Lexington, Ohio – The battle for this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires crown, as well as a prize of entry into three rounds of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500, has heated up dramatically following an action-packed 38-lap Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda. Sean Rayhall, who is undertaking only a partial campaign with 8Star Motorsports, emerged to take his second win of the season after two of the three main championship protagonists, Ed Jones and Jack Harvey, collided while battling for the lead.
Rayhall measured his pace to perfection, crossing the line less than a second clear of Carlin’s ex-Formula 1 driver Max Chilton, who recorded his third successive podium finish. Spencer Pigot finished third for Juncos Racing and now trails Harvey by only six points, 301-295, with two races remaining at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on September 11-13.
Harvey started from the pole for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, but was beaten away from the rolling start by Carlin’s Jones. Felix Serralles (Belardi Auto Racing) slotted into third ahead of Rayhall, Chilton and yesterday’s race winner RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson).
A problem for Serralles dropped him out of contention on Lap 3, and two laps later came the only caution period of the race after Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Scott Anderson (Schmidt Peterson) made contact at Turn Nine.
Jones continued to lead at the restart but remained under intense pressure from Harvey, with Rayhall holding a watching brief in third. Harvey tried a couple of times to make a pass for the lead, only to be rebuffed. Finally, on Lap 21, he made his move to the inside under braking for Turn Four. Jones resolutely stuck to his guns until contact was made and both cars spun. Harvey continued, albeit with a badly deranged front wing. He eventually finished a disgruntled 10th.
Jones served a drive-through penalty after he was adjudged guilty of avoidable contact but was able to recover to ninth place and remain third in the points chase, 18 markers adrift of Harvey.
The incident allowed Rayhall to take over the lead. The 20-year-old from Winston, Ga., was content to run a consistent pace, allowing his advantage to dwindle from almost three seconds to less than one second at the checkered flag.
Serralles recovered to fifth ahead of Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), Ethan Ringel and Anderson, who posted the fastest lap of the race on the very last lap and took home the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award for the manner in which he fought past both Harvey and Jones in one bold maneuver at Turn Two on Lap 31.
Sean Rayhall (#8 Bass Egg and Edvisors-8 Star Motorsports: “Max was really closing in there at the end. Our car was good in the middle of the race and Jack’s and Ed’s cars were good at the beginning of the run. We felt as though we were a half session behind all weekend, since we had a paddle shift problem in the second practice which really put us behind the eight ball. We didn’t get enough laps to really push the car, to find out what it would do. But I have fantastic guys. I have full confidence in the 8Star team, they’ve never let me down, so hats off to them. I really appreciate that they brought me back onboard for this race. I’ve driven four or five cars since I drove the Indy Lights car last so it was hard to just jump in. These guys are so tough, they do it week in and week out and they’re the best of the best. To be able to come here and win is very fortunate!”