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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Urrutia Wins a Thriller on Indy Lights Return to Gateway Motorsports Park

Fourth-place Finish Means Kaiser Merely Needs to Start Practice at Finale
 
MADISON, Ill. – Santi Urrutia claimed a last-gasp victory in this evening’s Mazda St. Louis Indy Lights Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval. The Uruguayan’s second win of the season for Belardi Auto Racing came after a tense battle with fellow South American Juan Piedrahita, who started from the pole position for Team Pelfrey but had to be content with a career-best second place finish.
 
Second-generation Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires racer Colton Herta finished third for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, narrowly ahead of fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing). The result means Kaiser merely needs to take the green flag for practice at next weekend’s season finale on the Watkins Glen International road circuit in upstate New York to put the coveted championship title beyond the reach of his rivals and secure a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million which will guarantee him entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
 
Indy Lights’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park following a 14-year absence proved to be a huge success as the large and appreciative crowd was treated to a thrilling 75-lap race.
 
Both Urrutia and Herta, who arrived at Gateway tied for second place in the championship, knew they needed to win the two remaining races to have any chance of beating Kaiser to the crown. In short, it was a long shot.
 
Urrutia, who lost out on the 2016 title in heartbreaking style at the season finale, did his level best to secure the additional championship point for pole position, only to be denied by series veteran Piedrahita – by a scant 0.006 of a second. Nevertheless, he knew his dream was still alive when he lined up on the front row of the grid.
 
The opening stages were marred by a succession of incidents. Aaron Telitz, last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, was particularly unfortunate when his Soul Red Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda was collected by a couple of spinners on the very first lap.
 
When the race finally got under way, with Piedrahita narrowly maintaining his advantage, Kaiser laid clean his intentions by passing Urrutia for second place around the outside in Turn Two. He didn’t hold it for long as Urrutia repaid the favor on Lap 15 and immediately began to pressure Piedrahita for the lead.
 
Kaiser, meanwhile, soon slipped back into the clutches of a battling Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), Herta – who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, Kaiser’s teammate Nico Dapero and Matheus Leist (Carlin), who had won the two previous ovals raced this season and quickly fought his way up from a lowly 12th on the grid.
 
Urrutia finally found a chink in Piedrahita’s armor on Lap 42, when he sliced past on the exit of Turn Four, but by then he had already lost any chance of gaining one of the other bonus points – for leading most laps. A little later in the race, on Lap 61, Zachary Claman DeMelo (Carlin) put the final bonus point – for fastest race lap – beyond Urrutia’s reach when he turned a lap in 28.0370 seconds, an average speed of 160.502 mph.
 
Still, Urrutia had eked out a margin of almost 1.5 seconds with 15 laps remaining, so at least the race win seemed to be well within his grasp. Furthermore, by then Kaiser had been overtaken firstly by Jamin and then by Leist and DeMelo.
 
But then the complexion of the race changed again when Carlin teammates Neil Alberico and Garth Rickards, who were battling for the 11th position, tangled with the slower car of debutant Chad Boat (Belardi Auto Racing), who earned the Staubli Award.
 
Officials wisely displayed the red flag while the wreckage was cleared away, leaving enough time for what was expected to be a five-lap shootout to the checkered flag. Piedrahita promptly made an opportunistic move around the outside of Urrutia at the restart, only for the yellows to fly again following an incident involving the third and fourth-placed cars of Jamin and Leist. 
The green flew again with just three laps remaining. Urrutia knew it was now or never. He and Piedrahita battled side by side for almost two full laps before Urrutia completed the pass and sped away to a brilliant victory. Herta emerged in third, while Kaiser, who narrowly escaped becoming embroiled in the drama, crossed the line in fourth to ensure that his own dream was almost accomplished.
Kaiser now holds an unassailable 31-point edge as the series heads to Watkins Glen next weekend, although he will still need to turn up and practice for the race in order to be assured of the championship spoils.
 
The Team Championship remains more finely poised, with Andretti Autosport holding a 11-point lead, 364-353, over Belardi Auto Racing. Last year’s champions Carlin now trail in third on 345 points.
 
Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM): “It was one of the best races of the year – competitive, clean and really exciting. It was good racing against Juan. He was quicker than me on the straight and I was better in Turns One and Two so when he made a small mistake in Turn One, I was able to get past. When the red came out, I was worried because I thought he would be able to pass me on the restart. When that happened, I knew it was my last chance and I had to try to get by. I’m happy – I did what I had to do today; the rest was out of our control. We had a difficult start to the season but the second half we have been really strong, and I hope races like this will help me be in IndyCar next year.”
 
