By Tony DiZinno

Good morning from Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, to cap off the weekend for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.

Here is a reminder of today’s schedule. Qualifying is complete for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires’ second race later this afternoon, and racing will be underway shortly for all three series.

Saturday, May 12th

7:30 AM Public Gates Open
8:30 AM – 9 AM Indy Lights Qualifying #2
9:15 AM – 9:55 AM USF2000 Race #2
10:10 AM – 11 AM Pro Mazda Race #2
11:15 AM – 11:45 AM IndyCar Warm-Up
1:15 PM – 2:25PM Indy Lights Race #2
3 PM – 3:30 PM Bronze Badge Grid Walk
3:50 PM Green Flag – INDYCAR Grand Prix (85 Laps)
7 PM Public Gates Close

O’Ward vaults from fourth to first on final lap for pole

Qualifying on Saturday morning for the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires’ second race of the weekend at the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course played out like most sessions have in 2018: close throughout the field, with improvements on the second runs on new Cooper Tires, and an Andretti Autosport driver on the pole.

Patricio “Pato” O’Ward grabbed his second pole in as many days, but this one was by the slimmest of margins.

Driving the No. 27 Dallara IL-15 Mazda, O’Ward scored his fourth pole of the year by just 0.0007 of a second over teammate and Friday race winner Colton Herta in the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing car.

O’Ward’s best time was 1:15.8647, only just ahead of Herta’s 1:15.8654. This means it will be the same front row as it was yesterday, but neither was able to make it through Turns 1 and 2 OK.

As O’Ward took the pole on his 15th and final timed lap, it ruined a potential grid that would have identically matched the finishing order of Friday’s first race.

“Yeah usually whenever you go out on new tires, you have one shot, then it falls off. I did it flat and was fourth. I need to pull out something! That last lap I did everything I had to do to try to go quicker, and I’m super happy. Yesterday we got snowplowed into one, and then our oil pump in the gearbox failed so I had to nurse the car home,” O’Ward told the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network’s Ryan Myrehn.

With seven minutes to go in the 30-minute session, it was Victor Franzoni on provisional pole at 1:16.2320, ahead of O’Ward, Aaron Telitz, Herta, Santiago Urrutia, Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett. All seven cars were separated by just 0.3268 of a second.

Then the times began to drop. Urrutia went to pole, then Herta did with his best time of the session.

Once Norman got ahead of Franzoni for fifth, it left the provisional grid identical to Friday’s finishing order: Herta, Urrutia, Telitz, O’Ward, Norman, Franzoni and Kellett.

But O’Ward pulled out that final lap of magic to vault from fourth to first, but to score his fourth pole.

The second race of the weekend goes green at 1:15 p.m. ET this afternoon.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – Second Qualifying Results

P No Name FTime Diff Laps
1 27 Pato O’Ward 1:15.865 –.—- 15
2 98 Colton Herta 1:15.865 0.0007 20
3 5 Santi Urrutia 1:15.925 0.0606 18
4 9 Aaron Telitz 1:16.000 0.1353 18
5 48 Ryan Norman 1:16.062 0.1978 18
6 23 Victor Franzoni 1:16.141 0.2766 18
7 28 Dalton Kellett 1:16.396 0.5311 19

Here’s a recap of notes from Friday’s races, as each series head into their second race of the weekend today.

Indy Lights notes

Herta all smiles. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Race winner Colton Herta was riding a more emotional high than he has in some time. The usually quiet, calm and collected 18-year-old seemed relieved as well as emotionally invested in his victory, which was a forceful comeback drive after getting trapped in a Turn 1 bottleneck to start the race. Staying on track saved him from picking up any debris, and he said it was key to his eventual comeback.

Herta made his ultimate winning pass on Santi Urrutia stick thanks to use of his second-to-last push-to-pass.

The win Friday came after Herta’s otherwise sensational start to his rookie season – where he won twice and finished second in three of the first four races – came crashing back to Earth in a big way last year at the IMS road course. With 12th and 10th place finishes, Herta got his first taste of what it meant to face adversity, and he would learn how to recover from it.

Between a strong Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test outing here in October and successful setup tweaks made by engineer Doug Zister to his No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing car, Herta looked more at ease with his car and surroundings this go-around.

