After qualifying second on the streets of Long Beach, Esteban Guerrieri’s strategy was simple: Make a bid for the lead early.
From there his goal was to run a mistake-free race.
He accomplished both, earning his fourth-career victory and first of 2012 on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn California street course.
“Really, really happy to get my first win of the season at Long Beach,” Guerrieri said. ” I have to thank my engineers for the strategy. We used a little less wing so we could go at the start.”
On the opening lap Guerrieri made his move as the 15-car field catapulted into Turn 1, passing pole-sitter Sebastian Saavedra for the lead. From there he continued to build his advantage, ensconced in the No. 11 cockpit.
By the fourth lap, both Gustavo Yacaman and Tristan Vautier (who started seventh) had worked past Carlos Munoz for third and fourth, respectively. Meanwhile Oliver Webb dropped from third to seventh. Guerrieri’s lead was up to nearly three seconds.
The top-five remained static after the early battles were settled. Guerrieri’s lead — of just over three seconds — evaporated on Lap 20 when Alex Jones impacted the tire barrier bringing out a full course caution.
Just past the midway point of the race, the green flag waved. Guerrieri managed the Lap 24 restart with perfection easing onto the throttle as he exited the hairpin leading onto the straightaway. By Lap 25, his lead was already up to one second.
“It took the tires a little bit to come in [on the restart],” Guerrieri commented.
Following the clean, yet uneventful, restart, Guerrieri led Saavedra, Yacaman, Vautier, Munoz, Victor Carbone, Webb, Juan Pablo Garcia, David Ostella, with Jorge Goncalvez rounding out the top 10.
Over the next eight laps all eyes were on Munoz and Carbone as they battled for fifth place. Carbone made several attempts before making the pass stick on Lap 32 when Munoz touched the retaining wall while exiting the hairpin.
With 10 laps to go, Saavedra closed the gap on Guerrieri to 0.8275 seconds with Yacaman lurking 2.7108 seconds behind in third. With five to go, Saavedra closed within 0.7211. With four to go, the race was over. Guerrieri began distancing himself from the field as the final laps ticked away.
When the checkered flag waved, Guerrieri’s lead was 1.5989 seconds. Mission accomplished. Saavedra crossed the stripe second followed by Yacaman, Vautier, and Carbone.
Yacaman lost a mirror with 15 laps remaining, however, and was subsequently called to pit lane for replacement. The team did not have a backup prepared and Yacaman ignored Race Control’s request, which resulted in a 30-second post-race penalty advancing Vautier onto the podium. Yacaman was relegated to 10th.
“Let’s go for more!” Guerrieri exclaimed during his post-race interview.
The 27-year-old Argentinian driver has finished on the podium in all three races this season and qualified inside the top five in 17 consecutive Indy Lights races. Heading into the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Guerrieri trails championship leader Saavedra by two points.