Juan Piedrahita (#2 Petrosur-Team Pelfrey): “There were two perfect cars this weekend: my car and Santi’s car. It just happened that his car was perfect in Turns One and Two and my car was perfect in Turns Three and Four, so we could get a run on each other but not hold it. I gave it my all today. It feels awesome to be up front, but I’m heartbroken not to get the win for the team. But Santi did a great job. I kept hoping the race would end, because it was so difficult mentally. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I had a run on him, then he had a run on me – it was crazy. We both did a great job and I hope I can get the win at Watkins Glen.”
 
Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda-Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “It was discombobulating, between the yellows and the red flag, so it was a tough race, but I also think it was one of the best races of the year. We came into the red flag in seventh and made some good moves on the restart. I think if we had a few more laps we could have challenged for the win. The year has gone so quickly, and I’m happy with what we’ve done this year. I didn’t expect to be in the title chase our first year; we planned on a two-year program. So we’re ahead of the game.”
 
###
 
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 and roadtoindy.info.
 
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.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Urrutia Continues Mid-Ohio Streak to Snare his First Win of the Season

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Santi Urrutia has clearly developed an affinity for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Uruguayan today secured a hard-earned victory in the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda – his fourth in just five starts at the challenging 2.258-mile road course – and his first of the season for Belardi Auto Racing.
 
Second-generation Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competitor Colton Herta finished a close second for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, with Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin in third.
 
After winning on his debut at Mid-Ohio in 2015 en route to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title, then winning both Indy Lights races – from the pole – last year, Urrutia, 20, from Miguelete, Uruguay, maintained his dominance by claiming the pole position during qualifying yesterday afternoon. And following two aborted attempts at a start, he took the green flag at the third time of asking by leaping ahead of Herta, who qualified alongside on the front row of the grid, and Jamin.
 
An intense first lap saw Jamin make a bold maneuver to overtake his teammate around the outside at Turn Two, only for Herta to reclaim the place four laps later with a similarly forceful pass at the end of the back straight heading into Turn Four.
 
The in-fighting allowed Urrutia to stretch out a lead of almost two seconds, but it didn’t last for long. After moving back into second place, Herta posted a series of fastest laps to whittle away the deficit, and by Lap 12 the two leaders were once again in nose-to-tail formation. Furthermore, they were also being tracked closely by Shelby Blackstock, enjoying his strongest race of the season so far for Belardi Auto Racing, and Carlin teammates Zachary Claman DeMelo and Neil Alberico.
 
The top five positions remained unchanged through the remainder of the 35-lap race, with Urrutia winning by less than half a second and all five cars separated by just 3.3116 seconds at the checkered flag. 
 
Blackstock eventually claimed the extra championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race.
 
Alberico slipped back to a relatively lonely sixth but secured both the Staubli Award and the Tilton Hard Charger Award for making up two positions over his grid placing.
 
The two championship protagonists, Kyle Kaiser and Matheus Leist finished a distant 12th and 11th, respectively. Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., who started sixth, slipped gradually backward due to oddly inconsistent handling on his Juncos Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15, while Leist simply struggled in his Carlin entry on his first-ever visit to Mid-Ohio.
 
Both drivers will have an opportunity to make amends during tomorrow’s 14th round of the 16-race season, which will see the green flag at 1:20 p.m. EDT, directly before the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event. Herta, who secured the additional championship point during qualifying earlier today, has now slipped ahead of Leist in the driver’s standings. He now trails Kaiser by 48 points, 288-240, with Leist just two markers behind on 238.
 
Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM): “It’s good to be back at the top, especially for the Belardi team that has been working so hard. I got the win and Shelby took quickest lap, which shows that we’re doing great work together as a team. We have been struggling this year and the team really deserves this. I really like Mid-Ohio. I won both races here last year and one Pro Mazda race two years ago. This helps in the championship – Kaiser was off today, we just need him to be off for the next couple of races. The series is so competitive, any mistake costs you a lot.”
 
Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “I had a little bit of understeer and that was amplified when I got near Santi. I had one good crack at him (but) he drove a good race. I was out of push-to-pass by lap 12. I wasn’t getting super-close to him and he made a mistake, so I used three on one lap to get alongside him. But it took a couple of laps to lay down Cooper rubber and have the track come to us. Once it did, I was on rails. I caught Nico and went after Santi. I was really close to him at the end. But I’m still learning all the tracks in this car. The tracks are so different in this car than they were in the USF2000 car.”
###
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.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY’S OUTLOOK: Schmidt’s Russia Experiment Over?

