By Patrick Stephan

Now that was an entertaining race, particularly in terms of the point battle, so lets just get to it.

I watched this one from the pit lane, but with a monitor to view for replays. Nice to be back down in the action, and there was plenty of it – particularly for a racing series that doesn’t have scheduled pit stops. And also consider everyone the race.

Zach Veach got a great start and went from 5th to 2nd and then on to first at the Bus Stop to take the lead in today’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race. When he got by pole sitter, Urritia at the Bus Stop, the point leader locked his left front tire, an ominous sign for the rest of the race.

There was early contact in the esses between Zachary Claman De Melo and Felix Serralles, with Felix getting the worst of it.  They would both have to pit for repairs, before rejoining the fight.

By the end of lap 3, Veach was leading Urritia, Jones, Negrao, Kaiser and Stoneman was 6th, and things were settling down.

By lap 7, Alberico had gone from 12th to 7th. Around that same time, two Andretti Autosport teammates made contact in the bus stop fighting for 9th. Shelby Blackstock had gotten a run, and moved to the left on corner entry (right hander), with Dalton Kellett on the right as they approached the quick left turn ahead.  Blackstock just missed clearing Kellett, but his right rear made contact with Kellett’s left front wing, knocking the entire assembly off at that first left kink – it slid mostly off line and the safety crew was able to retrieve it without a yellow.

Kellett would pit for a new front wing and also seemed to have a blister starting on the right rear tire. This would send everyone on the pit lane to watching out for tire wear.

On lap 11, Veach was 4.6 seconds ahead of Urrutia who had a one second lead over Jones.  The next lap Jones made a run in to the Bus Stop, but after Urrutia took away the inside line, he went outside, but just wasn’t able to get far enough up to make a move.

Lap 16 and both Jones and Negrao pass Urrutia who locked up his left front tire again.  Kaiser would get by Urritia later in the lap, dropping the point leader to fifth.

On Lap 17 Veach was up 7.4 seconds over Jones, Negrao, Kaiser and Urrutia, with Stoneman, Alberico and Blackstock following.

Things then got really interesting on lap 19 as point leader Urrutia saw his left front tire delaminate as he started his run up the hill at the start of the esses. He managed to keep it on track, but the flapping tire tread forced him to limp the car back around to the pit lane. Interestingly he took the full lap, not using the NASCAR short cut, but he did make it back for 4 new tires and a new front wing.

Shortly after that, Dean Stoneman would pit for four new tires (and some tape on his front wing to help hold it together from previous on track damage). As his tires came off, I took a look and the inside shoulder’s of both rear tires were blistered and starting to “chunk.” Those tires weren’t going to last much longer.

I talked to Dave “Poppy” Popielarz, who oversees the Andretti Autosport Indy Light’s team, and learned something interesting from the veteran IndyCar mechanic.  “Poppy” said that he could hear Stoneman’s voice fluttering on the radio – and that told him the vibration from the tires was severe enough that they needed to bring him in for tires.

Once on new rubber Stoneman was able to get back out and he achieved the two goals for that stop.  First, he beat Urrutia (the championship leader), and also picking up the point for fastest lap of the race – which Stoneman turned on lap 24.

As the race ran to the finish, tire wear continued to be a concern, and Veach slowed a bit, conserving his tires and allowing Veach to beat Jones to the finish by 3.9 seconds.

