Matthew Brabham made an emphatic return to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series Sunday, winning the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in dramatic fashion with a late-race pass in an Andretti Autosport-dominated race.
Brabham capitalized on the misfortune of Andretti teammate Christian Rasmussen, who dominated the race but ran out of fuel with less than two laps to go. Brabham led just the final two laps of the 45-lap race in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport entry in his first Indy Lights start since 2015 at Long Beach.
This was the first Indy Lights victory for Brabham since May 9, 2014 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a span of 2,851 days.
“First thing’s first, absolute heartbreak for my teammate Christian,” Brabham said. “He had me in the race. I couldn’t keep up. I could just stay in range, but not enough for the push-to-pass. I can’t imagine how he’s feeling. But for me, especially after being away for so long and coming back and having success like that, it’s unbelievable. I’m speechless. I’m pretty emotional.”
Benjamin Pedersen finished second in the No. 24 Global Race Group with HMD Motorsports entry, 2.4726 seconds behind Brabham, to tie his career-best Indy Lights result. Pedersen’s teammate Linus Lundqvist finished third in the HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry.
“Right from Practice 1 we weren’t quite the fastest, so we had been going uphill all weekend,” said Pedersen, who finished fourth in the Indy Lights championship last season. “As long as we make it count on Race Day, we drove from fourth to second, it was a great ‘recovery’ points-wise this weekend. I’m looking forward to the future and going back to Barber, where I have a lot more experience and hopefully starting more momentum from there.”
Sting Ray Robb finished fourth in the No. 2 Andretti Autosport entry, while Danial Frost rounded out the top five in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry.
Until everything changed on Lap 44, series rookie Rasmussen looked primed to win in his first career Indy Lights start.
2021 Indy Pro 2000 champion Rasmussen started fifth. But thanks to a Turn 1 fracas on the opening lap when a three-wide battle for second bunched the field, he easily slid into second place. From there, he found himself chasing teammate Hunter McElrea.
But on Lap 13, polesitter McElrea crashed from the lead in Turn 14 in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry. McElrea was growing his lead over Denmark’s Rasmussen, which had peaked at more than three seconds, when the rear of the car stepped out from under him in the final corner of the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
McElrea made hard left-side contact with the outside wall on the frontstretch, ending his day. He was unhurt.
Rasmussen took charge of the race from there and cemented his firm control over the field. As the end of the race neared, Rasmussen had a three-second lead over second-place Brabham.
But a fortunate turn of events in St. Petersburg, Florida, gave Brabham, from Boca Raton, Florida, a late birthday present at his home track. He turned 28 on Friday.
“I just got lucky,” Brabham said. “I was pushing. I was doing everything I could. I tagged the wall a few times, probably more than I should have. I’m just very lucky, and I’m so happy. I knew I was going to finish. It was just if I stuck it in the wall. Everyone was having issues out there. It was unbelievable.”
Brabham was filled with emotion after the race, holding back tears and hugging his father, former INDYCAR SERIES driver Geoff Brabham. Matthew also is the grandson of famed three-time Formula One World Champion Sir Jack Brabham.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will be back in action Sunday, May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park, with live coverage on Peacock Premium.