Felix Rosenqvist wins on Sunday, Zach Veach rebounds for third to salvage weekend
During the months that preceded the start of the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, Belardi Auto Racing worked diligently to put a pair of top-quality drivers in the seats of their cars, first signing 2014 multi-race winner Zach Veach and then adding FIA Formula 3 European Champion Felix Rosenqvist to complete the line-up. The long process paid off fully at this past weekend’s opening round of the series, as the team’s drivers bounced back from adversity in the Saturday race to headline the action on Sunday, taking two of the three podium positions. Rosenqvist led from the green flag in Race 2 and was never challenged en route to a 4.367-second victory in the long 45-lap race, while Veach raced expertly in his return to competition to post his first podium finish of the year.
“I’m so proud of how our drivers and the team bounced back after challenges that we had on Saturday,” commented Team Principal Brian Belardi. “Our pace was strong from the first session on and this provided us with a sweep of the front row for the start of the Sunday main event. Felix handled the start like the professional he is and Zach capitalized on the expected Turn 1 chaos perfectly and grabbed hold of third. It was incredibly satisfying to see our two drivers on the podium and it gives us all confidence for the rest of the year. We may be the smallest team in the paddock, but we’ve assembled a winning group of people with tons of passion for the sport.”
After qualifying second for Saturday’s race, Rosenqvist would make his life difficult just after firing up his Mazda powerplant on pit lane, when a erroneous adjustment to a steering wheel knob left his engine in ‘Rain Mode’, giving him only 70% power for the entire race. This killed his initial start and caused him to lose positions throughout the race and on the subsequent restarts. Despite the lack of power, Felix drove remarkably and was able to bring his car home seventh in the final tally. Veach had a much better time of the opening laps of Race 1, advancing quickly to the lead before pulling a sizable gap on this closest rival. With the race win looking very much in hand, Veach’s car suffered a fluke electrical failure, which completely shut down the car’s systems. As he fell down the order, getting swallowed up by the pack, he attempted to ‘cycle’ the electrical system. The engine roared back to life on a couple of occasions, but all was lost by this point, and he sadly pulled to pit road on lap 27, officially classified in 16th.
On Sunday, Felix and Zach were focused on redemption, ready to leverage the all-Belardi front row for the start of the 45-lap race. Rosenqvist handled the green flag masterfully and led the field out of the opening complex of turns and simply managed the remainder of the race, including the single restart following an early caution. Veach was equally strong from the start, and eventually worked his way to third, holding off the race-long pressure from Felix Serralles.
Leaving St. Petersburg, Rosenqvist sits third in the championship standings with 47 points, just two points behind the current leader (Serralles). Veach’s strong run on Sunday vaulted him to sixth with 29 points. The next round of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is set for April 1-2 at Phoenix International Raceway during the Phoenix Grand Prix weekend.
BELARDI AUTO RACING — DRIVER RESULTS AND QUOTE
Felix Rosenqvist – #14
Race #1 – Qualify: 2nd / Finish: 7th
Race #2 – Qualify: 1st / Finish: 1st
Driver Quote: “It’s good to have the first weekend done, just to get to know all the new things and the procedures that surround the race event – and to really see the true pace of everyone going flat out. I think we started off the weekend in a way that really proved that we (BAR) are contenders for the title this year, but we are for sure not getting carried away at all – there’s a list of things that we are working on to improve. To win a race in my first weekend was a fantastic feeling, and it was hard to expect when I signed up a couple of weeks ago. I just have to thank my team for making it all come together. I’m really having a good time with them, and I’m looking forward to the next one!”
Zach Veach – #5
Race #1 – Qualify: 3rd / Finish: 16th
Race #2 – Qualify: 2nd / Finish: 3rd
Driver Quote: “I’m very happy with my first race weekend with Belardi Auto Racing and my first weekend back on the Mazda Road to Indy. If it wasn’t for an electrical issue that took us out of the lead on Saturday, I feel we would’ve walked away with a win and a third place finish this weekend, leading the championship. Belardi has given my teammate and I incredible cars and we hope to do as much as we can with them! Phoenix is up next and I’m extremely excited to be back on an oval. I’m fully confident that we’ll be battling for a win there in a couple of weeks! I’d really like to thank Brian Belardi, and my entire crew for working so hard, and the Young Marines, as well.”
Direct Contact: Brian Belardi