By Steve Wittich
The first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire race at Gateway Motorsports Park in 14 years was an exciting one, with Juan Piedrahita and Santiago Urrutia trading the top spot four times. Urrutia took the lead for the last time with only one lap left.
Kyle Kaiser, who could have clinched the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship with a top two finish, ended up fourth, and only needs to start at next weeks finale at Watkins Glen International to guarantee him a seat for at least three races in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 75 lap race started with Piedrahita leading the field to the green flag, and getting the jump on Urrutia. The 15 car field got cleanly through the first three corners, but trouble found a quartet of cars in Turn 4.
Colton Herta on the inside, slid up the track into Neil Alberico, turning Alberico’s No 22 Carlin machine around and sending the Californian on a wild ride through the grass between the track and pit lane entrance. Shelby Blackstock spun to the top side of Turn 4 in avoidance, and further back, Blackstocks Belardi Auto Racing teammate Aaron Telitz spun in avoidance. The Soul Red No. 9 of Teltiz made light contact with the SAFER Barrier and was forced to pit road.
The John Brunner led crew looked over Telitz’s car, but determined there was too much damage for the reigning Pro Mazda champion to continue, ending a 42 race streak without a DNF.
When the green flag came back out on Lap 7, the top five were: Piedrahita, Urrutia, Kaiser (who had moved up from his fifth place starting spot), Nico Jamin, and Zachary Claman DeMelo.
As the field came though Turn 1, Claman DeMelo found himself going on a wild ride through the grass, and the yellow flag came back out.
The top 10 when the field restarted on Lap 9 were: Piedrahita, Urrutia, Kaiser, Jamin, Colton Herta, Ryan Norman, Nicolas Dapero, Dalton Kellett, Matheus Leist, and Neil Alberico.
Kaiser went around the outside of Urrutia for second on the outside of Turn 1 and Turn 2, and behind them Leist, Dapero, and Norman went three wide in Turn 3.
Urrutia tried Kaiser around the outside of Turn 1 and Turn 2 on Lap 15, but could not get the pass done, but a lap later was able to get under the championship leader on the inside of the same complex of corners.
With 46 laps left to go, the winner of the first two oval races of the year Matheus Leist was the quickest car on track and got by Herta for fifth.
Urrutia took advantage of Piedrahita getting balked by lapped traffic to grab the lead with a last minute move to the inside into Turn 1. Just behind the first two, Kaiser had his hands full with Leist and Jamin, with Herta and Claman DeMelo also joining the fight.
With 26 laps remaining, Kaiser got high in Turn 1, allowing Jamin to go by at the South end of the track and Leist to drop the Juncos Racing veteran to fifth.
For the next dozen laps Urrutia’s lead over Piedrahita stayed constant right around one second.
After the race, Piedrahita explained to TSO that the two cars were fairly equal, but that he had the better car in Turn 3 and Turn 4, and Urrutia was better in Turn 1 and Turn 2.
The yellow flag came out for the third time on Lap 62 for contact between the No. 84 of Chad Boat, the No. 22 of Alberico, and the No. 11 of Garth Rickards. Boat who was on the inside, and Alberico who was attempting to lap the USAC star on the outside, made contact, sending both into the SAFER Barrier and collecting Rickards.
All three drivers were able to exit their cars without the aid of the Holmatro Safety Team, but the three Mazda powered Dallaras were hooked together, and MRTI Officials decided to red flag the race to take the time to separate the cars without damaging them.
After an approximately 15 minute red flag, the race went back to green with seven laps to go. Piedrahita was able to make a brave pass around outside of Urrutia.
Behind the front two Jamin made a lazy spin, forcing Leist, Herta, Kaiser and Dapero to make impressive evasive maneuvers.
Jamin’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport machine got high-sided on the curb, and the fourth and final red flag came out setting up one final restart.
The final restart took place with three lap remaining, and Piedrahita was able to get a great jump as Urrutia spun his tires behind him. Urrutia got a better exit off of Turn 2 and the two went side by side in Turn 3, Turn 4, down the front straight, and Turn 1, before Urrutia pulled ahead exiting Turn 2.
Urrutia was able to hold off Piedrahita to score his first oval win, sixth Indy Lights win, and ninth MRTI win.
Further back, Matheus Leist was forced to pit with a flat tire, promoting Dapero to the fifth spot.
|1||5||Santi Urrutia||75 LAPS|
|6||13||Zachary Claman De Melo||3.1337|
|9||51||Shelby Blackstock||– 1 LAP|
|10||26||Matheus Leist||-3 LAPS|
|11||27||Nico Jamin||-7 LAPS|
|12||22||Neil Alberico||-14 LAPS|
|13||11||Garth Rickards||-14 LAPS|
|14||84||Chad Boat||-17 LAPS|
|15||9||Aaron Telitz||-74 LAPS|