Junior Strous completed a clean sweep of the opening round Firestone Indy Lights double-header to become only the third driver in series history to open a season with two victories.
The Dutchman, driving for the Winners Circle Group team, edged polesitter Sebastian Saavedra by 0.4428sec to take the win and add it to the one he secured with a late-race pass on the Colombian's AFS/Andretti Green Racing team-mate JR Hildebrand on Saturday. Only Britons Mark Taylor, in 2003, and Alex Lloyd, in 2007, have previously opened their account with back-to-back wins - and both went on to win the championship.
“The team has done an amazing job - we're a new outfit, so this gives us a lot of confidence for our next race at Long Beach," Strous bubbled afterwards, "We saved our tyres in qualifying so, for both races, we had a new set while the other guys ran used tyres. In both races, it was hard to get the temperature in but, after about ten laps, the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race.”
Having qualified on the pole, Saavedra had to settle for second place at the chequer, as Strous produced an element of deja vu
to come from behind and snatch victory, passing the AFS/AGR car at turn two coming out of a lap 32 restart. However, after suffering mechanical problems in Saturday's opener, a first career Lights podium was a welcome return for the former German F3 runner.
“I'm much more happy than yesterday," Saavedra admitted, "The team did a great job with the set-up - we had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could. At the last restart, I just don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tyres, so I was not able to out-brake him. But I'm happy.”
Atlantic Series graduate James Hinchcliffe completed the podium after coming through from seventh on the grid in his Sam Schmidt-run entry
“It's a really tough track, especially in this heat, and it was slippery out there," the Crash.net
columnist reported, "I don't think we had the quickest car, but the #7 Hinchtown.com car was very consistent. We just managed to drive smart and stay out of trouble, and I think that was the key today. I don't know if I would have been able to make it in front of some of the guys without that.”
Saturday's runner-up Jonathan Summerton finished fourth after improving twelve positions over his starting spot and ensured that the four leading positions were filled by rookies. The slightly more experienced Daniel Herrington rounded out the top five for newcomers Bryan Herta Autosport, with five different teams being represented finished fifth.
“It was awesome – tons of fun," Summerton commented, "We went from 16th to fourth and I don't think you could have asked for much more. My goal was top five and we did it, although we had a car that I know could have won the race. It's just a shame we couldn't get clear air to run the lap times.”
Herrington, too, was full of praise for his team, and delighted with the second top five finish of his career.
"We obviously took advantage of some incidents out there and made one or two passes, but we made some changes overnight that really helped out the car," he explained, "The car was much faster than it showed, it's just really hard to get around this place with other cars. We just took advantage where we could and ended up fifth, which was great, but it's too bad we couldn't have started further up, because I think we could have run in the top three speed-wise.”
Strous is the first driver to win the Firestone Repeat Bonus for winning back-to-back races since the programme was introduced at the start of the 2008 season and, with $5000 already in his pocket, is eligible to win another $5000 if he wins on the streets of Long Beach on 19 April.