Series rookie Sebastian Saavedra earned the first victory of his Firestone Indy Lights career by leading almost from flag-to-flag in the Kansas Lottery 100, the first oval event of the 2009 season.
The Colombian, who joined the crack AFS/Andretti Green Racing outfit after graduating from the German F3 Cup, passed veteran polesitter Wade Cunningham on a lap ten restart and led the remainder of the 67 laps before taking the chequered flag under caution with the Kiwi still in his mirrors. The victory improved on already solid start to his Lights career for former FBMW USA standout Saavedra, bettering the second place he took from pole at the opening double-header in St Petersburg, and elevating him to third in the overall standings.
“It's unbelievable - I cannot be happier than I am right now," the youngster enthused, "AFS/Andretti Green did an incredible job, and I have to thank the guys as they were just unbelievable. I'm very happy for me and the team. It's a win for Colombia, but hopefully the first of many more."
"The key was the restarts. I just had perfect timing behind Wade. My main problem was the wind - it was really windy out there. I think, the last half of the race, I was struggling with the back [of the car] because there were so many wind changes. But that was the only thing I had a problem with, otherwise my car was perfect. It was really fast. Hopefully, we can keep it going for the rest of the season.”
Cunningham, having taken his first pole for two years, had no answer for Saavedra over the remaining 57 laps of a race interrupted five times by yellow flags. Nevertheless, second spot was the 2005 champion's best result since Mid-Ohio last summer, and one he was happy to accept after admitting that the AFS/AGR team had got its set-up better sorted.
“We're disappointed not to get the win after qualifying on the pole but, looking at the high downforce lap times in practice and then looking at the race, we just didn't have the strongest car today," he conceded, "Sebastian was able to run the pace he wanted and no-one else could get around him.
"I tried my best more than once, but I just couldn't get the pass completed on the outside when we were running two-wide, especially with the way the wind worked and the gearing. It was just very, very difficult. I'm happy with a second place and everything that goes with that, but I'm disappointed we couldn't hang on to the front.”
Another rookie, Brazilian World Series by Renault convert Mario Romancini, finished third, taking easily his best result in the Lights category after coming from a road racing background.
“I'm very happy with my first oval race," the RLR/Andersen pilot admitted, " I'm getting comfortable with the ovals - every lap I'm learning. Last week [in Long Beach], I had a problem with the gearbox and couldn't finish the race, so this is very important for the championship. We scored good points, and now let's think about Indy.”
Ana Beatriz fourth, ahead of rookies Martin Plowman and Jonathan Summerton, with the Briton taking easily his best result since switching from F3 in Europe. Atlantic convert Summerton, meanwhile, took over the points lead with a seventh-place finish to add to the three consecutive fourths from St Pete and Long Beach. Erstwhile points leader Junior Strous finished eleventh, and dropped to second overall, between Summerton and Saavedra.
The race's five cautions accounted for 33 of the 67 laps, the last of which covered the clear-up of an incident involving Britons Dillon Battistini and Pippa Mann. Battistini - last year's most successful driver in terms of race wins - was transported to KU Medical Centre, where all preliminary tests came back negative. The Genoa Racing call-up will remain at the facility overnight for observation, however.