Things may be in alteration mode at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports looking towards the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

While the future of the popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe appears set, events last weekend before the Honda Indy Toronto have created question marks about who may drive the second entry next year.

Based on the success enjoyed in the second half of 2016, including a pole position and near victory at the Pocono 500, the future appeared to be a lock regarding the services of third-year Russian pilot Mikhail Aleshin. Things though, look to have changed as the 2017 campaign has rolled on.

After earning four top-six finishes last season, the 30-year old from Moscow has only one this year, coming in the first race at Detroit. Adding to that is concerns regarding sponsorship cropping up this past week. After finishing 21st at Iowa Speedway, Aleshin was replaced in the No. 7 SPM Honda for Toronto by Colombian Sebastian Saavedra.

Funding is believed to be the primary cause for the driver change. For the Russian, this is not the first time money has a red flag concerning main backer SMP. Problems related to the supporter prevented Aleshin from competing in the 2015 season, up until the season finale at Sonoma, California. So the question in this edition of Embury’s Outlook is now where does team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson proceed from here?

Assuming the funding malady can be cured, the team could elect to continue with Aleshin, yet performance numbers indicate an increasingly downward trend since his rookie effort in 2014. In year one, the Moscow-native earned seven top-tens. Following his absence in 2015, that number slipped to only four such placements in 2016, and is down again to only three in 11 appearances this season.

If the down arrow is too much of a deterrent, there are other options such as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires regular Santiago Urrutia. Reportedly, the current Belardi Racing driver was considered by SPM for a possible third entry for 2017; however, the deal never came about. The 20-year old competed for SPM’s former Indy Lights operation in 2016, winning four races and finishing second in the final championship standings. While the Uruguayan has failed to win an event this season, he has earned four runner-up efforts to date. Also in his corner, the ex-GP3 pilot is backed by Arrow Electronics, who sponsor Hinchcliffe in IndyCar.

Another possible is Saavedra, who has bounced around several different teams since making his IndyCar debut in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. While the Colombian came home with an 11th-place effort last Sunday in Toronto, the veteran has only amassed four top-tens in 60 starts, a resume plagued by DNFs.

Several other relatively new prospects in IndyCar mentioned last week in Embury’s Outlook, including Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones, could also be in the mix if indeed Aleshin does not return. No matter the direction SPM goes in, the team needs to change its fortunes. Despite winning earlier this year at Long Beach, Hinchcliffe ranks tenth on the current points table, while Aleshin was in 16th before Toronto.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI OBSERVATIONS: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto

TORONTO, Ontario — In the tight confines of the streets of Toronto, Kyle Kaiser showcased why he is the current series points leader, as he won both Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix’s of Toronto. As for his competitors, some of them left with smiles while others were frustrated.

Here are some observations from the weekend.

Kool Kaiser

Entering his third season of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition, Kyle Kaiser is coming into his own as a racecar driver. He has been solid on a weekly basis, scoring only one finish outside of the top-six in the first 10 races heading into Toronto.

This past weekend at Exhibition Place, he accomplished something he has not done in his career to date – sweeping a weekend.

In the first race, he led all 35 laps after starting from the pole, followed by running second throughout the second event after a daring three-wide move on Lap 1. until Colton Herta experienced a mechanical problem on Lap 25, handing the lead over to Kaiser. From there on, he drove away from the field en route to the checkered flag.

“This has been a dream weekend,” he said. “I’ve never had a double win weekend before, so I didn’t come into the (second) race – obviously I always try to win, but I was accepting the realistic facts. We were starting third, two really good guys ahead of us, so I was coming in just set to finish the race, and keep it clean.”

The success for Kaiser is no surprise, though, as he entered the weekend with three third-place finishes and a ninth in four previous races.

“We’ve always had a good set-up here,” he said. “Spencer (Pigot) won here two times in 2015 and last year, we had good pace but got caught out in the first qualifier towards the back but raced up to third. I think we’ve always had a good street course set-up, besides St. Pete. We did what we had to do. We attacked and gave everything that we had, and it paid off.”

Now with his third victory of the year, he currently leads the standings, 51 markers ahead of Matheus Leist. If he can remain solid throughout the rest of the season, he could walk away with the championship, and an opportunity to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“I think there are places that I could have done better,” he told POPULAR SPEED on Saturday. “I mean, there’s always room to improve every season. But, we’re leading the championship, and this was a really good day for the points, so I’m very happy. I can’t get too critical of myself.”

Hometown Struggles for Kellett

After scoring a third at Iowa Speedway, Dalton Kellet entered the Honda Indy Toronto weekend hopeful for a successful showing in front of the hometown fans. However, the event did not go as the Stouffville, Ontario native planned.

