Ayla Agren Claims Last-Gasp Win, Clinches F1600 Title for Team Pelfrey
PALMETTO, FLA. – Team Pelfrey concluded a sensational year in the hotly contested F1600 Championship Series by claiming a pair of race wins and the championship crown last weekend at the famed Watkins Glen International road course in Upstate New York. Ayla Agren, from Norway, and Garth Rickards, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., shared the wins, with Agren securing the championship by virtue of a last-lap pass for the victory on Sunday.
Teammates Nikita Lastochkin and Augie Lerch shared in the glory as Lastochkin posted a new lap record while snagging pole position on Saturday, and Lerch excelled on Sunday by providing a launchpad for Agren’s title triumph, finishing third and setting fastest race lap.
The see-saw battle for top championship honors between Agren and Rickards continued to ebb and flow during the final weekend. Agren held a 12-point margin as the team arrived at Watkins Glen, only for that to be overturned following Race One on Saturday. Initially, Rickards crossed the line in second place – for the fifth time during an impressive rookie car racing season – but was later credited with the win, his first, after rival Evan Mehan was assessed a post-race penalty. Lerch, also in his rookie season, finished a strong third, while Lastochkin had to settle for fifth after leading much of the early stages.
The long-overdue victory for Rickards, allied to a disappointing fifth-place finish for Agren, resulted in a nine-point advantage for the American prior to Sunday’s crucial 14th and final race of the season.
The finale lived up to all expectations with multiple lead changes and the top eight cars separated by a hair over two seconds at the checkered flag! Championship honors were settled, dramatically, on the final lap as Agren swept past race leader Sam Chastain on the back straightaway, taking full advantage of a slight nudge in the draft from teammate Lerch. As Agren swept on to her series-leading third win – during a season which saw a remarkable and record-breaking 11 different winners – by a scant 0.069s margin, Lerch finished on the podium again to leapfrog seventh-place finisher Jack Mitchell for third in the final championship order. Rickards could manage only fifth in the draft-fest, leaving him 13 points adrift of Agren in the final championship tally. Lastochkin finished 12th following a mid-race incident.
“Just an absolutely terrific year for the team where we couldn't really ask for anything more,” said Team Pelfrey Team Director Nigel Tuckey. “It’s tough to know where to start as each one of the drivers had poles, fastest laps and led or won races during the season – and the one-two-three in the points with the championship battle between teammates going down to the very end was a real nail-biter! Very proud of all of our drivers, and special congratulations to Ayla for making history and winning the championship.”
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID:
Ayla Agren (#81 Team Pelfrey/Energima/Women’s Sports Foundation Mygale-Honda) - Race One, started second, finished fifth; Race Two, started first, finished first: “This has been a great season, both on and off the track. The environment in the team was always positive and we all pulled in the same direction pushing each other forward. On track it was always a battle, giving us drivers great experience. This last weekend was a roller coaster for me. It started out with a good P2 in qualifying, then things just did not go the right way in Race One. Sunday was a fantastic day with qualifying on the pole and winning the race. It is one of the best memories I have in racing to date! On the last lap I got a push from my team mate Augie, and I was able to pass Sam Chastain for the win. With that push he really showed what great chemistry we had in the team this year and I am very grateful for that. This championship title is won as a team, and I want to thank Team Pelfrey for everything this season!”
Garth Rickards (#83 Team Pelfrey/Snap 21 Mygale-Honda) - Race One, started seventh, finished first; Race Two, started third, finished fifth: “Coming into the weekend our goal was to not leave anything on the table. I feel we accomplished that despite the result on Sunday. We obviously wanted to bring the championship home but we fought to the end, getting our first win on Saturday and that's why we can hold our heads high. I'm very happy for Ayla and want to thank her for pushing me every weekend and making me a better driver.”
Augie Lerch (#82 Team Pelfrey/PJ’s Performance Mygale-Honda) - Race One, started sixth, finished second; Race Two, started second, finished third: “I really enjoyed racing at Watkins Glen; it is definitely my favorite track. I had good pace all weekend, qualifying third and second, and I’m happy I walked away with two podiums. The racing was super-close and all the Team Pelfrey drivers worked well together to make sure we were there at the end to pick up the big points. I have to thank the team for a fantastic season where I learned a lot, and I can’t wait to see how things plan out for next season. Congratulations to Ayla as well on a well deserved championship.”
Nikita Lastochkin (#80 Team Pelfrey/RM Mygale-Honda) - Race One, started first, finished fourth; Race Two, started seventh, finished 12th: “Watkins Glen provided an incredible finale to the championship. Even though my races were affected by on-track incidents, pole position and a new track record are good things to go home with. It was an incredible year with an incredible group of people that provided me with the best platform to develop as a driver while having good times and a lot of fun. Now the plan is to take everything that has been learned and carry that into next year.”