Rookies Lead the Way into Tomorrow’s Mazda Road to Indy “Blue Riband” Race
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Rookie Matheus Leist will start from the pole position for tomorrow’s Freedom 100, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Round Seven, after posting two record-breaking laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this evening. The 18-year-old from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, set new standards for both the two-lap qualifying average (199.198 mph) and the fastest Indy Lights single-car lap set during qualifying (199.268 mph) for the Carlin team following a lengthy delay due to rain.
Leist edged out second-generation Indy Lights racer and fellow rookie Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., who recorded a two-lap average of 198.648 mph for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Andretti Autosport teammates Dalton Kellett, from Stouffville, Ont., Canada, and Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, will share Row Two of the grid.
The 40-lap, 100-mile race is traditionally the highlight of the season for the highest rung on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, and will take place directly after the final practice session on Carb Day for Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500.
Seven and a half hours after practice was initially postponed due to persistent rain, the Indy Lights contenders finally ventured out for an abbreviated 20-minute practice session at 4:30 p.m. Conditions remained cool and with heavy cloud cover, but they clearly worked in favor of the Carlin team which posted the top two speeds. Leist set the tone by recording the first-ever 200+ mph lap for an Indy Lights car at 44.7690 seconds, an average speed of 201.032 mph, with teammate Zachary Claman DeMelo not far behind at 199.515 mph.
Twenty minutes later, Neil Alberico (Carlin) was the first car out on track for single-car qualifying. The Californian’s solid two-lap average of 196.938 mph was beaten just a couple of minutes later by Kellett, whose first lap of 198.170 mph immediately eclipsed the existing single-lap record of 197.866 mph, set in 2015 by Ethan Ringel. Kellett’s second lap enabled him to establish a new two-lap mark of 198.011 mph.
Leist, running seventh in the order, then vaulted to the top of the charts with his record-breaking run, which remained good enough for the reigning British Formula 3 champion to secure his first Indy Lights pole.
Herta, running 12th in line, was the only challenger to come close – despite a heart-stopping half-spin as he left the pit lane to begin his two-lap run. Herta recovered but ultimately fell shy of Leist by less than a quarter of a second.
Championship leader Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., will start from 11th on the grid after recording a two-lap average of 196.058 mph for Juncos Racing.
The green flag for tomorrow’s race – which will air live on NBCSN – will fly at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
Matheus Leist (#26 TMA-Carlin): “It was a long wait today and I think all the drivers were nervous going into qualifying. I’m so happy to get my first pole position in the series in my first oval race. Everything is new for me here so I’m still getting used to everything. And the weather today was so different than it was in the test on Monday, but the team gave me a really good car. You have to be 100 percent focused on what you’re doing because everything happens so fast. There was a lot of pressure but I knew we had two very good laps. I had to wait for the other drivers to finish qualifying, which was scary. This feels great.”
Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “I’m super glad we got to run, since I am starting ahead of the guys I’m fighting in the championship. But I made a mistake coming out onto the track – I did a half spin and went through the grass. The driver excuse in me would say it was the rain that started to come down but in reality I simply lost it coming out on track. I don’t know how much that really affected us; the Carlin guys had such a good car today. Tomorrow will be a cat-and-mouse game. You have to see what you’ve got and what everyone else’s strengths are. But it really hit me when we were taking the photo that I’m in the front row at Indianapolis. I was thinking that it will be fun to see where I am in 30 years and look back and see where it started.”
About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.