Rookie JK Vernay won his second-consecutive Firestone Indy Lights race in the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama, strengthening his advantage at the head of the points table in the process.
The Frenchman, who triumphed on debut on the streets of St Petersburg, picked up a $5000 bonus from Firestone for winning two races in a row, after leading from start to finish on the undulating Barber Motorsport Park course. Starting from pole in the #7 Lucas Slick Mist/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, Vernay held off Charlie Kimball by 1.1542secs to join 2009 recipient Junior Strous in earning the bonus. He is the fourth driver to win the first two races of a Firestone Indy Lights season, joining Mark Taylor (2003), Alex Lloyd (2007) and Junior Strous (2009), and the fourth driver to win his first two races in the series, joining Taylor, Raphael Matos (2006) and Strous.
"I was trying to take care of my tyres early in the race and, at the end, I was able to push - the car was still very good at the end of the race," Vernay reported, "Everybody did a great job and I'm very happy.
"We tried some small changes for the race, as it was warmer than this morning, but we had to take care of the tyres, the engine and the chassis. My engineer did a great job with the set-up and the crew did a great job. I couldn't be happier. Charlie was in front before the start line and that's why he let me overtake him on the second lap Charlie was really fair and it was very good race."
Vernay now holds a 33-point lead over Kimball in the championship standings heading to Long Beach, after the American, driving the #26 Levemir FlexPen car for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, recorded a career best Indy Lights finish and a maiden podium.
"I'm happy points-wise, as points mean prizes at the end of the year," Kimball noted, "The car ran great, and it bodes well for next week at Long Beach."
The American, however, acknowledged that there could have been some confusion at the start of the race.
"I came off the brakes going full throttle and it came out of the corner as I expected it to," he recalled, "When [Vernay] went, I don't know if he lifted or dragged the brake, but he fell behind pretty early. I can see why [the officials] up top would say that, but it was a good, clean start. I will have to talk to the officials and see what they saw up top."
Former AFS/Andretti driver Sebastian Saavedra, now driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, finished third, his best finish this season and the eighth podium finish of his Firestone Indy Lights career, coming home ahead of Kimball's team-mate Martin Plowman, who took a career-best finish in fourth.
"I'm very happy for the team, as Bryan Herta Autosport deserved those points," Saavedra claimed, "I think we came here very conservative and tried to do our best. We had a good car all weekend long. I just wanted to finish the race, and we did, so I'm very happy. Congrats to the other guys on the podium - we'll just have to get them at Long Beach."
Dan Clarke finished seventh in his first Firestone Indy Lights race, while Nic LeDuc finished eleventh on his series debut.