Zach Veach (#5 Belardi Auto Racing): “I saw an opportunity and I had to take it. I noticed that the inside lane was moving faster at the start so I knew I would be in a good position. When I found myself beside Negrao going into Turn One, I thought I had a chance. I had to get off the corner well and get into Santi’s draft and I did just that. We knew how fast Santi was and I wasn’t sure I had the car to match him, so my goal was to get around him and lead as many laps as I could. My pace stayed the same and I saw him dropping off and then disappear, so I had to work on keeping the gap and just keep going.
“It’s so emotional. This is one of my happiest wins. In all my previous wins, we’ve been fast all weekend and here, we had clutch problems in qualifying, then had a starter problem just before the race and we had to come from fifth to win. I pushed hard to build up a gap and I managed my Cooper tires to the end.”
Ed Jones (#11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels – Carlin):  “At the start I went to the outside, which didn’t quite work out, and I fell back a few places. I just sat behind Santi a little bit, because when I was using ‘push-to-pass,’ he was using it as well but eventually I got by. After about 10 laps, the degradation was really high on the tires already and I expected it to get much worse but after that, if anything, it got a little better.”
Santi Urrutia (#55 Mazda/SPM with Curb-Agajanian): “For sure, it is a little bit disappointing after taking the pole position. We started the race thinking we should win. The car was really fast, but we had a problem on the first lap with understeer. It was really strange. And then I was working with the tires and driving really slow, especially on the right-hand corners, but it is what it is. Today we lost but we are still leading the championship by one point. Everything is going to finish at Mazda Raceway next week so we are going to go with the same mindset that we came here and that is to win, so we are going to go for pole position and to win both races.”

After the race Jones also said, “I’m really confident going in to Laguna, we had a fast car last year and think we should be fast there again.”

TSO Ladder checked over the tires of the front runners, and Veach’s looked pretty good – though he had picked up so many marbles it was a little tough to know for sure, particularly the right rear inside shoulder – that was the area of concern.

Jones did have a small patch of blisters on his right rear, but they were a couple inches inside of the shoulder itself. Interesting to see that variance – probably coming from different camber settings.

This race really does create an interesting point battle heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the season ending double header next weekend.  Urrutia is now just one point up on Jones, and Stoneman is just 23 back, and Veach 31.  And while anything further back makes it a long shot, Serralles and Kaiser are still “in” this title fight. A good first race and a bad one for Urrutia and Jones could move either of them in to contention.

And note, will be there to cover this championship battle.  It’s going to be very entertaining, particularly with a 3 race IndyCar Series deal on the line for the winner.

Here are the updated points (Unofficial):

1 Santiago Urrutia – R 319
2 Ed Jones 318
3 Dean Stoneman – R 296
4 Zach Veach 288
5 Felix Serralles 281
6 Kyle Kaiser 279
7 Andre Negrao – R 241
8 Shelby Blackstock 206
9 Zachary Claman de Melo – R 186
10 Felix Rosenqvist – R 185
11 Dalton Kellett – R 171
12 Neil Alberico – R 167
13 Juan Piedrahita 135
14 RC Enerson 111
15 Scott Hargrove  – R 93
16 Garett Grist – R 86
17 Scott Anderson 61
18 James French – R 26
19 Heamin Choi – R 25

Unofficial Race Results


Pos Car # Name Laps Diff FL FTime Team
1 5 Zach Veach 25 5 1:34.610 Belardi Auto Racing
2 11 Ed Jones 25 3.6268 3 1:35.293 Carlin
3 17 Andre Negrao 25 4.1322 21 1:35.308 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian
4 18 Kyle Kaiser 25 6.0913 19 1:35.368 Juncos Racing
5 22 Neil Alberico 25 12.6164 25 1:34.787 Carlin
6 51 Shelby Blackstock 25 14.7333 23 1:35.034 Andretti Autosport
7 4 Felix Serralles 25 16.5477 5 1:34.382 Carlin
8 3 Garett Grist 25 41.1031 21 1:36.979 Team Pelfrey
9 13 Zachary Claman De Melo 25 69.5228 20 1:35.302 Juncos Racing
10 27 Dean Stoneman 25 89.6110 24 1:33.692 Andretti Autosport
11 28 Dalton Kellett 24 1 LAPS 23 1:34.192 Andretti Autosport
12 55 Santiago Urrutia 24 1 LAPS 4 1:34.869 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian
The Watkins Glen Indy Lights Podium.

The Watkins Glen Indy Lights Podium.  Veach (c), Jones (l), Negrao (r) IMS Photo