The 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season may be setting the stage for the next French racing star – Nico Jamin.
While Jamin had disappointing results in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last weekend – finishing seventh and 14th in the two races in his Indy Lights debut – the 21-year-old from Rouen, France, found a little redemption Thursday driving a different kind of car. Jamin won the inaugural IMSA-sanctioned race for Le Mans Prototype Challenge 3 (LMP3) cars as part of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours Sebring sports car weekend.
Jamin led flag-to-flag in the 45-minute race at Sebring International Raceway, winning by more than 11 seconds for ANSA Motorsports.
“I was just managing the tires because I knew it would be a long race,” Jamin told sportscar365.com, “so I was just managing them and then it was all about getting through traffic as fast as possible. It all went very well.”
Back in open-wheel racing, Jamin seeks to continue the success that French drivers have achieved in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires – the three-level developmental ladder series sanctioned by INDYCAR. Jamin won the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, following in the tracks of past MRTI French winners Jean-Karl Vernay (Indy Lights, 2010), Tristan Vautier (Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, 2011; Indy Lights, 2012) and Florian Latorre (USF2000, 2014).
That list doesn’t even include Verizon IndyCar Series stars Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud, each an Indy car champion and who finished 1-2 in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12.
Jamin drove to a staggering 10 wins, 15 podiums and 13 poles in 16 starts during his 2015 USF2000 title run before moving up to Pro Mazda last year with Cape Motorsports. There, he enjoyed two wins (both at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) and six podiums on his way to a third-place finish in the standings.
He joined Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights team this season, piloting the No. 27 Synova Mazda/Dallara IL-15.
“I think it has been a pretty smooth transition from Pro Mazda,” said Jamin. “It was a pretty big change at first when I tested at Indy with Andretti at the Chris Griffis test (last fall), but I got up to speed quickly and I love the car. It’s an amazing car. It’s really fast with a lot of grip.”
Jamin, who didn’t begin racing go-karts until age 15, wasn’t pleased with his opening 2017 Indy Lights results, however. After finishing a distant seventh in the first race, he started sixth in the second race but was eliminated on the first lap after contact with Carlin’s Neil Alberico.
"I got through Turn 1 nice and clean, and then I went through Turn 2 and I had the advantage,” said Jamin, who sits 11th in points after two of 16 races, 38 points behind teammate Colton Herta. “I was in front of (Alberico) and there was just no room for two cars there. We touched, which sent me into the wall and ended my race.”
Knowing well the success his fellow countrymen have enjoyed in North American open-wheel racing, Jamin is still driven to add to that championship lineage.
“I’m trying to,” he said. “I’m looking to keep the ‘French connection,’ winning championships going. I know we’ll be up there for the championship, but it’s such a long championship. I’m going to have to be consistent and always on top and try not to make mistakes. I think it’s going to be a very interesting season.”
A highly competitive Indy Lights field sees several returning veterans, the reigning Pro Mazda champion (Aaron Telitz), a coveted second-generation driver (Herta), the 2016 British F3 champion (Matheus Leist) and some talented rookies. Jamin said the “small details” will make the difference for the championship.
“It’s going to take a lot,” said Jamin. “We are really a big field of drivers with a lot of experience. A lot of very fast drivers, so I think it’s going to be a very competitive field.
“It’s going to be small details that is going to make the difference and consistency will be the key decision to always being up there and scoring points all the time.”
Indy Lights is idle until the April 21-23 doubleheader race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.