“I said it last year but this was where we had our worst race car last year,” Herta told TSO Ladder. “I think we had a good qualifying car but in race we were nowhere. Today we proved that statement wrong. We had the race pace, we found some good things at Griffis test and even more (Thursday). Yeah, we made the car a lot better, and I’m as happy at that as I about winning.”

O’Ward’s race never really got going. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Polesitter Patricio “Pato” O’Ward never had the chance to regain the top spot after his race did come unglued at the first corner. Luckily for the Mexican teenager, a fourth place finish proved an important result with an ailing race car.

O’Ward got contacted from the rear by Victor Franzoni entering Turn 1 and dropped down the order. O’Ward later told TSO Ladder after the race the contact wasn’t the worst thing that happened to him during the race. He drove most of the race with a failing oil pump that progressively worsened during the 30-lap race.

“To be honest with you, I’m really happy with fourth, because we were lucky to finish at all,” a relieved O’Ward said.

O’Ward’s primary race engineer is also back this weekend after missing Barber Motorsports Park.

Urrutia and Telitz got onto the podium for Belardi. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Belardi Auto Racing has not had a wealth of success at the IMS road course, so scoring two opportunistic and well-judged podium finishes on Friday proved a pleasant surprise.

In six prior IMS road course races with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda car, Urrutia was the only Belardi driver to stand on the podium, second in the second race last year. On Friday, he was second and teammate Aaron Telitz third.

Urrutia told TSO Ladder his No. 5 team gambled on a low downforce setup which helped early to get them to the front, but then left him vulnerable once Herta came within striking distance. Urrutia said there was nothing he could do to hold Herta back as the American was faster.

Telitz, who was running with slightly more downforce than Urrutia, then looked faster than his Uruguayan teammate through the corners but couldn’t get as close on the straights. He said he took Turn 1 cautiously and would have advanced further than just one spot up had it not been such a logjam among Urrutia, Franzoni and the pair of temporarily delayed Andretti cars of O’Ward and Herta. He made it out of the corner third, briefly made it to second, fell back to third, but finally stood on the podium for the first time this year.

Also of note: we spotted Bruno Junqueira, the several-time Champ Car World Series runner-up finisher and 2002 Indianapolis 500 polesitter, here this weekend at the Belardi transporter. Junqueira is assisting Urrutia this weekend under the Belardi tent.

Pro Mazda notes

Scott won while Askew and VeeKay could only ponder what might have been. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Behind race winner Harrison Scott, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay were left to take somewhat welcome yet somewhat disappointing lower steps on the podium in race one.

Usually in USF2000 last year, when one of them won, the other one was second or third. It marked a rare occasion when both of last year’s USF2000 title rivals were staring up at someone else. Only at St. Petersburg race one (Robert Megennis) and Toronto race two (Parker Thompson) did a driver win with both Askew and VeeKay also on the podium, but not on the top step.

That made it a bit weird for both drivers to reflect on the day where the win was possible, but lost.

“Just broke too deep, which is easy to do here after the long straightaway,” Askew told TSO Ladder of his first and second turn off course excursion that left him playing catch-up from seventh at the end of the first lap. “I knew I had the fastest car in the field and fought back.”

VeeKay, who led twice for a race high 13 laps before falling to third, summarized his race with a new metaphor.

“After starting second, taking the lead in Turn 1 and having my teammate behind me, it felt really nice. But, racing is not always about flowers!” the likable Dutch teenager laughed.

Admittedly, the result was still needed for both drivers. Askew had endured a somewhat tough start to the season through the opening two weekends where he was not a realistic win or pole factor. VeeKay turned poor qualifying efforts into strong race results but was left perplexed after Barber when he had his first podium-less weekend of his MRTI career. That made having a strong weekend in Indy all the more important.

“Today was really good,” Askew said. “It was really hard for us to be running outside the top seven at Barber. It’s kind of a reset. This was our strongest track of the year. We’re really good at the Chris Griffis test, and we found the balance for the qualifying. Both poles today; it’s definitely a restart for the year.”

Prior points leader Parker Thompson had a crazy day in Indy. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Parker Thompson and Exclusive Autosport had a highly abnormal Friday. It began with an engine expiration in first qualifying, shifted to an engine change in-between first and second qualifying (with only two hours, 50 minutes in-between sessions), witnessed with an engine cowling fly off the car in the race, and ended with a fifth place result after starting 11th.

