By Patrick Stephan (TSO_Patrick)

Well, this is the final report for today – and wow, what a day!  Some great racing in Lights and USF2000. Pro Mazda wasn’t quite up to the same level, but there was still some action – or at least the potential for some 🙂

The podium finishers from today’s USF2000 race came in to the media center for a bit. This is always a tough one for these kids because they have to come in right smack in the middle of Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying. No one wants to disturb the coverage of that, but the USF2000 racers do deserve some love for finishing up front.

Instead of a more formal press conference, the drivers did one on ones with the media. That let me chat with Oliver Askew, winner of his first ever USF2000 race – in his debut weekend.

He was still pretty shocked, saying of the defining restart, “I was just reacting to whatever happens and Parker seemed to lock up and overshot in to Turn 1 and I just went right underneath him and in to the lead. The guy came on the radio and told me not to look back and to keep pushing, so that’s what I did.”

“It’s huge, this is the best day of my racing career by far,” said Askew. “I’m pretty speechless I don’t think it’s even sunk in!”

When asked if he even thought of winning coming in to the weekend he said, “No, I was just coming in to this weekend to get points, so this is a big plus!”  He noted that tomorrow, he’ll be here watching the Verizon IndyCar Series race – just the second he’s ever gotten the chance to see in person.

TSO also talked to Parker Thompson and he started off saying that “Exclusive Autosport gave me a great car today, a winning car.”

On the restart he said, “My game plan was to cool down the tires, because already 10 minutes in the tires were starting to overheat and fall off. So I thought if I cooled down the tires as much as I could they would be good on the restart. I warmed them up on that last lap, but obviously not enough. They kind of just got greasy. Went in and I broke about 50 – 75 feet earlier than I usually do, and all four corners locked up and I knew I was big, big trouble right away.”

On getting back to the podium, he said, “red mist!”

“Nothing was going to stop me from getting a podium for the boys. I threw away getting them their first USF2000 win, but nothing was going to stop me from getting them their first podium.”

Ok, let’s go to the Lights race that finished up this long day at the track.

Aaron Telitz started Indy Lights Race #1 from the pole, and kept that lead through Turn 1. He said later that he didn’t use the push to pass, while everyone else did, but it still worked out for him.

Didn’t see a replay of the start, but Dalton Kellett got spun out of 12th and was facing the wrong way on the track.

Unfortunately his teammate, Santi Urrutia picked up damage in the initial start when things got crazy and he had wall contact with right front corner of his car.

With five laps completed, the Top -5 were Telitz, Mattheus Leist, Neil Alberico, and Shelby Blackstock.

But that wouldn’t last long, Telitz kept the lead, but Alberico got around Leist, and we had battling back a little further between the Team Pelfrey duo of Nico Jamin and Pato O’Ward. They were fighting for the 6th spot and got side by side a couple times.

When we got to lap 8, O’Ward was able to make the move, and we had a Top 10 of Telitz, Alberico, Blackstock, Herta, Kaiser, Piedrahita, O’Ward, Jamin, Claman de Melo, and Dapero.

Leist would pull off about this same time after dropping through the field. His car clearly had a mechanical issue (down on power), sending him to pit lane. He got out of the car and started walking away before being called back. He got back in the car and rejoined the race about 7 laps down before retiring for good after 20 laps completed.

Urrutia had also rejoined the race, though he was 4 laps down, after his Belardi crew got the right front repaired.

On lap 14, Telitz had a 6.4 second lead over Alberico.

The best battle on the track was for third at this time. Blackstock had Herta all over him, with Kyle Kaiser about a second behind them in fifth.

Colton Herta made a dive inside of Blackstock on lap 20 in Turn 1. They didn’t touch, but it was very close and Blackstock had to change his line or there would have been contact. In a couple of laps, Blackstock was slipping back to other drivers with Kyle Kaiser taking the fourth spot in Turn 1. Shelby didn’t give him as much room as he did Herta, with Kaiser and Blackstock going wheel to wheel through Turn 1. May have been some contact, but they both continued.

Kaiser didn’t run away from Blackstock who quickly had Piedrahita and O’Ward right behind him.

With those cars nose to tail, we’re presuming a lot of these guys were getting on the push to pass. Recall that can be engaged if you are within one second of the car in front of you.

Lap 25 of 35 and Telitz still leads by 9 seconds over Alberico, with Herta right on his gearbox. Four seconds behind them is the battle between Kaiser, Blackstock, O’Ward and Claman de Melo. Piedrahita pulled to pit lane. Rob Howden from INDYCAR radio noticed the car had all the marking of wall contact on the left side.

