By Steve Wittich
Mistakes and their resulting crashes are an inevitable part of auto racing.
Nigel Mansel once said, “I think life is full of challenges and problems. I don’t believe that anyone is perfect. We all make mistakes. It’s not a bed of roses, and you have to work real hard at it.”
Thankfully, that “working really hard at it” that the Formula 1 and Indy car champion was talking about, often leads to redemption.
Definitely not a bed of roses
Before the 2018 season-opening Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires weekend at St. Petersburg, series sophomore Aaron Telitz had not made very many mistakes.
Telitz, who completed zero of 75 laps in the opening weekend of the 2018 Indy Lights season almost doubled the number of laps he’s failed to complete in his entire four-year Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career.
The Rice Lake, Wisc. Natives career began with ArmsUp Motorsports in 2014, and over the past four seasons has completed 1,662 of 1769 laps contested across the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series, Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire series and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series.
Before the opening pair of races to start the 2018 Indy Lights season, Teiltz had completed 94% of the possible laps in the 62 regular series races.
“I think part of it comes from the type of kart racing I did growing up,” said Telitz to TSO Ladder when asked why he thinks his DNF rate has remained so low. “I drove karts on big race tracks (road racing karts) and having a crash or being over aggressive was probably going to end up getting yourself, or someone else hurt. So that carried over into cars. Which is lucky for me because I don’t have a lot of extra budget for crashes!”
The last race that the 26-year-old failed to complete occurred 197 days ago on the 1.25-mile egg-shaped Gateway Motorsports Park oval. Telitz’s day ended on the first lap when he fell victim to an incident involving another pair of drivers.
Prior to that, you need to go back 867 days to find Telitz’s last DNF, when he broke a half-shaft during a rainy USF2000 race at NOLA Motorsports Park in 2015.
Telitz had completed every lap in his last 16 street course races. And, you have to go back 1,807 days to the 2014 USF2000 event in St. Petersburg, Fla., to find the last time that Telitz had a DNF on a street course.
Telitz’s sophomore Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season began precisely as his freshman campaign ended, with the Belardi Auto Racing driver topping the time sheets.
The Belardi Auto Racing driver led the lone Friday practice session, and later that afternoon set the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla. track record on the way to his 13th career Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pole.
But, during Saturday’s morning session to qualify for Sunday’s feature race, the Rice Lake Weighing Systems sponsored pilot was rudely shaken awake from his dream start to the season, and placed directly into his worst nightmare.
In the blink of an eye, while on a lap that would have lowered his track record and scored his second pole of the weekend, everything came to a literal crashing end. The No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing Mazda/Dallara came back to the Indy Lights paddock on a flatbed with no hope of repair for Saturday afternoon’s race.
“I was setting up for another pole lap and was just trying to get the most out of the lap,: explained Telitz. “If you want to be fastest at a street course you need to get close to the walls. We’re talking an inch or less away at apex and exit. So when you get something wrong there is no room for error especially on a lap when you’re really going for it. I got the entry to T3 wrong and brushed the inside wall which broke my right front toe-link and sent me straight into the outside wall at 130mph.”
That mistake of inches led to an all-nighter by the Belardi Auto Racing crew, who with the help of Carlin and USF2000 team ArmsUp Motorsports, was able to make an eight-hour round trip drive to collect a borrowed IL-15 and entirely build up a new car for an 8:30 am scheduled hardship installation lap.
The car was ready, and despite losing his fastest lap in Saturday’s forgettable qualifying session was still able to turn in the third quickest lap and start on the inside of the second row.
Unfortunately for Telitz, the weekend turn around story he was trying to write for himself and his hard-working crew came to an end in Turn 2 of the first lap. An overeager competitor bounced off the curbing and into Telitz, sending the now blue and red No. 9 careening into the wall, and leaving the pilot with a goose egg for laps completed in the 2018 season.
Working really hard and a some redemption
It didn’t take Telitz long to find a little bit of redemption when he was tapped by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to test the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course only 12 days after his worst weekend in a race car.
Welcome to the party, @AaronTelitz!
— Schmidt Peterson (@SPMIndyCar) March 22, 2018
Interestingly, the career of James Hinchcliffe, the regular driver of the No. 5 serves as an interesting comparison to that of Telitz.
The veteran Canadian IndyCar driver made 74 ladder starts on his way to IndyCar, and scored a total of eight wins, 13 poles, 30 podiums, and 41 top fives. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver also failed to finish 12 races, a DNF rate of 16.2%
Telitz, to this point in his career, has made a total of 63 Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts. Across those four seasons, he has ten wins, 13 poles, 34 podiums, and 46 top-five finishes. Telitz has failed to be running at only five of those races, a DNF rate of only 7.9%.
With testing now extremely limited for Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, taking care of your equipment and consequently completing as many laps as possible during each on-track session has increased importance.
“Yes, of course,” said Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Dale Coyne, who has a recent history of hiring Indy Lights grads, when asked if taking care of equipment is as important as speed is for a rookie driver. “In order to win a race, one must first finish a race, so taking care of equipment is a big part of being a winning driver.”
Telitz is no stranger to digging out of a hole to win a Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Telitz is currently 36 points behind his teammate and championship leader Santi Urrutia. That means Telitz needs to make up 2.4 points in each of the remaining 15 races.
Not an easy task, but not an unreasonable one nor one Telitz hasn’t accomplished before. With nine races remaining in the 2016 Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire season, Telitz trailed his teammate Patricio O’Ward by 55 points. Telitz ended up winning the championship by 28 points, meaning he made up an average of 9.2 points in each of the nine races.
When TSO Ladder asked Telitz what the poor start means for his season, he told us: ‘It means a lot of extra work for myself trying to figure out how to not only pay for the rest of the season but also pay Brian Belardi back for a new car. I know I’ve got the speed to win the championship this year even with a bad first weekend. I’ve been down before, and I always figure it out.”
Figuring it out starts by getting right back behind the wheel… of an IndyCar.
While you’re thinking about Telitz, please take the time to watch this great video from TODAY’s TMJ4 —> Wisconsin native needs help to make it to the Indy car series