By Steve Wittich

Two-time Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires vice-champion and veteran Belardi Auto Racing pilot Santi Urrutia leads the quest for the $1 million Mazda Motorsport Scholarship. The prize, which includes a guaranteed three race Verizon IndyCar Series deal and a shot to start the 103rd Indianapolis 500, will be awarded to the driver that has scored the most points when the series concludes at Portland International Raceway on Labor Day weekend.

The ultra-quick Uruguayan drove a smart pair of races at the season-opening rounds in St. Petersburg, Fla., and took advantage of mistakes by his competitors to grab an eight-point advantage over Andretti Autosport rookie Patricio O’Ward.

Santi Urrutia celebrates his seventh Indy Lights and 10th career Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory on the Streets of St. Petersburg (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Last year Colton Herta came into the second Indy Lights weekend of 2018 with 59 points, which was 10 points more than second place Aaron Telitz. Eventual title winner Kyle Kaiser was in fourth.

The points situation headed into Indy Lights Rounds 3 & 4 at Barber Motorsports Park

1 Santi Urrutia 55
2 Patricio O’Ward – R 47
3 Shelby Blackstock 42
4 Victor Franzoni – R 38
5 Ryan Norman 37
6 Colton Herta 35
7 Neil Alberico 31
8 Dalton Kellett 28
9 Aaron Telitz 19

Over the past eight years, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series has contested a dozen races on 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park natural terrain circuit.

Previous Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires winners at Barber Motorsports Park

Year Driver Team
2017 Race #2 Colton Herta Andretti Steinbrenner Racing
2017 Race #1 Nico Jamin Andretti Autosport
2016 Race #2 Santi Urrutia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2016 Race #1 Ed Jones Carlin
2015 Race #2 Spencer Pigot Juncos Racing
2015 Race #1 Spencer Pigot Juncos Racing
2014 Race #2 Gabby Chaves Belardi Auto Racing
2014 Race #1 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport
2013 Carlos Munoz Andretti Autosport
2012 Sebastien Saavedra Andretti Autosport
2011 Victor Garcia Team Moore
2010 JK Vernay Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

If past team results at Barber Motorsports Park are any indication, Urrutia will need to be patient, minimize mistakes, and be happy with the points he can earn.

Drivers representing the Belardi Auto Racing stable have struggled at Barber Motorsports Park since the introduction of the IL15. The Brownsburg, Ind. based team has no wins, no poles, no laps led and only one podium (Zach Veach in 2016).

On a personal level, outside of a win in the second race in 2016, Urrutia’s Indy Lights results at Barber have been less than stellar with his other three starts resulting in finishes outside the top 10.

O’Ward, who will be debuting sponsorship from VisitMexico this weekend, has made a half-dozen starts at Barber Motorsports Park. The Monterrey, Mexico born driver will need to look beyond a forgettable trip to Alabama last in Indy Lights, and focus on the two wins he scored in the Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire championship in 2016.

Unfortunately, the current third place championship driver Shelby Blackstock was unable to put together a program to compete this weekend, and the grid will not have any of the distinctive black and yellow cars from the Team Pelfrey stable.

Reigning Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire champion Victor Franzoni will need to find a little more pace in his Soul Red No. 23 if the Brazilian wants to improve on his pair of fourth place finishes from St. Petersburg.

Franzoni will have the benefit of a teammate this weekend, after Alfonso Celis, Jr. was forced to miss the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla. due to licensing issues with INDYCAR.

The 21-year-old from Mexico City has spent the last five years racing in Europe, finishing third in the 2017 World Series Formula V8 3.5 (won by Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi).

When TSO Ladder asked Celis, Jr. what he expected to learn this year in Indy Lights, he told us: “A lot of learning. A lot, a lot of learning. I don’t know the tracks; I don’t know the car. I’m certainly looking forward to it.”

Only nine points separate O’Ward’s Andretti Autosport teammates, Ryan Norman, Colton Herta and Dalton Kellett, who are currently between fifth and eighth in the championship.

The Indianapolis, Ind. based team has five wins, four poles, and 173 laps led in the dozen Indy Lights races at Barber Motorsports Park, the highest total of any other team.

Herta, who won the 400th Indy Lights race last year at this same track, joins Urrutia as the only two entered drivers with Indy Lights wins in The Yellowhammer State.

Second generation racer Colton Herta (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing) collects the 400th Indy Lights winners trophy from James Hinchcliffe (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Last, but not least, is Aaron Telitz, who ended the season-opening Indy Lights with a dreaded pair of D’s. A (D)id Not Start in Race #1 and a (D)id Not Finish in Race #2. The Belardi Auto Racing driver had a memorable 12 days beginning in St. Petersburg, Fla. and ending behind the wheel of a Verizon IndyCar Series car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You can read more about that here —> The lowest of lowest and the highest of highs – 12 days in the life of Aaron Telitz 

To begin paying off his debt to Belardi Auto Racing team owner Brian Belardi, Telitz has started the #AaronNeedsANewCar campaign, selling his t-shirts and paintings.

Telitz does have some success at the park-like Barber Motorsports Park, scoring one-win and seven top-five finishes in eight races.

The key to being successful this weekend will be qualifying in the first two rows, and more specifically on the pole. In the dozen races, the winner has started on the inside of the front row ten times and has never started worse than third.

Some other quick Indy Lights notes from Barber Motorsports Park

  • The fastest race lap with the Indy Lights IL-15 is 73.8312 seconds, which is faster than Scott Dixon’s quickest race lap of 73.8666 seconds in the 2011 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
  • Since the beginning of the 2015 season, the turbocharged Mazda powered Dallara IL-15 has been in service for 52 races, and until this weekend, Shelby Blackstock had taken part in each one of those races. (hat-tip to Tony DiZinno for pointing this out)
  • Nico Jamin, a three-time winner as an Indy Lights rookie in 2018, is not part of the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires for the first time since 2013. The 2015 USF2000 Champion is contesting the European Le Mans Series with Duqueine Engineering in the LMP2 category, and place third in the season-opening event at Le Castellet, France last weekend. The Frenchman is also contesting the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup alongside fellow Indy Lights graduate Felix Serralles in a Mercedes AMG GT3. The pair had fourth and ninth place finishes in the first two races of the season at Circuit Zolder in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.

Don’t miss any of the action:

2017 Barber Motorsports Park Indy Lights Race #1

2017 Barber Motorsports Park Indy Lights Race #2