Going into the event, he was aware of the challenge at hand, telling POPULAR SPEED on Friday that the bumpy track conditions were going to present “a challenge for us to set the car up so we can be competitive.”

On Saturday, he would go off the track on three different occasions, before parking the No. 28 Andretti Autosport entry for a 12th-place finish. Then on Sunday, he ran up in the top-five for the first half of the race, before getting into the tire barrier on Lap 30. He was able to keep going, though crossed the finish line in ninth.

The finishes go along with the way his season has played out so far, running up front but not posting the warranted results with two top-fives and eight top-10’s in 12 races.

“We’ve been really strong on the ovals, and we’ve been quick on the road and street courses, but have not been able to put the results together,” he said.

Kellett will hope to turn things around at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he posted a ninth-place finish in 2016.

One Happy Canadian

Although Dalton Kellett was left frustrated, another Canadian driver gave the fans a reason to smile. Montreal’s Zachary Claman DeMelo ran up front in both events, posting a runner-up and third place finish.

“It’s a really good feeling to get two podiums in a row in Toronto,” he said. “It’s almost like my second home; I’ve kart raced here since I was eight years old, so it’s a nice city. It’s a shame that we didn’t have the car to win, but I’m really happy with the amount of points we gained.”

Claman DeMelo ran solidly in the runner-up spot in both events, though faded after the Lap 12 restart in the second race to third.

“The track was a bit slick,” he said. “We made some changes to the car, and it felt good at the beginning to challenge Kyle for quite awhile. After the restart, I just didn’t have the pace that he had. I just didn’t get a good restart so Aaron got by me and I tried to pressure him, but couldn’t so I had to settle for third today.”

While his season did not start out as warranted with two finishes outside of the top-10 in the first six races, he has turned it around with a top-10 in each of those that have followed, including a victory at Road America.

“I started off rough, but made a big push through the middle of the season,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I went to the gym a lot, went and worked with the team a lot, and it’s starting to show as the last two races have been really strong for me. Qualified on the front row at Iowa – the race didn’t go quite how I wanted, and then the win at Road America. So things are going well, and hopefully, we can carry this strong momentum.”

Currently sitting fourth in points, he is only 21 markers behind Matheus Leist for second heading to Mid-Ohio, where he placed seventh in both events last year.

“We just need to stay consistent every race and try to get as many points as we can,” he said. “I think we can challenge for a win at Mid-Ohio there, as well.”

Rough Start to Race 2

Although the first event of the weekend went cleanly, the second race did not start off smoothly with a big wreck on the opening lap, taking out several key contenders.

Going into the first corner, Kyle Kaiser dived left underneath Santiago Urrutia for the second position, while Nico Jamin went to the right. Now three-wide in one of the tightest corners of the circuit, Jamin made slight contact with the outside wall, bottling up the field behind them. As a result, Shelby Blackstock was left nowhere to go as he drove over Jamin’s rear tire, followed by Neil Alberico catching a good piece of the action.

“That was pretty wild,” eventual race runner-up Aaron Telitz said. “Three cars tried to go three-wide all the way around the corner, which obviously didn’t end up going well for them. It bottled up and my teammate Shelby (Blackstock) went up and over Nico (Jamin), and I could see the bottom of Shelby’s car, so I thought it’d be a full course yellow, and sure enough it came out.”

Kaiser would go on to win the race, but Jamin, Blackstock, and Alberico all were done for the event. Urrutia was also able to continue but eventually came to a stop on the front stretch on Lap 12 en route to finishing 11th.

The incident just added to the frustrations of the weekend for Jamin and Blackstock, who both failed to post a top-10 finish in the first race of the weekend. Jamin was running up in the top-five but got front end damage when he ran into Matheus Leist after he spun on Lap 5. Meanwhile, Blackstock began the race with a mechanical issue, going seven laps down before joining the action.

While both drivers were expected to be part of the championship conversation, they have now fallen outside of the top-five in points with Jamin seventh and Blackstock 12th. The pair could use a good run at Mid-Ohio as Jamin has only one top-10 in the last four races, while Blackstock has failed to post a top-10 in the last three.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires

On Sunday afternoon at Iowa Speedway, there was no catching Matheus Leist as after taking the top spot on Lap 32, he drove away from the field en route to scoring the Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires victory.

Here are some observations from the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event.

Matheus Dominates

With three victories in the last four races, Matheus Leist is finding his groove in Indy Lights after a rough start to the season with two finishes outside of the top-10. Now with eight straight top-seven finishes, the Carlin Racing driver has moved up to second in points, 13 markers ahead of Kyle Kaiser.

