Neves Needs One Turn to Win in Indy Lights


Helio Castro Neves’ race lasted about a quarter-mile, from the starting line to the first turn.

Then Sunday’s PPG Firestone Indy Lights race turned into a Long Beach parade and Neves was its drum major.

He was never headed or threatened in the 40-lap run that was shortened from the scheduled 47 laps because the one-hour time limit was imposed. There were four caution periods, the product of five wrecks--one a double header, on opposite sides of the 1.59-mile, eight-turn course--and one of them caused Neves his only anxious moment. It came on Lap 29, when Luiz Garcia Jr. and Hidecki Noda tangled.


“I could see the flagman waving the yellow [caution], and I thought, ‘Just squeeze through,’ ” Neves said. He did, barely, between the cars and the wall and continued on around without further incident, averaging 72.607 mph.

“It was close,” he said.

To the wreck, maybe. Not really to Cristiano Da Matta, who was second, 1.067 seconds behind Neves, his Brazilian countryman.

Mark Hotchkis of Pasadena was third, 1.65 seconds behind Neves, and retained his series point leadership. He has 27 points, one more than teammate Chris Simmons, who was fourth Sunday.

The difference in the race was setup and a track without a lot of room to pass.

Indy Lights are supposedly identical Lola chassis/Buick engine cars. Lola/Buicks, they are. Identical, they aren’t.

“The chassis are identical, and the engines are identical but the [team] engineers are different,” Da Matta said. “The cars are set up differently. On cold tires on the restarts [after the wrecks], my car was running better than the other guys behind me, but not so good as Helio’s.”

Da Matta had taken over second place on the second lap, when David Empringham locked up the brakes on his car on the hairpin turn that exits onto the main straightaway and caused the first caution period.


“I made some mistakes that were very uncharacteristic, and I’m not proud of my drive,” said Empringham, who won this race a year ago by starting second and taking the lead on the first turn.

Neves remembered.

Starting from the pole alongside Empringham, Neves’ main mission was to get through the first turn first, and when he did, the race was over.


In Sunday’s other support events--the twin 20-lap Super Touring races--Australian Neil Crompton’s Honda started on the front row, took the lead and pulled away from the field in both runs, averaging 85.324 mph in winning the first over Dominic Dobson by 13.13 seconds; and 85.777 mph in winning the second over Randy Pobst by 3.35 seconds.