That was a fine line that I crossed over a little bit too far a couple of times that allowed Gomez to catch back up a little bit. But we'll make a couple of changes here, and I think we'll have a really good run tomorrow.”
The field will do battle again on Sunday [24 August] in the Valley of the Moon 100, the penultimate race of the season, with six drivers still in the frame for the Firestone Firehawk Cup as Ana Beatriz, Hildebrand, Arie Luyendyk Jr and Dillon Battistini can all still score enough points to overhaul Matos and Antinucci. Beatriz finished sixth in race one of the weekend's double-header, but Luyendyk and Battistini struggled to 17th and 18th respectively.
Perera drew an '8' out of a bag in Victory Lane to determine how many cars will be inverted for the start of Sunday's race, which means that he will start on the outside of row four while Pablo Donoso, who finished eighth in race one, takes pole.