Lloydís on top of the world as Indy Pro champion
Alex Lloyd showed everyone on Sunday that he will be a future star in the IndyCar Series. It’s now just a matter of when that comes to pass.
The British driver scored his eighth victory of 2007 and clinched the Indy Pro Series championship in dominant fashion today at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Lloyd took the point with a Turn 1,† Lap 1 pass of polesitter Richard Antonucci and while Antonucci’s No. 51 Cheever Racing machine was never far away from the back of Lloyd’s No. 7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, there was no doubt that after the Brit took the lead, it was his race to win or lose.
This season, it’s also been his championship to win or lose. Right from the gate, Lloyd put his stamp on the season with a brilliant five-race winning streak that included a victory in the Freedom 100 on the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. The No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM machine has found itself in Victory Lane three more times this season — Iowa, the second race at Watkins Glen and today’s race at Sonoma, the first of the weekend for the Indy Pro Series.
For Lloyd and his SSM team, nothing less than a victory to clinch the championship would do. As he told the press following the race:
“We really wanted to win the championship by winning the race. That was the way we wanted to do it. We had a big lead, but we didn’t want to fall behind and win it through the fact that we just had a big lead from the beginning of the season. We wanted to show that we were dominant from the beginning and finish that way as well.”
Lloyd got off to a rocket start with his pass on Antonucci, a veteran of various European road-racing series. But midway through the race, his car began to struggle through the corners — allowing Antonucci to stay in striking distance.
But before the American could pounce on the ailing Lloyd, the yellow flag came out for Hideki Mutoh’s spin on Lap 18. Mutoh, who entered the weekend 98 points out of first place and as the only other driver eligible for the title, touched wheels with the Andretti Green Racing car of Jaime Camara in Turn 11. The Japanese driver’s machine stalled and had to be towed-in.
With Mutoh’s challenge stopped, Lloyd could breath easy:
“When the yellow came out, I was really happy. That’s just the way racing is. You can start off with a good car, it can change halfway through the race and then come back to you. You just have to be patient and not make any mistakes. In my situation, keep the car in the lead while you’re going through that bad patch and then push through and keep the lead.”
Antonucci thanked his Cheever Racing crew for a good car, but conceded that the yellow caution periods helped to blunt any advances on his part — his poor start notwithstanding:
“We had a good car and I think we were succeeding quite well mid-race. The yellows gave [Lloyd] a little bit of a breather for the way his car was setup and that really helped him. We’ll have to go look at the video – on the start, I got on the power earlier and had the gear where it needed to be but I just got killed. It was pretty obvious. [Alex] just drove around me.”
Mike Potekhen felt that a test on the 2.26-mile road course earlier in the season gave his Apex Racing team the ability to produce a good car for him to drive today. He ended up third on a day in which he found the racing to be, in his words, “lead-follow”:
“It was nice to have a chance to†test here and it really helped.†My team is coming on strong. It’s good to build this momentum going into next season. We really need that. It’s great for the guys. They’ve been working so hard all year. We’ve been behind, but our foundation is here. It’s been an amazing effort and I have to thank everyone who has supported it.”
South African shoe Stephen Simpson finished fourth, followed by Camara in fifth. Lloyd’s SSM teammates Logan Gomez and Ryan Justice finished sixth and eighth respectively, sandwiching RLR/Andersen’s Andrew Prendeville in seventh. Jonathan Klein was ninth in his return to the cockpit from injury last month at Mid-Ohio, while Brad Jaeger rounded out the top 10.
But all in all, it was another great day in the world of Alex Lloyd. With his main goal for 2007 reached, he can now fight for victories with no pressure and focus on grabbing an IndyCar Series ride for 2008. It sounds like he’s already doing just that:
“[The championship's] a great testament to how great this team is to the results we’ve been able to do this year. It’s been a dream year for me, it really has. Hopefully I can carry this momentum into next year.”