While Leist’s wins at Indianapolis and Road America were impressive, the victory on Sunday goes beyond those. He did not have the best starting position, qualifying 10th, and managed to build a gap of 2.93 seconds ahead of Santiago Urrutia by the time the checkered flag flew. The gap could have been larger, but Leist elected to back his lap times down once he got the lead to conserve the tires.

Being almost three seconds ahead was enough to cause some confusion, though, as Urrutia thought he won the event, performing a series of donuts on the frontstretch post-race.

“When I went by (Dalton) Kellett, I thought that I had gotten the lead, so I thought, ‘alright’ because I had never seen Leist,” Urrutia said post-race. “So when I get by Kellett, I tried to save a little and then thought we won at the end. But it’s alright, we struggled today so to get back through there and a good solid finish, is a great result, and hopefully, we can run well in Toronto, too.”

Rough Day for Rickards

Out of the 14 drivers that started, only one failed to finish the event, which was Garth Rickards. He went around for a quick spin on the backstretch at Lap 23, before pulling off shortly after the restart and retiring from the event.

“Right off the start it didn’t feel right,” he said. “It was loose. I tried to use the bars to improve the handling, but it just didn’t work. It felt good in practice, but it was just undrivable there.”

The 14th-place finish adds to the struggles this year for Rickards, who has posted only two top-10’s in his rookie campaign.

Colton Leads Early

Before Leist making his way through the field, Colton Herta led the first 32 circuits from the pole and looked set to score his third victory of 2017 possibly. However, he would fade through the second half of the 100 lap event to a fourth-place finish.

“They had it figured out today,” he said. “The car went loose on us, and there’s not much that you can do on a short oval when that happens.”

Herta started off his season well with two wins and a runner-up in the first four races but struggled with only one top-10 in the following four events. Now with back-to-back top-fives, it seems momentum is back on the young driver’s side as he heads to the streets of Toronto for the first time in his career. The street circuit could be the right ticket to getting back in victory lane; his first career win came on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Debut Put on Hold

Chad Boat was supposed to make his series debut, but that was delayed till Gateway Motorsports Park.

The 25-year-old was not medically cleared by INDYCAR officials to drive due to injuries sustained during a National USAC midget race on Sunday, July 2.

“To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I’m feeling right now, but I trust the doctors and medical staff at INDYCAR and know they have my best interest in mind,” said Boat. “I’ll continue to follow the instructions I’m receiving for recovery and look forward to being back soon. Thanks to Pristine Auction and Belardi Auto Racing for the opportunity.”

Belardi Auto Racing team owner Brian Belardi added that he was “extremely disheartened” by the news, but “remains excited and positive about the future based on his pace in last week’s test.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

After a Friday filled with action for each level of the Mazda Road to Indy, Saturday also delivered with close competition across the board.

Here are some observations from all the on-track action.

Rebound for Thompson

After experiencing mechanical issues in race one, Parker Thompson rebounded in the second race for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Presented by Mazda with a fourth-place finish for his fifth top-five in six events.

The Canadian came just short of winning the championship in his second season of competition last season, winning four races over the season. Now ranked fourth in points, 88 makers behind Oliver Askew, he will need the 16-year-old to have a rough weekend if he hopes to make up ground.

Double for Davis

Kevin Davis is going to leave Indianapolis possibly singing ‘Ring around the Rosey’ after incidents in both Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires events. In the first race, he went spun on Lap 2 with Charles Finelli, followed by getting turned the wrong way in the second round, due to contact from Jeff Green.

The Illinois-driver fought back to finish 10th for his first top-10 finish of the season after placing 11th in the pair of rounds in St. Petersburg and 12th on Friday. He currently leads the National Class standings.

New Points Leader

After feeling he left something on the table on Friday, Kyle Kaiser put together an impressive show on Saturday, capturing his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victory of 2017. It marked his fourth straight podium finish, giving him the series points lead, 13 markers ahead of Nico Jamin. Jamin won round one for the weekend, followed by a fourth in the second race.

Herta entered the weekend with a 16-point lead ahead of Jamin, but experienced trouble in both races. He had a right rear puncture in round one, followed by going off-track en route to 10th on day two.

First Career Top-Five

After crashing out in the first race of the weekend on Lap 1, Kory Enders rebounded in the second event for a fifth-place finish.

Before Saturday, his season has been up and down so far, with a pair of top-10s matching three finishes outside of the top-14.

Much Needed Podium

After coming just a mere couple points shy of last year’s Indy Lights title, Santiago Urrutia has not performed as expected. Although the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pilot scored a runner-up at St. Petersburg, it marked his only top-10 of 2017 entering Indianapolis after four events.

