INDIANAPOLIS – Rookie Matheus Leist has never raced on an oval before, but that didn’t faze him on Thursday afternoon from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Carlin Racing driver will start from the pole in Friday’s Freedom 100 (12:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network).
Leist, 18, posted record breaking laps, as the Brazilian set new standards for both the two-lap qualifying average (199.198 mph) and the fastest Indy Lights single-car lap set during qualifying (199.268 mph) for the Carlin team following a lengthy delay due to rain.
Leist edged out second-generation Indy Lights racer and fellow rookie Colton Herta who turned a two-lap average of 198.648 mph for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. In fact, Andretti Autosport has three cars in the top four of the starting lineup, with teammates Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman sharing Row Two and starting third and fourth respectively.
Zachary Claman de Melo (197.645 mph) rounded out the top five.
Seven and a half hours after practice was initially postponed due to persistent rain, the Indy Lights contenders finally ventured out for an abbreviated 20-minute practice session at 4:30 p.m. Conditions remained cool and with heavy cloud cover, but they clearly worked in favor of the Carlin team which posted the top two speeds. Leist set the tone by recording the first-ever 200+ mph lap for an Indy Lights car at 44.7690 seconds, an average speed of 201.032 mph, with teammate Zachary Claman DeMelo not far behind at 199.515 mph.
Twenty minutes later, Neil Alberico (Carlin) was the first car out on track for single-car qualifying. The Californian’s solid two-lap average of 196.938 mph was beaten just a couple of minutes later by Kellett, whose first lap of 198.170 mph immediately eclipsed the existing single-lap record of 197.866 mph, set in 2015 by Ethan Ringel. Kellett’s second lap enabled him to establish a new two-lap mark of 198.011 mph.
Leist, running seventh in the order, then vaulted to the top of the charts with his record-breaking run, which remained good enough for the reigning British Formula 3 champion to secure his first Indy Lights pole.
Herta, running 12th in line, was the only challenger to come close – despite a heart-stopping half-spin as he left the pit lane to begin his two-lap run. Herta recovered but ultimately fell shy of Leist by less than a quarter of a second.
Championship leader Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., will start from 11th on the grid after recording a two-lap average of 196.058 mph for Juncos Racing.
Freedom 100 Starting Lineup:
Row 1: Matheus Leist R, Colton Herta R
Row 2: Dalton Kellett, Ryan Norman R
Row 3: Zachary Claman de Melo, Aaron Telitz R
Row 4: Neil Alberico, Garth Rickards R
Row 5: Shelby Blackstock, Juan Piedrahita
Row 6: Kyle Kaiser, Santiago Urruita
Row 7: Nico Jamin R, Nicolas Dapero R