JR Hildebrand led all 45 laps of the Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of Long Beach, converting pole position into his first win of the 2009 campaign and vaulting himself back into title contention after mixed results in St Petersburg.
The AFS/AGR driver was able to open out a comfortable gap over the rest of the 25-car field in the first half of the event, despite clipping the wall, and still had the measure of his rivals when a mid-race restart bunched the pack. He eventually came home with nearly two seconds in hand over second-placed Richard Philippe, claiming his second Lights victory as the series prepares to return to the scene of his first, in Kansas last year.
“We just had a great car, and the ARPRO guys have just done a great job all weekend," Hildebrand reported, "We had a great car at St Petersburg, but we had some mechanicals going on, and I have to give all the credit to the boys for picking it up after a rough weekend.
“I think we have the potential to be the fastest on the track everywhere we go. We had a good run at Kansas last year and picked up some miles in the [Andretti Green] IndyCar a couple weeks ago, so maybe that will give us a leg up on everyone.”
Philippe posted his best Lights Series result in second, converting fourth on the grid into a podium finish for the Genoa team after admitting to not having enough to stay with Hildebrand at the restarts.
“We're not P1, but we were equal with him - he just had good restarts, and I couldn't catch him," he said, "At the end, I kind of faded off a little bit and James [Hinchcliffe] was catching up a little bit, but P2 is points in the bag, and we can move forward.”
Hinchcliffe returned to the podium for the second race in a row, but was disappointed not to have converted a front row start into something stronger than third at the chequer.
“It was a solid effort, as I don't think any of us had anything for JR today," the Crash.net
columnist admitted, "He was pretty quick and I feel, at the end, he could pretty much control the pace and do what he wanted. I got a good start but, then, on the second or third lap, JR clobbered the wall with his inside rear coming out of the hairpin. I thought he was going to spin, so I backed out of it to avoid the wreck, but the guy somehow managed to catch it and keep going. I had already lifted and lost my momentum, which allowed Richard to get by. I think, for sure, we could have been second today.”
Jonathan Summerton continued his consistent start to the season with a third fourth place finish in as many races.
“We had a car that was very consistent - I wouldn't say we had the quickest car, but we were consistent," he emphasised, "I'm happy with fourth place, but I would have liked to have been on the podium. However, I think consistency should win the championship, so hopefully that stays true.”