This weekend, he put together a pair of solid races with a seventh in round one, followed by a runner-up on Saturday.

“It has been tough to get the car quick and get into the top five,” he admitted post-race. “We tried to get the lead but second place is really good for us. We’re working as a team to figure out where we’re losing time and when we find that, we’re going to be okay. There is still a long way to go in this championship, so we have to get podiums and points, points, points.”

Ran Off-Road

Besides some trouble on the opening lap, the USF2000 put together a clean event – but that doesn’t mean the last lap ran smoothly. The battle for third saw contact, with Robert Megennis hitting Dakota Dickerson and both drivers going off the track. They both fell back several spots, with Megennis finishing seventh and Dickerson in 10th.

The incident just adds to a rough weekend for Megennis who failed technical inspection following Friday’s event, along with his Team Pelfrey teammate Kaylen Frederick. He started off this season well by winning the opening round of the season but now has two finishes outside of the top-10 to his credit.

Dickerson, meanwhile, entered Saturday’s race with momentum after scoring his first top-five 0f 2017 on Friday. He now has three sixth-place finishes, a pair of 10ths, and a fourth to his credit this season.

Last Place for Blackstock

During the second event of the weekend for Indy Lights, Shelby Blackstock was the only driver to experience a significant problem with an off-track excursion in turn one. As a result, he would finish last on the grid – 14th.

Ever since he posted a fourth-place finish in the season opener, Blackstock’s finishes have continued to get worse each passing week, with this being the first outside of the top-10.

The next event for the series is the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, which saw him finish fourth last season.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Indy Lights Barber Race 2

In the 400th Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event, Colton Herta led every lap en route to his second career victory in four starts.

Here are some observations from the event.

Familiar Faces

Throughout the event, Herta remained unchallenged as he held a lead of at least seven seconds over the field. It marked a solid rebound after a 10th in Race 1 this weekend. The success didn’t come surprising, though, as the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing driver posted a win and runner-up to kick off 2017 at St. Petersburg. Now boasting a 16-point lead over Kyle Kaiser, he’ll look to keep it going into Indianapolis next month.

Kaiser and Nico Jamin finished second and third, to give them both two podiums on the weekend. Jamin won yesterday, while Kaiser finished second.

For Kaiser, he has yet to finish outside of the top-six in the first four races this season, following a sixth and fourth to start this season. Early projections had the Juncos Racing driver as part of the championship battle after finishing third in points in 2016. The California native put together an impressive campaign last year, scoring two wins and nine podiums.

Meanwhile, Alberico was hit or miss at St. Petersburg as he posted a second in Round 1, before finishing 15th in the second event. Now with two podiums at Barber, he certainly has made up some of the lost ground. In his rookie campaign last year, the California native finished 10th in points following six top-10s in 18 races.

Urrutia Left Upset

Santiago Urrutia will will want to forget Barber as soon as possible as he finished outside of the top-12 in both rounds this weekend. He was involved in the first lap incident on Saturday, followed by contact with teammate Shelby Blackstock on Lap 4 causing a spin and front wing change.

Urrutia came into this season hopeful to fight for a title but has started off this season poorly as he finished 13th in Round 1, followed by a runner-up in the second event.

With three finishes outside the top-10 in four races, Urrutia will need to start picking up wins and podiums if he wants to contend this year, given they only run 16 events a season.

Telitz Rebounds

Following a 13th-place finish on Saturday, Aaron Telitz rebounded with a solid fifth-place finish in Sunday’s event.

The Belardi Auto Racing began his rookie campaign with a win and a fifth at St. Petersburg. He enters the series after winning last season’s Pro Mazda Championship.

Eliminated Early

Zachary Cleman De Melo and Pato O’Ward saw their races end on Lap 1 as contact from Claman De Melo to O’Ward on Lap 1 sent both drivers off-track, with O’Ward, stuck in the gravel trap for a full course caution. Claman De Melo was able to continue but parked his car on Lap 3 due to damage.

“We were going to the outside of turn two with Alberico and someone behind me – De Melo – accidentally ran into my right side as I don’t think he intended to and bent my front right, and then kind of kept hitting me, so we lost it, we both went out,” O’Ward said. “It’s a shame.”

Claman De Melo said he couldn’t turn the wheel anymore and tried to give him room, but “we just made contact.”

“I started off the weekend behind due to a missed flight through testing,” Claman De Melo said. “We just got better and better, and I was happy with the race pace. I was happy with yesterday’s solid result.”

