Series rookie turns in impressive street circuit performance in Long Beach.
LONG BEACH, CA (April 22, 2015) – After a rough and disappointing season opener for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship in St. Petersburg, the Belardi Auto Racing team had put in the hours and the continuing research to prepare their cars for drivers Felix Serralles and Juan Piedrahita before they arrived in Long Beach for the historic street circuit event. The team won the prestigious race in 2014 with Gabby Chaves, which gave them extra incentive to hit the ground running on Friday for the first of four on-track sessions, which culminated in the 42-lap main event on Sunday morning. When the expected chaos of the opening corner played out, Serralles reacted masterfully to avoid the melee, emerging unscathed, and he would eventually power home to his first podium finish of the year, taking third in his debut appearance at the Grand Prix of Long Beach Presented by Allied Building Products. Piedrahita was primed to turn in a great result as well, but was sent into the tire barrier midway through the race by Jack Harvey, while running sixth. While he was able to reverse the car and get back to the pit lane for a new front wing, Juan would eventually retire with an eighth place result.
“I’m really proud of how our team rebounded from a disappointing start in St. Petersburg, knowing that we had a chance for two great finishes from our drivers,” commented Belardi Auto Racing owner Brian Belardi. “Felix qualified well this weekend, and he reacted with quick decision-making in the opening corner. His pace for the remainder of the race was what we were looking for, and getting him on the podium was an important step for the team this year. The new track record for the race was a nice bonus. Juan has positioned himself for a good finish as well, and it’s a shame that he was taken out by a guy who was five laps down. I’m glad Barber is this weekend, so that he can jump right back in the car and post a couple of good results in the doubleheader.”
With only four track sessions on the schedule for the weekend, the Belardi drivers needed to get up to speed quickly. Serralles had spent time in the Dallara race simulator coming into the event and the experience paid off, as he was quick from the get-go, sitting fourth in the lone practice session on Friday afternoon. Piedrahita was ninth in the order, improving his pace steadily through the extended 45-minute session. For Saturday morning’s second practice session, the team made significant adjustments to Serralles’ Mazda-powered #4 Dallara, but they did not provide the desired results and he was not able to improve his time, dropping to sixth in the order. The team learned a great deal from this car’s performance and they would use this in qualifying. Piedrahita found more speed during his time in the car during the shorter 30-minute practice, going a half-second quicker.
In the qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, both Serralles and Piedrahita improved on their St. Petersburg performances. After timing in eighth in Florida, Felix was fifth this past weekend, while Juan improved to eighth after sitting 11th in the season opener. Serralles was less than a half-second off the pole-winning time, as he turned a 1:12.472 on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit. Serralles’ position on the inside of the third row for the Sunday morning race start would be a crucial, as Kyle Kaiser climbed the rear of the polesitter (Harvey) in the braking zone for Turn 1, sending them both into the tires. Felix broke early to avoid the carnage and emerged with the lead. After a short caution period, the race went back to green. Serralles was then jumped by Ed Jones on the restart, moving him to second. Felix eventually succumb to the pressures of Spencer Pigot, but he turned things up over the final laps of the race as he closed on the leaders, setting a new track record race lap for Long Beach in the process, laying down a 1:12.900. Felix ended the race in third, scoring his first podium finish.
Piedrahita had a tougher time of it in the race, although he also avoided the opening lap skirmish. Juan was running in sixth at the halfway point of the race, and was focused on bringing home a solid finish when he was caught out by Harvey, who was five laps down at the time. Harvey made an unnecessary late braking move to get past Juan on the side of Turn 8, putting himself in the tire barrier in the process. With nowhere to go, Piedrahita also impacted the wall. Thankfully, he was able to back up and limp to the pit lane, where the Belardi team replaced his front wing in short order, getting him back into the fray. Running eighth, Juan made slight contact with the wall as he pushed to gain a position, and the damage ended his day.
In the championship standings, Serralles has advanced to fifth with his podium result, while Piedrahita is eighth. It’s extremely close from fourth to eighth, with just five points separating these positions. After two straight unforgiving street circuit races, the Belardi drivers and team will now head to the natural terrain road course of Barber Motorsports Park this weekend (April 24-26). The weather is forecasting mixed conditions, which would make for an extremely challenge weekend of racing.
BELARDI AUTO RACING – DRIVER INFORMATION
Felix Serralles – #4
Qualified: 5th – 1:12.472 (+0.432 secs)
Driver Quote: “I’m very happy with finishing third, but I wish I would have been further up the (podium) steps. We’ve made massive improvements since St. Pete, and we need to keep building on this momentum. It’s also a bonus to break the lap record set by Conor (Daly), and have my name there now, hopefully for as long as he did.”
Juan Piedrahita – #5
Qualified: 8th – 1:13.404 (+1.758)
Race #1: 8th
Driver Quote: “This was a disappointing race for me. The team gave me a great racecar, but my pit speed limiter got activated at the start of the race and it took me half a lap to realize that it was the issue. Thankfully, the caution for the opening corner wreck minimized the effect. We had the pace to be in the top-five, but I had a contact with another driver that put me in the tires. Overall, it wasn’t a weekend to remember, but the potential is there. I’m happy for Felix and the team because they are working hard to give us good cars.”