ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Matheus Leist is on a roll just now in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder. Coming off his maiden victory in the Freedom 100 last month at Indianapolis, the Brazilian rookie qualified on pole for this afternoon’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Allied Building Products, then led from flag to flag to win handsomely on his first visit to the high-speed 4.014-mile Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Fellow South American Santi Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, who won one of the two races last year at Road America, finished a distant second for Belardi Auto Racing, merely inches ahead of championship leader Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., for Juncos Racing.
The closest anyone got to challenging Leist for the race win was at Turn One, when a flying start – plus the benefit of a big draft on the long, mainly uphill front straightaway – enabled Ryan Norman, who started a career-best third for Andretti Autosport, to tow past front row qualifier Neil Alberico and, momentarily, challenge Leist for the top spot. Leist managed to fend off the attack but Alberico wasn’t quite so fortunate. The front wing of Alberico’s Carlin Dallara-Mazda IL-15 made minor contact with the rear of Norman’s car, causing him to plummet to ninth by the completion of the opening lap.
While Leist took off into the lead and Norman slotted into second, Kaiser, who started fourth, was glued to Norman’s rear wing as the leaders sped past the pits for the first time. Right behind them, remarkably, was Urrutia, who had lined up only 10th on the grid after encountering some mechanical difficulties in qualifying.
Kaiser took advantage of the draft to draw alongside Norman on the downhill run to Turn Five… only for Urrutia to do the same, then leave his braking until absolutely the last moment as he dived inside BOTH of his rivals to claim second place. It was a brilliant maneuver that left the crowd on its feet!
The in-fighting played right into the hands of Leist, however, who set a fast, consistent pace at the front and soon began to stretch out an appreciable margin over his rivals. The gap grew to almost three seconds after five laps as he eased away to a well controlled victory. Leist’s eventual winning margin was 6.1667 seconds.
Kaiser and Norman continued to battle over third place, exchanging positions a couple of times before a mistake on Lap Six saw Norman run wide onto the grass in Turn Three. The excursion cost him three positions and allowed Kaiser back up into third. The Californian then closed rapidly on Urrutia, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap Eight at a new record 1:54.4115 (126.302 mph). It wasn’t long before the two cars were together again, but Urrutia defended staunchly and even though Kaiser carried a lot of speed out of the final corner on the final lap and drafted up underneath Urrutia’s rear wing as they sped up the hill, the Uruguayan remained narrowly ahead at the finish to claim his second runner-up finish from the last three races. Urrutia also claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Norman capped an impressive drive by fighting back from his earlier error and overtaking both Dalton Kellett, who later slipped back down the order, and the Canadian’s Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin to claim a season-best fourth. Norman also earned the Staubli Award.
Colombian Juan Piedrahita, in his 50th Indy Lights start, also drove well for Team Pelfrey, turning some extremely fast laps as he chased Norman to the finish line. Jamin followed in sixth ahead of Alberico. Notably every one of the 14 starters turned a lap within 0.75 seconds of Kaiser’s new benchmark fastest lap.
A separate qualifying session earlier this morning to set the grid for tomorrow’s ninth Indy Lights race of the season saw Colton Herta earn the pole position for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing with a new record lap of 1:52.0034 (129.018 mph). Leist will start second. The race will go green at 9:45 a.m. EDT and will be broadcast on NBCSN at 11:30 am EDT. Live timing and live streaming also will be available on the RoadToIndy.TV App, RoadToIndy.TV, indylights.com and indycar.com.
Matheus Leist (#26 TMA-Carlin): “Sometimes it’s difficult to be out in front like that, to keep your focus for so long. But the team kept me updated on the pace and the gap so I just kept that up. It was a long race – it wasn’t that many laps, but when you’re on your own on such a long race track, it seems long. I was on my own while the guys behind me were fighting for position and that helped me. I pushed very hard early and then worked to control the gap. It’s great to get wins now – I felt at the beginning of the year that we had a car to win, but I couldn’t put it all together. Everything was new to me, but I’m glad I have a team like Carlin to help me to improve my techniques, as well as my teammates. Everything is going our way now so I hope we can keep up the momentum!”
About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.