Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 Unofficial Results

Indy Lights Race #2 – Agony and Ecstasy for Belardi Auto Racing

Sometimes it is better to be lucky rather than good in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and for both Belardi Auto Racing and its driver Santi Urrutia, that was the case in the second race of the weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Urrutia captured Sunday’s Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires race win, after starting in sixth place in his No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda, after a somewhat bizarre sequence of events occurred that involved three race and championship protagonists to kick off Sunday’s trio of Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires events.

“I said to myself, last year I did some mistakes, and if I want to win the championship this year I have to get big points in every race”, explained the two-time Indy Lights runner-up .” I had a good start, but not too aggressive. I saw the crash in the beginning, the second corner. I found myself in P3. Then Colton crashed. Then Pato spun by himself. I just did my own race, my own pace, and won the race. From where the weekend started it was so difficult and I crashed. Win today, second yesterday, leading the championship is a really good weekend for us.”

Santi Urrutia celebrates the win in the second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Leading into Sunday’s race, it looked as though Patricio O’Ward and Aaron Telitz were joined at the hip from an Indy Lights storyline standpoint. For most of the race, the two protagonists represented “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

O’Ward looked on course to win from the pole for the second straight day in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Telitz, meanwhile, incurred a second straight impact at the same corner at the second straight day in his No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing car – which today was Carlin blue rather than Belardi red – thanks to a somewhat surreal sequence of events that few movie scriptwriters would believe.

Nine cars started the second race of the weekend, and Telitz was able to become the ninth thanks to a Herculean effort from multiple teams.

After Telitz missed Saturday’s race following an accident at the end of qualifying for race two, a collaborative effort between Belardi Auto Racing, Carlin, and ArmsUp Motorsports helped get a spare car to St. Petersburg, then prepared and running for the second race. Telitz was able to run a morning hardship lap on Sunday to ensure the car was OK to run and start the race from third place.

But Telitz’s dream comeback and redemption story ended with a second heartbreaking gut-punch in a 24-hour period.

Up front, Colton Herta got the jump on polesitter O’Ward around the outside of him into the right-handed Turn 1, and completed the pass into the left-handed Turn 2 with O’Ward following in behind. Keep that track direction in mind for what happened next.

Behind the leaders, Victor Franzoni tried to pass Telitz at the left-handed Turn 2, but clipped the apex, hit the curb, and knocked Telitz into the outside retaining wall, which ended Telitz’s race. Franzoni made it back to the pits to change out his front wing and did not lose a lap as the race went to a full course caution.

Considering the effort to get the car here and going – it arrived back at the St. Petersburg track at midnight from Carlin’s race shop in Delray Beach, Fla. and got prepared through the night at the track – this was a simply unfathomable bit of cruel luck that struck.

“This crew did an outstanding job. We also had huge help from Trevor Carlin and Colin Hale (from Carlin), and Gregg and Brent Borland (from ArmsUp) were there to provide transportation. It’s so hard to see after everyone’s work,” Brian Belardi told Rob Howden of the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network.

Asked what he was thinking, Belardi said, “I’m not happy. I can’t say what I’m thinking.”

A despondent Telitz could only shake his head and rue his unfathomable sequence of events this weekend, particularly given he rarely has failed to finish races in his five-year Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career.

After the first lap, Herta led from O’Ward, Urrutia, Shelby Blackstock, Dalton Kellett, Neil Alberico, Ryan Norman and Franzoni with Telitz out of the race.

Following the restart on Lap 5, O’Ward tried to Herta’s outside at Turn 1, and ran side-by-side before Herta held him off… but only barely. Herta drove off the Turn 3 corner exit, with O’Ward pushing down the inside and through into Turn 4.

Behind the top two runners, the rest of the order on Lap 5 was Urrutia in third, Blackstock and Alberico fourth and fifth, then Norman, Franzoni, and Kellett.

Herta, who was running second in his No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing entry, then crashed on Lap 10, at Turn 8 and sustained significant left side damage. He came into the right-hander too deep, collected the tire barriers and then into the concrete wall. He got out of his car under his own power, but this brought out the second full course caution period of the 40-lap race.

