Patricio O’Ward started on the pole for the 35 lap Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires due to the misfortune of Aaron Telitz, but a 6.6-second victory was 100% due to the Mexican’s skill.

The win is the first in Indy Lights for O’Ward, and his eighth overall Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory. The 18-year-old, who also won on the Streets Of St. Petersburg two years ago to start the 2016 Pro Mazda season, collected his fourth podium in St. Petersburg.

“It’s definitely a very good start to the season, to start on the right foot, and get some momentum starting, O’Ward told TSO. “I’m looking forward to not losing the momentum, hopefully get some podiums, wins, some good points. And I’m really happy how the race went. It’s never boring around this place. IT’S on the limit every single lap. The Andretti guys gave me an awesome car. The Stellrecht guys. My CDMX Mazda was behaving really well. The Cooper Tires lasted pretty well. I’m happy about that.

“I really enjoy driving street course, St. Pete, Toronto, I like street courses. It feels really fast. It feels raw. The echo, it heightens your senses a bit more than a normal road course. Lap by lap. Don’t tag the wall, be fast, and you’ll take it home. I’m so excited for today’s win.”

Patricio O’Ward “enjoys” a sparkling grape juice shower after winning his first career Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Telitz, who destroyed his No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing Mazda/Dallara in the last minute of qualifying this morning while trying to score his second pole of the weekend, was not able to start after no back-up was available. The Brownsburg, Ind. based team is hoping to lease a car from Carlin, whose cars are at their shop in Delray Beach, Fla., a 254-mile drive from Albert Whited Airport.

Urrutia, who began his 2017 Indy Lights season with a 13th place finish, was happy with his second place finish, espiecially considering he thinks both the team and himself have areas of improvement for tomorrow monrnings race.

He told TSO Ladder: “St. Pete has always been a difficult weekend for me. Coming second today is a strong start for me. When you’re not super fast and you finish second you’re happy. It’s like a win. I’ll start sixth tomorrow. I have to improve my driving. Problem is, in this type of track if you don’t have a lot of grip – I’m super aggressive.

“I think if I put everything tomorrow, probably a little bit of car and a little bit of driver, I’ll try to pass some guys and try to finish on the podium again.”

Herta, who started the race behind winning teammate O’Ward spun the tires when the green-flag came out. He was swamped by Santi Urrutia and Victor Franzoni who made side to side contact with the New York Yankee blue and white No. 98 from the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing stable. The bump caused the 17-year-old to lose grip and the steering wheel and dropped down to fifth.

“Exciting is a terrible word, was Herta’s response when TSO Ladder asked him about the first lap. “I had wheelspin on the start. I thought being on the line it would have been better. I got to the throttle a little bit too soon. Victor just… I don’t know what happened. He came and slapped me on the side. He hit me out of the way. He hit my right front, it just spun, I let go of it. And that’s basically what happened when everyone got in front of me,

“It was a fun race after that. I had to focus and tell myself push push push. We were super consistent. I tried a little bit harder this year to conserve the push to pass, which I ended up not needing in the end. It was showing experience I guess.”

At the end of the first lap, the running order was: O’Ward, Urrutia, Franzoni, Shelby Blackstock, Herta, Dalton Kellett, Neil Alberico and Ryan Norman.

Herta collected himself and quickly started to put pressure on Blackstock, getting by him on Lap 4.

At the ten lap mark, O’Ward had a 1.8-second gap over Urrutia, who was followed in the top five by Franzoni, Herta, and Blackstock.

Two laps later, Herta began to pressure Franzoni, and on Lap 15, the sophomore made a move down the inside going into Turn 1, but couldn’t get slowed down enough, and Franzoni was able to get back underneath Herta. It took another four laps, but Herta was able to successfully go by the reigning Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire champion to move to the final podium spot.

Behind the top four, Blackstock, Norman, Alberico and Kellett were part of a twenty lap battle for the final spot in the top five.

Ryan Norman stalks Neil Alberico on the Streets of St. Petersburg (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Kellett was sliding his No. 28 Andretti Autosport machine around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit trying to get around Blackstock, but was not able to get the pass made.

Blackstock, who had not been in a race car for 187 days before Friday’s first practice session, ended up with an impressive fifth place finish.

On Lap 20, O’Ward turned his quickest lap of the race to that point and had a 3.4 second lead over Urrutia.

With 12 laps to go, Alberico made a late move on Kellett going into Turn 1, Alberico tagged the rear the Canadian’s car, which did a 180-degree pirouette. He kept it running but ended up losing a lap and finishing eighth.

The last third of the race was much quieter, with the only excitement coming when Alberico missed his braking point in Turn 1 and got the bright yellow Team Pelfrey No. 2 stopped just before the concrete wall.

The second Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires is scheduled to take the green flag at 10:45 am on Sunday morning.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Race #1 Unofficial Results

1 27 Pato O’Ward Andretti Autosport 35 Laps
2 5 Santi Urrutia Belardi Auto Racing 6.6014
3 98 Colton Herta Andretti Steinbrenner Racing 10.4205
4 23 Victor Franzoni Juncos Racing 28.9609
5 3 Shelby Blackstock Team Pelfrey 36.1168
6 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 39.4887
7 2 Neil Alberico Team Pelfrey 62.4569
8 28 Dalton Kellett Andretti Autosport -1 LAP
9 9 Aaron Telitz Belardi Auto Racing DNS

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