Indianapolis, Ind. – Sean Rayhall scored an emotional and well-deserved victory for 8Star Motorsports in today’s Mazda Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Cooper Tires on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile Grand Prix road course. Rayhall, 20, from Winston, Ga., grasped the lead at the start of Round Seven of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and held on to win despite almost race-long pressure from yesterday’s winner and 2014 Indy Lights championship runner-up Jack Harvey.
Unfortunately for Harvey, a mechanical problem on the final lap dropped him to an unrepresentative fifth, allowing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian teammate RC Enerson and ex-Formula 1 racer Max Chilton (Carlin) to round out the podium.
Rayhall made a perfect getaway from the outside of the front row and managed to draft his way pass polesitter Ed Jones (Carlin) before Turn One. Behind, contact between Harvey and Jones sent the latter into a spin from which he was fortunate to emerge unscathed, albeit at the tail of the field. Several other contenders also were delayed. Felix Serralles (Belardi Auto Racing), meanwhile, emerged in third, from ninth on the grid, ahead of Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing).
An incident at Turn One on Lap Four ensured a full-course yellow and ended the day for erstwhile championship leader Spencer Pigot, whose disappointing weekend ended with his Juncos Racing MAZDASPEED Scholarship Dallara-Mazda beached in the gravel at Turn Three.
Rayhall, best known for his sports car exploits, in particular winning the 2013 Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Powered by Mazda, again made good his escape at the restart, while Serralles managed to sneak past Harvey for second.
Harvey redressed the balance on Lap 13 and slowly, inexorably began to reduce what was almost a three-second deficit to just one second with seven laps remaining in the 35-lap race. All the while, though, he was concerned by a warning light in the cockpit due to rising engine temperatures. A helmet visor tear-off had become lodged in the engine intake. Rayhall managed to maintain his advantage at around one second until, cruelly, with less than half a lap remaining, the electronics in Harvey’s car cried enough and the engine went into “limp mode.”
Enerson, 18, from New Port Richey, Fla., was the biggest beneficiary, but it was no more than he deserved following an impressive drive through the field after being forced to take evasive action during the first-lap fracas. Englishman Chilton also mounted a fine charge, rising from ninth on Lap One to third, setting a new lap record of 1:16.4012 (114.925 mph) along the way. [The previous mark of 1:20.6470 = 108.874 mph was set by Matthew Brabham in 2014.] Teammate Jones virtually matched his pace in climbing from last to fourth.
The result enabled Jones to retake the championship points lead by 166-162 over Harvey, with Pigot trailing just seven points farther behind in third as the series prepares for its signature race of the season, the Freedom 100, on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on May 22 as part of the #MRTI FreedomFest weekend which leads up to the 99th Indianapolis 500.
Sean Rayhall (#8 Bass Egg and Edvisors-8Star Motorsports): “In my head, that was longer than the six hours I’ve driven in endurance races! Jack was probably faster than me, but I was trying to save my tires for the end in case he got close. The restart had me nervous but I used a little trick I picked up driving Late Model (stock) cars to keep him back. After that, the only thing that was going through my head was to keep hitting my marks. I never expected this. Racing against guys like Max, RC, Ed, these guys have been doing open-wheel racing for the last five or six years, while I’ve done endurance racing. I’m inexperienced compared to them; it was an honor yesterday just to be on the podium with them so to be able to win, I’m just blown away. In the end, it’s another race car. It’s a switch in your head; you go from one to another, you drive different styles and push in different ways but you get to a point where you can flip it on and flip it off. But it’s very emotional: Enzo’s almost like a dad to me. He looks out for me – you don’t have very many team owners like that.”