Vernay increases title margin with victory

By Dave Lewandowski

SONOMA, Calif. — The battle between pole sitter J.K. Vernay and Charlie Kimball on the 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway course was reminiscent of their competition in early April at Barber Motorsports Park.

While pressed throughout the second half of the 40-lap race, Vernay wound up on the top step of the podium both times. His 3.4245-second victory in the Carneros 100 made Kimball a four-time runner-up this season.

All of Vernay’s victories have come on road/street circuits in building a 71-point championship lead over James Hinchcliffe. The final three races are on 1.5-mile ovals.

“It was just a great weekend, and after a tough weekend at Mid-Ohio (started seventh; finished eighth) I wanted to win here,” said Vernay, whose family from France was watching him compete in North America for the first time. “It’s great, but (the championship) is not finished.”

Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car, finished third and Gustavo Yacaman was fourth in the No. 10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car.

“It’s a great result being home in California,” said Kimball, who posted his eighth top-five finish of the season to move into third in the standings. “I have a lot of friends and family here, a lot of supporters. Good to give them a result today.”

Kimball, who started third, overtook Hinchcliffe on Lap 16 in the chicane (Turn 10) and closed to 0.6275 of a second of Vernay on Lap 24. But Vernay began putting distance between himself and Kimball (“By the end of the race, we had used too much of my tires early on.”) over the final 10 laps.

“I had a chance with (the Jim Russell Racing School) to learn the track last week,” said Vernay, who was competing on the natural-terrain course for the first time. “That is really important because I knew the track when I arrived. I’m just really happy the Lucas Oil car was great. I hope now to win a race on the ovals. That’s the new goal, I have to say.”

Pippa Mann produced a Firestone Indy Lights-best fifth place in the No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.

“I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Indy then the broken hand,” said Mann, who missed the Mid-Ohio round with the broken left hand suffered at Edmonton. “This is the potential we thought we had with our best finish so far. I flat spotted the tires early on, but the Firestone Firehawks hung on. My hand was beaten up, so we sat out most of the morning’s practice. The crew has been working really hard, so it was good to be able to give them a good finish.”

Juan Pablo Garcia, competing in his second race with Michael Crawford Motorsports, advanced six positions to finish sixth (Michael Crawford Motorsports’ highest road/street course finish), and Adrian Campos Jr. recorded his third consecutive top-10 finish of seventh in the No. 22 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car.

Joel Miller, making his second Firestone Indy Lights start, was ninth in the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport car and Giancarlo Vilarinho moved up five spots to finish 10th in the No. 4 Andersen Racing Allied car.

Martin Plowman, who won for the first time Aug. 8 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, had streaks of 19 consecutive races running at the finish and 14 top-10 finishes end. Contact with the No. 49 car driven Philip Major on Lap 7 in Turn 2 knocked out the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers/KEP Printing car for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport.

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