Belardi bounces back big with Sunday Indy Lights double podium

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A day after electronic glitches bogged down a potential debut win for Felix Rosenqvist or a potential comeback win for Zach Veach, both Belardi Auto Racing drivers made up for it on Sunday in the second Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.

The Brian Belardi-owned and John Brunner-led team, now with the added engineering services of veteran Len Paskus, had an impressive weekend all around with Veach leading the first 17 laps on Saturday and then Rosenqvist starting on pole and translating that into a win on Sunday.

For Rosenqvist, the 24-year-old Swede who will balance Indy Lights, the Blancpain Sprint Cup series and a reserve role with Mercedes in DTM this year, it was a significantly better Sunday after running Saturday’s race on an inadvertently incorrect engine mapping in his No. 14 Dallara IL-15 Mazda en route to ending seventh.

“I think having full power today was the huge difference, and being on pole is easier too,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports post-race. “You can decide when to go! I think Zach didn’t have a great start. I could just pull away. It was a perfect race.”

For Veach, who fell from second to third in the No. 5 car off the line behind Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser, it was a needed result after the mechanical heartbreak on Saturday that left him 16th and last.

“I’m always gonna be sick to my stomach thinking about yesterday. There’s not many times in racing that it just opens up and gives you a win like that,” he told NBC Sports.

“But to come back and be on the podium, first weekend back, to start off where I left off makes me feel really good. To be completely honest with you, after a year off, I didn’t know how I’d be. I was afraid people might have thought I’d lost it. But I think we showed we’re right back where we used to be.”

Both drivers are new to the team and, with two podiums in the first weekend of the year, are only one behind the total combined output turned in by Felix Serralles and Juan Piedrahita last year (Serralles had two, including a win at Milwaukee with Piedrahita having one).

“Felix is the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Veach said. “With him coming from Europe, I thought he’d be closed off. But him and I together helped to basically revamp the setups from what they had last year to make ourselves as competitive as we did. The engineers have to take a lot of credit for that as well.

“Felix and I, I think we work so well because we’re like minded. It’s refreshing compared to what I’ve had in the past.”

Added Rosenqvist, the FIA Formula 3 European champion of a year ago, “There’s nothing I’m hiding from him or him from me. That was the deal when we signed. Both the engineers and drivers are helping each other all the time. That’s the way to go if you want to win.”

Both will still look to improve upon this weekend. Veach admitted he’d made a mistake on the start on Sunday, with some extra wheel spin helping Kaiser to go past – although he noted Kaiser was strong enough that even if he was behind his countryman, he’d have had a whale of a time holding him off.

For Rosenqvist, his challenge from here is maintaining focus on whatever his next race is, regardless of series, car or continent.

“I think the biggest challenge is the time difference going overseas. It’s always 7-9 hours,” he explained. “In Europe, it’s a bigger challenge.

“But I knew that when I signed up to do it. That’s my job to be able to handle it. I might be tired by end of the year but I am in it all the way, and I’m gonna go through it.”