Back up front, Herta was still pressing Alberico for second. They were 11 seconds behind the leader Telitz, but Herta was just two car lengths out of second place. On lap 31, Herta gets on the push to pass and goes by Alberico in Turn 1 to take the second position.

Positions 5-9 were really battling as Kaiser was clearly getting loose in the 5th spot. He had Pato O’Ward looking inside and out to try and get around. O’Ward was also getting pressure again from Claman de Melo, who Jamin just behind him.

With 3 laps to go, O’Ward slides inside of Kaiser in Turn 1.

The final lap we had a three car battle as Kaiser tried to hold off Claman De Melo and Jamin and Dapero was also looking for a chance to get by. That would get dicey, but they all made it to the checkered flag, although not quite in that order as Jamin moved to 7th.

Quick summary of this one – good race for everything except the lead.

After the race, the Top-3 came in to the media center.

Neil Alberico said of his weekend so far “The Carlin guys did a good job working with me in the offseason, after a tough season last year. Working well with my engineer and so far so good. As long as we can stay clean tomorrow and come out of here with some good points, we should be good coming out of here.”

Colton Herta said that push to pass helped him a ton. “It worked it got me good runs on Kaiser and Shelby.”  He also noted that the track felt “really similar to this morning.” He said the times were a little quicker than he expected but the track wasn’t that different.

Aaron Telitz said, “I was seriously expecting to do well this year, but not to come in and win the pole and the win,” he noted while also saying, “this is a really deep field, especially with some of these guys coming back for their second season.”

Aaron was asked about tires, and he said his held really well and he did his fastest lap as the fuel burned off toward the end.

After winning today, he said, “It all just feels a little unreal honestly. I had no idea I would even make it Indy Lights when I started in car racing, let alone actually win an Indy Lights race in my first go. I can’t thank Mazda enough for creating this ladder system where driver’s like me, or anybody, can get in to it and work their way up.”

He spent much of the race just trying to hit his marks and be consistent. He said he was a little mad that no one told him he didn’t have fastest lap – he might have pushed a little more for that – to get the extra point.

After the race, TSO talked more with Telitz on his path to Indy Lights.

“Go karting was just something I did for fun on weekends with my family. I went to college, and when I was a freshman I decided to go give the Skip Barber Scholarship shoot-out a try. And I ended up winning a scholarship to even start racing cars.”

“My whole road in to car racing has been through doing well and winning scholarships basically. I have won Skip Barber scholarships, Team USA scholarships, two Mazda Speed scholarships, and I have an incredible home state partner in Rice Lake Weighing Systems. They have helped me out in between and continues to help me to this day. On the off seasons when I haven’t had championships or scholarships to run on, when they’ve been able to back me, that’s been a serious help in allowing me to move up.”

He talked about some of the “new blood” coming to the sport, mentioning Colton’s new team co-owner George Steinbrenner, and their sponsor Deltro Energy. “It’s an incredible time right now and I think INDYCAR is seriously on the upswing, and the racing out there is great!”

Aaron Telitz had a good day today in St. Petersburg. INDYCAR Photo

Ok, here are the unofficial results:

Pos Car # Driver Laps Diff Status Team
1 9 Aaron Telitz 35 0.0000 1 Belardi Auto Racing
2 98 Colton Herta 35 11.0330 Active Andretti Steinbrenner Racing
3 22 Neil Alberico 35 13.9925 Active Carlin
4 51 Shelby Blackstock 35 15.6642 Active Belardi Auto Racing
5 3 Pato O’Ward 35 19.1813 Active Team Pelfrey
6 18 Kyle Kaiser 35 25.4788 Active Juncos Racing
7 27 Nico Jamin 35 25.7737 Active Andretti Autosport
8 13 Zachary Claman De Melo 35 25.9800 Active Carlin
9 31 Nicolas Dapero 35 26.4283 Active Juncos Racing
10 48 Ryan Norman 35 37.7830 Active Andretti Autosport
11 11 Garth Rickards 34 1L Active Carlin
12 28 Dalton Kellett 33 1L Off Andretti Autosport
13 5 Santi Urrutia 30 4L Pit Belardi Auto Racing
14 2 Juan Piedrahita 27 7L Contact Team Pelfrey
15 26 Matheus Leist 15 19L Mechanical Carlin