The move paid dividends for Junior Strous a day earlier on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit so why not attempt it again? Great idea.
Strous became the third Firestone Indy Lights driver to sweep the St. Petersburg doubleheader, joining Raphael Matos (2006) and Alex Lloyd ('07), by beating Sebastian Saavedra to the checked flag by 0.4428 of a second. James Hinchcliffe finished third, Jonathan Summerton fourth and Daniel Herrington fifth.
Strous, who started second in both races in the No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP car for the Winners Circle Group, overtook Saavedra in Turn 2 coming out of a Lap 32 restart and held on in the 40-lap race. In Race 1, he made an inside move on J.R. Hildebrand in Turn 1 following a Lap 22 restart and went on to beat Summerton by 0.7205 of a second.
"The team has done an amazing job," said Strous, one of the 15 rookies competing in the season-opening weekend. "We're a new outfit so this gives us a lot of confidence for our next race at Long Beach. We saved our tires in qualifying, so for both races we had a new set of tires while the other guys ran used tires. Both races it was hard to get the temperature in, but after about ten laps the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race."
The field took the green flag after a Lap 27 full-course yellow for contact between the Nos. 20 (Anna Beatriz) and 26 (Hildebrand) cars. Saavedra, the pole winner, couldn't hold off Strous' inside move in the Turns 1-2 combination.
"I'm much happier than yesterday," said Saavedra, who fell 24 positions to 27 in Race 1 because of a mechanical issue that knocked him out after six laps. "The team did a great job with the set-up. We had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could. In the last restart, I don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tires, so I was not able to break (Strous). But I'm happy. It is a great success for AFS/Andretti Green Racing."
The top five finishers represented five different teams. The Winners Circle Group, with veteran open-wheel racing team owner Paul Diatlovich leading the effort, and Bryan Herta Autosport, with former IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta at the helm, made their Firestone Indy Lights debut. Herrington, driving the No. 28 LeBleu/Bryan Herta Autosport car, advanced six positions to fifth.
"We made some changes overnight that really helped out the car," said Herrington, who moved up four spots to finish seventh in Race 1. "The car was much faster than it showed; it's just really hard to get around this place with other cars. So we took advantage where we could and ended up fifth, which was great."
Summerton, driving the No. 9 Andersen/Allied Interior Products car for RLR/Andersen Racing, also had a fast car that was able to avoid numerous incidents on the track.
"It was awesome," said Summerton, who started 14th. "I don't think you could have asked for much more. My goal was top five and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It's just a shame we couldn't get clear air to run the lap times because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure. We started off rough and ended on a high."
Mario Romancini, starting 10th in the No. 5 Revita/Win Brazil/Allied car for RLR/Andersen Racing, moved up to sixth. Team Palm Beach International Raceway teammates Charlie Kimball and Jay Howard finished seventh and eighth, respectively, while Gustavo Yacaman advanced seven positions to ninth in the No. 44 Crepes & Waffles/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. Genoa Racing's Richard Philippe finished 10th.