Highs and lows for title-winning squad; great progress made for Long Beach.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (April 2, 2015) – This year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season is now underway for Belardi Auto Racing, the series’ reigning champions, and the opening round this past weekend in St. Petersburg set the baseline for the team’s continued efforts moving forward. The race marked the debut of the series’ new chassis – the Dallara IL15 – and Belardi’s brand new driver line-up worked closely with the team’s engineering staff on fine-tuning their baseline set-up on the temporary street circuit in Florida. The weekend featured highs and lows that included a trio of top-10 finishes, but also a disappointing DNF caused by an overzealous position defense by another competitor. The Belardi crew knows that there are many races still to be run, so they are focused on taking all that was learned into the next race on the schedule. Series sophomore Juan Piedrahita posted the best result for the team, finishing sixth in the opening race of the weekend on Saturday, while rookie Felix Serralles recovered from being unceremoniously shoved into the concrete wall on Saturday to give Belardi its best result on Sunday with an eighth place finish.
“We didn’t have the start that we were looking for in St. Pete, but I’m proud of my drivers and my team because they didn’t waver from our goal and targets,” admitted team owner Brian Belardi. “We battled through a couple of issues, both on and off the track, and I’m happy with how Juan and Felix responded on Sunday. The hurdles we faced have brought us even closer together as a team and I know both of our pilots are anxious to get to Long Beach to continue our progression forward.”
The team looked solid out of the gate, posting impressive times during the initial practice session on Friday morning, running on a green and cooler track surface. Piedrahita was fourth in the opening practice of the weekend, setting an early tone. Likewise, Serralles was a solid ninth during his first laps on the challenging street circuit. Rain was forecasted for the day and it finally early arrived in the afternoon, presenting a soaked surface for the second Indy Lights practice session, and like the other five teams on pit lane, the Belardi crew elected to skip the session knowing that the weekend would be sunny, clear and dry. There was simply no need at the time to risk damage during a slippery, wet session.
In qualifying, Serralles led the team with a 1:06.363 that positioned him just over a second off the pole time in seventh overall, and just a half-second from third. Piedrahita battled with some brake issues and was 11th on the time sheets.
In the opening race of the doubleheader, Serralles got off to the best start and jumped into sixth behind former F1 driver Max Chilton. At the start of the second lap, Chilton pushed wide in turn one while Serralles hit the apex perfectly to exit the corner side-by-side with the Carlin Racing driver heading to the quick turn two-three / left-right complex. Chilton refused to cede the spot, despite being out of position, and he would then use all of the curbing to the left of the track. The resultant imbalance of the car sent him into Serralles, who had the racing line, and they would both end up in the wall to the right side of the track. The damage to the Belardi #4 was extensive, as was the injury to Felix’s hand, which took a hard hit. Once the race went back to green, Piedrahita was embroiled in a great battle with Scott Andersen, and he would be successful in holding his challenger at bay to score a sixth place finish.
The second race of the weekend was less eventful, and both Belardi drivers were in the midst of on-track battles early on. Serralles would eventually stretch away from his teammate to finish eighth despite battling residual electrical issues from the Saturday crash, while Juan again triumphed over Andersen to finish ninth. Serralles turned the third quickest lap of the race. In the final tally, Piedrahita sits seventh in the championship standings, just one point behind Chilton.
With the first event of the season in the books, the Belardi drivers and staff will now continue their constant push for improvement and success moving to the upcoming events. The next round of the Indy Lights program will take the squad to the historic Long Beach Grand Prix on April 17-19 in southern California.
BELARDI AUTO RACING – DRIVER INFORMATION
Felix Serralles – #4
Qualified: 7th – 1:06.363 (+1.044)
Race #1: DNF
Race #2: 8th
Driver Quote: “I think we could have had a very good result in the first race. The car felt great and I was passing a few cars, up until the incident. In the second race, we struggled with pace at the start. And the car was a bit difficult to drive, but we’ll move on to the next one.”
Juan Piedrahita – #5
Qualified: 11th – 1:07.078 (+1.758)
Race #1: 6th
Race #2: 9th
Driver Quote: “It was up-and-down for us, for sure, but we were looking very good on practice. We had a brake issue in qualifying, but we got that handled and we were still able to finish both races and advance some positions. I’m really looking forward to Long Beach. The team worked really heard to fix my brake problem, and I know that we will keep working and be stronger heading to the next race.”