Tristan Vautier scored his second win of the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Series season, first on an oval, in a flag-to-flag win Friday evening at the Milwaukee Mile. The victory helps him in the extraordinarily tight championship battle between himself, Sebastian Saavedra and Esteban Guerrieri.
Vautier's win is the 50th for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Lights, as the team has been the standard-bearer since it first entered the series from its first year in 2002, and has five championships (2004, 06, 07, 10, 11).
Saavedra nearly caught Vautier in the final 15 laps, as a 1.5-second gap was reduced to half a second as Vautier struggled to pass a slower car (Juan Pablo Garcia). Both eventually got around Garcia and Vautier held Saavedra off to the flag. Guerrieri came home third.
The winner was able to handle his tires particularly well in the first 60 to 70 laps of the 100-lap race, but admitted they fell off towards the end.
“I felt like in the first 60, 70 laps we had a good control over the race,” Vautier said. “I could really basically drive the pace my engineer was asking me to drive on the radio and not push too hard on the tires.
“Then it started kind of getting harder 30 laps to the end, you started to get a little looser. It was good. We were on a similar pace with Sebastian the last 30 laps. I lost some time catching traffic. It was hard to get by on this track. Sebastian caught me up pretty quickly then. I had to really defend and make sure he will not pass me. I did not want to give that one up.”
Vautier now leads Guerrieri by three points, 241-238, in the championship, with Saavedra third on 227 markers.
David Ostella recorded his best finish of the season for Team Moore Racing in fourth, with Carlos Munoz fifth in the second AFS/Andretti Autosport entry (Saavedra). Bryan Clauson, in his first Indy Lights start of the season for Fan Force United, replacing Armaan Ebrahim, finished 10th.
Only Mike Larrison, making his second start in a third Belardi Auto Racing entry, failed to finish. Larrison spun several times and was last of the 13 runners, at a race which is traditionally the lowest for starters during the course of the Lights season.
The season continues next week in Iowa.