Brabham wins the Indy Lights season opener in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Matthew Brabham is taking a chance. One more opportunity to make himself a future NTT INDYCAR Series driver. He did so once and made it to the field of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 back in 2016. Unfortunately for third generation driver, to become an INDYCAR driver takes either money or an Indy Lights title.

He didn’t have enough to stay in the series past the ‘500, one he finished 22nd in, so he took a different route that saw him moonlight in the Stadium Super Truck Series for which he won 3 of the last 4 championships and runner-up in his other two seasons.

Instead of coming back there, he came back to the open wheel paddock. Brabham, made a return to what he knows.

He’s back with Andretti Autosport. Back in Indy Lights. Back in the No. 83. However, a lot has changed between now and his last Indy Lights appearance in 2015.

He started sixth in a field of 14. But, he used his veteran presence to go from sixth to third by time we got out of the first couple of corners.

At that point, second place starter, Linus Lundqvist, and third place Sting Ray Robb went wide. It allowed pole sitter Hunter McElrea to pull away and Christian Rasmussen and Brabham to follow suit.

But, on Lap 13, McElrea made contact with the wall at turn exit in the final corner to end his day while he was leading.

Rasmussen and Brabham would now be 1-2 and lead the field to the Lap 16 green. We’d quickly go back to yellow when Jacob Abel and Kyffin Simpson made contact which forced Abel to stop in Turn 4.

We’d go back to green a lap later in which Rasmussen set sail on the field. He opened up a lead of 3.3476-seconds with two laps-to-go before slowing in Turn 9 coming to the white flag with a fuel problem.

Brabham inherited the lead and was 3.2383-seconds clear of Pedersen.

He’d hold him off for his second win of his Indy Lights career. His previous win came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May 2014.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

Pedersen finished second, his first runner-up finish. He had six podium finishes (2 seconds and 4 thirds) in 2021.

“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.”

Lundqvist finished third. It was his sixth podium finish in his last seven Indy Lights starts.

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