The Andretti Autosport driver started this season with a seventh, eighth and fifth before this incident.

For O’Ward, he finished top-five in both St. Petersburg races, before placing eighth. While set to run a full IMSA sports car schedule this season, he has yet to announce any additional Indy Lights races for 2017.

“We had a terrible day yesterday, and today is even worse,” O’Ward said. “I don’t know what that’ll do for the next few races. I’ll have to play the next few weeks and see what happens. It’s just a negative weekend all the way around.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Barber Day No. 2

On Saturday, fans at Barber Motorsports Park were treated to a pair of exciting Mazda Road to Indy events. Oliver Askew continued his strong start in Cooper Tires USF2000 Presented by Mazda, sweeping the weekend with his third victory in four races. Meanwhile, Nico Jamin made it three winners in three races for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Here are some observations from Saturday’s action at Barber.

Mixing It Up

While both USF2000 races at Barber saw Askew win ahead of Kaylen Frederick, there were a couple new faces behind them.

Parker Thompson scored his first podium finish of 2017 with Exclusive Autosport.  The Alberta native has finished in the top-five each race so far, and is hoping to win the championship after a runner-up last year to Anthony Martin.

Meanwhile, Toby Sowery made his debut this weekend with the BENIK team, following up Friday’s 11th-place finish with a fifth in race two. Whether he will return for Indianapolis has yet to be announced.

Ready to Battle

As Andretti Autosport shows speed in the Verizon IndyCar Series, their Indy Lights team is just as strong.

Following Colton Herta’s victory at St. Petersburg, Nico Jamin gave the organization their second win of 2017, leading 27 of 30 laps. It marks a solid rebound as Jamin failed to post a top-five in St. Petersburg, with finishes of seventh and 14th. Dalton Kellett also came back strong, finishing sixth at Barber after kicking of 2017 with a pair of 12ths.

With two podiums at St. Petersburg, Herta continues to lead the points despite finishing 10th at Barber. Notably, Herta had to make a pit stop on Lap 1 after contact with Kyle Kaiser on the aborted start.

Dickerson Fights Back

While the first USF2000 event was clean, the second didn’t go as smoothly with three separate incidents on the opening lap. One of those who found himself facing the wrong way was Dakota Dickerson. Dickerson fought back, though, passing Darren Keane for 10th on the last lap.

Switching to Newman Wachs Racing for 2017, Dickerson has solidly started off 2017 with three straight sixth-place finishes, followed by Saturday’s 10th. As the team grows used to USF2000 competition, Dickerson could possibly be fighting for podiums.

Notably, this is the second year for Dickerson in USF2000 after scoring nine top-10s in 2016, with a best finish of fourth at the Honda Indy Toronto in July en route to placing ninth in the season-ending standings. Newman-Wachs Racing already announced plans to move Dickerson up to Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires for 2018.

Talented Field

As Nico Jamin became the third straight different winner, he was followed to the line by Kyle Kaiser and Neil Alberico.

The runner-up marks Kaiser’s best finish of 2017 following a sixth and fourth to start this season. Early projections had the Juncos Racing driver as part of the championship battle after finishing third in points in 2016. The California native put together an impressive campaign last year, scoring two wins and nine podiums.

Meanwhile, Alberico has been hit or miss so far this season as he posted a second in Round 1 at St. Petersburg, prior to finishing 15th in the second event. Now with a third to kick off Barber, it will be critical for the momentum to carry through Sunday. In his rookie campaign last year, the California native finished 10th in points following six top-10s in 18 races.

Strong Starts Spoiled

Rookies Calvin Ming and Andre Castro both started off their USF2000 campaigns solidly, scoring a top-10 finish in each of the first three rounds. Unfortunately, they finished 21st and 22nd on Saturday after being involved in first lap incidents.

Consequently, both Ricky Donison and Bayley Mickler probably want to leave Barber in the rearview after failing to post a top-20 in either event. Donison entered this weekend following a pair of 13th at St. Petersburg, while Mickler made his debut at Barber.

Looking to Rebound

When Indy Lights starts their second race of the weekend, Aaron Telitz and Santiago Urrutia will be looking to get up front. Both drivers finished outside the top-12 due to being involved in the first lap incident.  

Urrutia knows how to make it happen as he kicked off his sophomore campaign with Belardi Auto Racing at St. Petersburg with a 13th in Round 1, followed by a runner-up.  He also finished second in points last year to Ed Jones.