This brought Blackstock, Alberico and Norman into the top five positions prior to the restart at the conclusion of Lap 13, the start of Lap 14.

Norman, who’d pressured Alberico in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, provided an encore on Sunday when battling for fourth place. He started his hunt for the second Team Pelfrey driver for a second straight day and tried repeatedly at Turn 4 to get to Alberico’s inside.

O’Ward banked his lead over Urrutia to 1.9178 seconds by Lap 15, ahead of Blackstock, Alberico, Norman, Franzoni and Kellett. That lead grew to over 3 seconds by Lap 17.

By the end of Lap 23, O’Ward laid down the first race lap in the 1:05 bracket and built his lead to north of 4 seconds over Urrutia, with Blackstock third and more than 8 seconds back.

The gap went up to north of 6 seconds by Lap 29, and the order remained constant with no changes in position.

That was, until Lap 32. O’Ward ran off course into the runoff at Turn 4 with an undetermined issue, which cost him a 6.8693-second lead over Urrutia. O’Ward was unable to resume until the remaining runners got past him, and left him down in seventh place.

This brought everyone else up a position, with Blackstock second, Alberico third, Norman fourth, Franzoni fifth, Kellett sixth and O’Ward seventh.

Urrutia and Blackstock were able to keep going unabated, with Urrutia winning by 11.7406 seconds over Blackstock in the No. 3 Team Pelfrey car. Urrutia started sixth and is only the second winner in eight Dallara IL-15 races at St. Petersburg to win from a position other than pole (Felix Serralles won 2016 race one from seventh). Blackstock advanced from eighth into second.

This marks a career-best finish for Blackstock in his 52nd career start; he has started every Indy Lights race with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda since the car’s 2015 inception. This is also the third straight year a Team Pelfrey driver has scored a podium at St. Petersburg, with Scott Hargrove (2016) and O’Ward (2017) doing so the last two years for the Gary Neal-led team.

“(It’s a) completely different car,” explained Blackstock to TSO Ladder after the race.” The whole weekend was a bit of a struggle. The whole team was behind. Neil (Alberio) and I worked really well together. I thought we had a 2-3 – that would have been beyond a win for the team. That’s one of the best weekends I’ve ever had. Lady luck is definitely on our side. I’m pretty close with Aaron (Telitz). I feel so bad for him. But that helped me get to fourth. Pato’s got me into second. Tough weekend for everyone, but this came together last minute.”

After spending the last two seasons in a familiar Belardi Auto Racing machine, it took some time to get used to seeing Shelby Blackstock in Team Pelfrey yellow (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The battle for third took center stage on the final lap with another Alberico and Norman moment. Alberico defended against Norman through Turns 1 and 2, but contact occurred as Alberico got a cut tire with Norman sustaining a broken wing.

Alberico was almost able to limp home but stalled out at the top of the course in Turns 8 and 9.

Norman, who started seventh, was able to get past for third, and Franzoni got past for fourth. Alberico made it to the flag in fifth, just ahead of Kellett, with O’Ward significantly further back in seventh place.

For the driver of the No. 48 Journey-backed car for Andretti Autosport, Norman’s wheels in the sky kept on turning en route to his first career Indy Lights podium finish. His best career finish just prior to that was fourth at Road America race one last year.

This was a wild race and we’ll be back with post-race reactions from the top finishers a little bit later.

With the win and O’Ward’s demise, Urrutia takes the early points lead unofficially, with O’Ward second and Blackstock – who like Alberico is only confirmed for this weekend at the moment – in third.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 Unofficial Results

P No Name Team Laps Diff
1 5 Santi Urrutia Belardi Auto Racing 40
2 3 Shelby Blackstock Team Pelfrey 40 11.7406
3 48 Ryan Norman Andretti Autosport 40 15.4299
4 23 Victor Franzoni Juncos Racing 40 18.2357
5 2 Neil Alberico Team Pelfrey 40 23.1910
6 28 Dalton Kellett Andretti Autosport 40 23.9599
7 27 Pato O’Ward Andretti Autosport 40 44.8179
8 98 Colton Herta Andretti Steinbrenner Racing 9 Contact
9 9 Aaron Telitz Belardi Auto Racing Contact