By Tony DiZinno
Herta recovers, rebounds from first lap fracas to win IMS race one
From getting shuffled out of contention to making a dramatic comeback to win, Colton Herta was the story of the day in the first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America weekend.
On paper, seeing that Herta started second and finished first in the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda would make it seem like a fairly straightforward drive. But Herta and his polesitting teammate and points leader, Patricio “Pato” O’Ward in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport car, had a tougher race than they both anticipated.
Just past 1:30 p.m. ET, the command was given for the first of six Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires races to take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race was scheduled for 30 laps.
O’Ward and Herta’s expected battle for the lead from first and second on the grid got derailed off the start, when minor contact from Victor Franzoni sent O’Ward wide and off course at Turn 1. Herta, with nowhere to go except also off line directly behind him, also lost spots. They fell to fourth and fifth.
In the chaos, Santiago Urrutia advanced to the lead ahead of Franzoni, Aaron Telitz, with O’Ward and Herta.
Ryan Norman got past Dalton Kellett for sixth on Lap 2.
On Lap 4, Franzoni locks up on Urrutia going into Turn 1, after getting a run on him. But the Brazilian is unable to pass the Uruguayan.
By the end of Lap 5, O’Ward and Herta appear clearly faster than Telitz and are closing, trying to get past him.
Herta tried a run down the inside of O’Ward at Turn 1 on Lap 7 and got past, but overcooked it and ran wide, so he lost the position he just gained.
At Lap 7 it’s Urrutia leading Franzoni by 0.9365 of a second, with Telitz still third ahead of O’Ward, Herta, Norman and Kellett. At this stage, it’s the three non-Andretti Autosport cars that run first, second and third ahead of the four Andretti Autosport cars.
Herta tried again to the inside on Lap 9, and got past through Turns 1 and 2 to complete the gain of position for fourth. This pushes O’Ward down to fifth. Herta will now attempt to chase after Telitz for third.
The order at Lap 10 is Urrutia, up 0.5263 on Franzoni, with Telitz, Herta, O’Ward, Norman and Kellett in tow. Kellett has lost the lead draft, nearly 11 seconds behind sixth-placed Norman and just over 15 seconds off the leaders.
Quite a bit occurred on Lap 11. Franzoni tried around the outside of Urrutia at Turn 7 for the lead, but Urrutia defended and Franzoni lost all momentum. That left him vulnerable compared to Telitz, who tries a move to the inside at Turn 12. Franzoni runs wide on corner exit and drops to sixth.
However, despite Telitz making the move past Franzoni to make it a brief Belardi Auto Racing 1-2, Herta immediately caught him up. Herta tried around the outside of Telitz into Turn 1 and is past for second. Behind him, Norman tried to O’Ward’s inside for fourth, almost got him, but didn’t.
By the end of Lap 12, Urrutia now leads Herta by 1.3566 seconds and behind them, it’s now Telitz third, O’Ward fourth, Norman fifth, Franzoni sixth and Kellett seventh.
Herta closes the gap to just 0.6410 of a second on Lap 13, and is now fully in Urrutia’s rear view mirror for the lead.
On Lap 15 he tries his move into Turn 1, again to the outside as he did to Telitz,. Urrutia locks up defending but holds the lead… barely. Urrutia adjusts his line on the backstraight to hold off Herta, which he briefly does.
On Lap 16, Urrutia is unable to defend against Herta’s move – his third attempt on the outside of a Belardi car at Turn 1. This one sticks. Urrutia tries to defend to the inside but Herta is past, as Urrutia locks up, and within one lap Herta is already 1.1580 seconds ahead.
Herta has a fan in his former No. 98 number sake, Alexander Rossi, who now drives the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/CURB Honda for Andretti Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
.@ColtonHerta RESPECT. What an @IndyLights race so far.
— Alexander Rossi (@AlexanderRossi) May 11, 2018
On Lap 18, Herta’s lead is up to 1.83 seconds over Urrutia, who’s now trying to hold back his teammate, Telitz for second. O’Ward is stuck in fourth ahead of Norman, Franzoni, unable to recover, and Kellett.
Herta has significantly banked the gap. It’s 2.6778 seconds on Lap 19, and 3.2951 seconds on Lap 20, with 10 laps to go.
Telitz appears faster than Urrutia, but Urrutia continues in second ahead of his teammate. They’re more than four seconds behind Herta at the end of Lap 23. This has brought O’Ward to within two seconds of Telitz, his former teammate in Pro Mazda, with just four laps to go.
Herta brings it home by 5.1512 seconds over Urrutia, with Telitz on the podium for the first time this year in third.
O’Ward is fourth after defending against Norman most of the race. Franzoni ends sixth and Kellett completes the finishers.
This is Herta’s third Indy Lights win, first in more than a year since the 400th series race at Barber Motorsports Park in April 2017.
The race ran caution-free, with Herta and Urrutia each leading 15 laps. Herta gained the bonus point to break the tie, as he was the higher finishing driver.
This may be critical to note later this year, in terms of the championship. Unofficially, O’Ward still leads with 130 points, while Urrutia’s season-long consistency keeps him second on 119, just 11 back. Herta is third with 114. Franzoni (97), Norman (85), Telitz (73) and Kellett (72) are in the second tier.
Indy Lights will run its second race of the weekend at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.
More to follow here once the drivers get out and reflect on their races.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – Race #1 Unofficial Results
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