Results like the one today may not mean much today, but may mean more by the end of the year if driver and team win the Pro Mazda championship. Thompson described his roller coaster day, and thanked some key people you might not be expecting to be working on his car.

“We had a technical error today, and at no fault of Elite Engines we lost the motor,” Thompson told TSO Ladder. “It was a tough start to the day because we thought we’d be battling for pole and instead we ended up 11th. Luckily it’s a track like Indy where a lot of stuff can happen! Had it not been for the engine cowling coming off, we were in podium contention.

“I was told to go talk to the officials, and ask, ‘If we didn’t make pre-grid, how would we get in qualifying halfway through? So to run a 45-minute race with a motor that got put in within an hour turnaround with no problems is not only a hat off to Elite Engines and the Exclusive Autosport crew.

“After all the engine builders I’ve had I saw something today I’ve never seen in a series engine builder. I’ve never seen an engine builder in his white shirt and slacks grind with our team to get this new one in today. Steve Knapp and Logan did that for us today. I really owe them for what they did for us today.”

Five drivers who ended between sixth and 11th, Nikita Lastochkin, Ludovico Laurini, Antonio Serravalle, Kris Wright and Charles Finelli, all had their best finishes of the season in race one.

USF2000 notes

Baron on IMS podium. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Race winner Alex Baron was lucky to even be present in Indianapolis for this weekend’s race after waiting until the eleventh hour to hear about his visa status. The French driver, who holds dual French and English citizenship, still lives in his home country and commutes to the U.S. This meant the Swan-RJB Motorsports team entered the weekend unsure whether it would have its team veteran, albeit one who’s had a stop-and-start MRTI career since 2013, present this weekend alongside series debutante James Roe.

“The last two weeks have been very difficult for me, mentally,” Baron told TSO Ladder. “People that have been through this will understand. If not, you won’t.

“It’s very nerve wracking. The last two days I’ve not been able to sleep very much. I needed to be at places at certain times. I had literally six hours of sleep getting here, in 48 hours. So I’ve run two sessions on Thursday, as I was lucky to enough to participate. Two days ago I was still in Paris, wondering if I would get my visa.”

Baron, who raced here in Indy Lights in 2014 in the previous generation car, finished fifth and third there in two starts. He’ll go for the weekend sweep today.

Teammate Roe has made steady progress all weekend; the Irishman will finish his duties today, and then jet straight to Watkins Glen International where he’ll compete with ArmsUp Motorsports in F2000 competition there. Swan-RJB’s driver coach Alex Barron – the past IndyCar race winner and Atlantic champion – is, like at St. Petersburg, not here this weekend owing to other commitments elsewhere.

Jose Sierra ended on the podium in third in a banner day for DEForce Racing, as all four of its cars finished in the top-10. Behind the young Mexican, its trio of American drivers ended fifth (Kory Enders), ninth (Colin Kaminsky) and 10th (Zach Holden).

Enders (No. 11), Kaminsky (No. 27) and Sierra (No. 12) at speed. Holden’s No. 10 car is not pictured, but is identical in livery to Enders and Sierra. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Sierra described his Friday, which like others in the USF2000 field had its ups-and-downs but ended on the podium.

“My start wasn’t the best! We avoided a crash, so it was good. But I lost two positions… so I was P6. We caught one of the BN cars, Caroline I think. I knew I was faster than him. I needed to send it, and I sent it!

“Then we were catching the two in front. I attempted to pass Kyle into Turn 7, but I wasn’t close enough, and I didn’t want to crash, or crash him, so I broke more.”

Sierra scored his second podium of 2018 at Indianapolis. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

To cap off DEForce’s banner day, they also got a podium with James Raven in the F4 U.S. Championship Powered by Honda first race at Road Atlanta. The English driver finished second behind race winner Benjamin Pederson, and ahead of Dakota Dickerson.

“I am very pleased to represent DEForce on the podium for the first time,” Raven said.

Contact between Lucas Kohl and Darren Keane took the two series veterans out of this race.

Meanwhile, another incident further in the pack between Oscar DeLuzuriaga and Michael d’Orlando appeared to flip d’Orlando’s car over, although it landed right side up. D’Orlando was at the track Saturday morning and ready to go for the second race.