LEEDS, Ala. – Linus Lundqvist claimed an emphatic victory for Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports Saturday as Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires made its return to the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder following a one-year hiatus.
Teammate Benjamin Pedersen followed the Swede home in second place, just ahead of Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco, who completed the podium for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.
Lundqvist, the 2018 BRDC British Formula 3 champion who romped to victory in last year’s Formula Regional Americas Championship powered by Honda, laid down a marker by claiming the first Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in qualifying Friday at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course.
His lap of 1:11.5149 (115.780 mph) represented a new qualifying lap record.
Lundqvist’s task was eased considerably on the opening lap when HMD Motorsports teammate David Malukas was inadvertently nudged off the road and into the barriers at Turn One by two-time Road to Indy champion Kyle Kirkwood.
Malukas was out on the spot, although he will have an opportunity for redemption Sunday when he starts from the pole for the second leg of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires following a separate qualifying session Friday afternoon.
After a pit stop to replace a broken front wing, Kirkwood, winner of the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, rejoined at the back of the 13-car field and was able to move up to ninth by the completion of the 30-lap race.
Lundqvist took off confidently in the lead following a full-course caution while Malukas’ stricken car was recovered.
The Swede completed the first full lap of racing 1.6 seconds clear of his Danish teammate, and thereafter stretched his lead slowly but surely before taking the checkered flag 5.3517 seconds ahead of Pedersen to ensure a dream Indy Lights debut for the Scandinavian pair.
“This was the dream, to continue the streak from last year, but we knew how tough this championship has been. Looking at the drivers on this grid, it’s amazing that we were able to get the first pole position of the year and now the first race win as well,” said Lundqvist. “It’s my favorite position, to be in the lead and controlling the pace, but you’re still pushing because the field is trying to catch you. You always keep an eye on tire management and manage your laps to his – if there’s a restart, you have to have the tires to keep pushing.
“It’s unfortunate for the team that David got taken out in turn one, otherwise we could have had a good fight on our hands. That will have to wait until tomorrow.”
DeFrancesco profited from the first-lap incident to vault from sixth on the grid to fourth, then took advantage of a slight slip by Englishman Toby Sowery, who slid wide at the exit of turn six, on the seventh lap to move up to third.
DeFrancesco slipped as much as 2.5 seconds behind Pedersen before closing in during the late stages and finishing right on the Dane’s tail.
Sowery recovered to finish fourth. He also took the honor of a new lap record, 1:12.7718 (113.780 mph), narrowly edging out Lundqvist’s best with just a couple of laps remaining.
Australian Alex Peroni finished fifth on the Carlin team’s return to Indy Lights for the first time since 2017, followed by Robert Megennis, who held off a race-long challenge from teammate Danial Frost.
Last year’s Indy Pro 2000 champion Sting Ray Robb and Kirkwood closed the top nine.
Linus Lundqvist, Benjamin Pedersen, Devlin DeFrancesco, Toby Sowery, Alex Peroni, Robert Megennis, Danial Frost, Sting Ray Robb, Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Bogle, Nikita Lastochkin, Antonio Serravalle, David Malukas.