HOMESTEAD, Fla. — J.R. Hildebrand wrapped up the Firestone Indy Lights title at the series’ previous event at Chicagoland Speedway and wanted to cap his already successful season with another victory Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With the checkered flag in sight at the end of the 100-mile event, it appeared that Hilde-brand would notch his fifth victory of the season, but young Brazilian driver Mario Romancini had other ideas.
Romancini drafted, shadowed and traded positions with Hildebrand for much of the last half of the 67-lap event and he was not about to concede the victory to the new champion without a fight.
With two laps remaining, Romancini tried to slingshot to the outside of Hildebrand after a tight draft down the backstretch, but was unable to pass. With one lap to go, Romancini duplicated the outside move once more and again it didn’t work. On the final lap, Hildebrand had to know what was coming his way and the third time was the charm for Romancini as he blasted to the outside exiting turn four and nipped Hildebrand by .0057 second in a photo finish. It was the second closest finish in Indy Lights history.
“I lost my voice. I was screaming so much on the radio,” said Romancini. “It was really difficult to pass J.R. I knew if I had a chance it would have to be on the last lap. I tried before, but I couldn’t get by him in turn one, so I knew it would have to be at the start/finish line.”
Hilebrand said he saw it coming.
“I think Mario was sort of biding his time back there,” Hildebrand said. “I could tell that he was looking pretty good throughout the race. I was sort of waiting for the pass and he tried a couple of times and finally made it happen, but I was trying to hold him off.”
Sebastian Saavedra, the quickest in both practice sessions, came from 16th starting spot to finish third after problems prevented him from posting a qualifying time. He earned the rookie-of-the-year title as well. Fourth spot fell to Mike Potekhen, his best finish of he season, and polesitter James Davison rounded out the top five.
Mario Romancini, J.R. Hildebrand, Sebastian Saavedra, Mike Potekhen, James Davison, Wade Cunningham, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Logan Gomez, Andrew Prendeville, Sean Guthrie, Daniel Herrington, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Rodrigo Barbosa, Gustavo Yacaman, Brandon Wagner.