Meanwhile, Telitz began his rookie campaign with a win and a fifth at St. Petersburg. He enters the series with Belardi after winning last season’s Pro Mazda Championship.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Back Involved with Indy Lights

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports didn’t stay away from Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires for long, as the organization announced a driver development program partnership with Belardi Auto Racing on Thursday. Beginning this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, Santi Urrutia’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics entry will match James Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar entry.

“This new program with Belardi Auto Racing is all about assisting young talented drivers any way we can to get them to the Verizon IndyCar Series,” commented SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt. “Santi did a great job for us in 2016, coming just one point shy of becoming an IndyCar driver this year. Brian Belardi has a great history of doing everything possible with talented drivers, like Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach, so we think this is a great fit. Arrow Electronics and their guests will now have another car to cheer for this season.”

After 2016, Schmidt announced he would not field an Indy Lights car for the first time in 15 years to focus on his IndyCar team and SAM Project. SPM picked up their first win and championship in 2004, backing it up with six more championships in the years to follow. They currently field two full-time IndyCar entries, with Hinchcliffe second in points following his Long Beach victory.

Urrutia raced Indy Lights last season for SPM, placing second in points with 10 top-five finishes. He moved to Belardi Auto Racing for 2017, sitting sixth in the standings following St. Petersburg. 

“I’m very excited for this combined effort,” offered Brian Belardi. “I’m looking forward to the partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and having the Arrow Electronics name on our No. 5 car. I believe this new collaboration is a great step forward for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder program. I’m very proud with the fact that our former drivers like Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach will be in this year’s Indianapolis 500, and I know that this new driver development program will help graduate more of the Belardi family into the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Belardi Auto Racing had a successful 2016 season with six race wins and finish fourth in points with Zach Veach. The Indiana-based team has had success in Indy Lights before, previously winning the championship in 2014. Thus far, Urruitia’s teammates Aaron Telitz and Shelby Blackstock sit second and fourth in points.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Schmidt’s Part-Time Seat Provides Interesting Options

Following the completion of the final testing window at Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the season-opening Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida later this month, there is a growing sense of interest building regarding part-time and/or Indianapolis 500 rides and who they may fall too.

At this point, the hottest battle for opportunities to join the part-time, Indy-only fleet could very well be for one, if not more opportunities at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. SPM has announced James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin will return for the full tour,but also mentioned entering a third car on a partial basis. The guesses have continued to file in as to who will drive that entry, and perhaps suddenly increased in number with two of the three to be discussed in this edition of Embury’s Outlook having tested for the team at Sebring this past week.

When talk of a potential third entry surfaced this past fall, Schmidt’s then-Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia was believed to be the driver most likely to take the wheel. Urrutia, who placed second on the 2016 Indy Lights points table and had a year earlier earned the Pro Mazda Series championship, seemed primed to end speculation on this situation initially, that is until a couple of factors came up. First, Schmidt shut down his Indy Lights operation and second, the Uruguayan prospect as a free agent signed with Belardi Auto Racing for the 2017 Indy Lights season. While it is still possible that Urrutia could land with Schmidt for the Indy 500, two other candidates seem to now be a better position to get the opportunity.

The first of these candidates may be the best off concerning what he can offer to a team financially. Mexico’s Luis Michael Dorrbecker is known more as a road racing specialist, having scored podium finishes in the final three races of the 2016 BOSS GP Championship in the formula division. He has drawn previous interest from those in the IndyCar paddock, having tested an Indy Lights car in 2012. However, he may hold the biggest support card as he reportedly is receiving backing from businessman Carlos Slim, who is associated with several Mexican-based drivers in the upper levels of auto racing, including Formula One.

The second of the test runners this week at Sebring would provide a very intriguing addition to the IndyCar Series. For those that have followed the recent exploits of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship the amazing talents of 23-year old Brazilian Pipo Derani are well known.

Last year at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Derani was the dominant driver almost single-handedly led ESM Racing to overall victories in both events. Of the two efforts, his performance at Sebring may have been the most impressive as he
completed two breathtaking maneuvers to vault from third to first in the final ten minutes. Although most of his recent activity has
been tied to sports car racing, Derani does have experience in European Formula Three and the Pro Mazda Championship.

While no deals or offers have been made at this time involving the Indy 500 at the time Popular Speed went to press, it appears that Urrutia’s chances are extremely limited, unless Schmidt enters four cars at the Brickyard to ensure the event features a full, 33-car grid. If the team only offers one additional seat, the odds favor the two test drivers. If money is tight, Dorrbecker becomes the front runner. If talent is the last domino to fall, Derani would provide an interesting X-factor in the battle for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors, when matched against full circuit newcomer Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing.

Regardless of the outcome, expect Schmidt to once again be a key player during the month of May for the second year in a row.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.