By Steve Wittich
After throwing away potential wins in St. Petersburg, Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta put on a great show at the front field to find a little redemption at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward, who started outside of pole-sitter Herta grabbed a first lap lead just before the yellow flag came out and held off the charging Herta for all 30 laps.
“It was definitely a handful,” said the race winner to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. “I told the guys from the second lap of the race it was not going to be an easy one. We went a little aggressive on the set-up because we were having problems in qualifying with understeer. Man, that was one of the races where I had to keep myself together. Colton was on my tail the whole time, and he was definitely quicker.”
The 18 year-old has now led laps in all three Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races.
This is O’Ward’s second Indy Lights race win, and overall his ninth Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory. It’s also his 15th career MRTI podium.
Herta nabbed his ninth career Indy Lights podiuim.
Santi Urrutia, who was the points leader coming into the race, stood on an Indy Lights podium for the 19th time, but will start Sunday’s 35-lap race a single point behind O’Ward (78-77).
Andretti Autosport teammates Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward led the eight-car Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires field to the green flag for their 30 lap “sprint” race. The track temperature was 74F and the track temperature was 117F.
The field got cleanly through the first two corners, but Dalton Kellett, who had made a good start, lost the rear end of his No. 28 Andretti Autosport machine in Turn 3. Kellett spun into the path of Telitz and Celis, Jr, with the No. 9 machine of Telitz sustaining extensive right front suspension damage.
The incident meant Telitz’s nightmare start to the season carried over to the second event of the season, and means the the sophomore has still not completed a single lap in three races.
Ahead of the incident, O’Ward was able to get a run on Herta, successfully making the pass down the inside of Turn 5 just before the yellow flag came out.
The running order under caution after the first lap was: Patricio O’Ward, Colton Herta, Santi Urrutia, Victor Franzoni, Ryan Norman, Alfonso Celis, Jr., Dalton Kellett and Aaron Telitz (out).
Kellett and Celis, Jr. both were forced to pit road for repairs.
The seven remaining cars restarted at the beginning of the fourth lap. O’Ward jumped out to a decent gap, while Urrutia immediately put pressure on Herta.
O’Ward quickly pulled out to an almost two second lead, but after a few laps, second generation driver Herta started to eat into the Mexican driver’s gap. The teammates were able to pull out a slight gap to Urrutia.
At the one-third point of the race, O’Ward’s gap was 1.3 seconds over Herta, who had gapped Urrutia by 1.5 seconds.
The battle for fourth between the Soul Red No. 23 of Franzoni and Journey sponsored No. 48 of Norman was the best one on the track.
For the next four laps, O’Ward and Herta traded the quickest lap of the race before they settled into a gap of just over one second.
At the halfway point of the race, the top five were still within 7-seconds of O’Ward.
Norman, who clearly had the quicker car, continued to pressure Franzoni.
Up front, the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing No. 98 of Herta was inching closer to O’Ward’s No. 27 with a livery resembling the Mexican Flag. When the twosome started Lap 18, O”wards lead was 0.8 seconds.
But, O’Ward smoked his right front Cooper Tire going into Turn 2, allowing Herta to get right under his teammates rear wing. Herta cut the gap to 0.4 seconds on that lap.
As they went into Turn 5, Herta made sure to show O’Ward that he was close, popping to the inside before following his teammate through the corner.
With two thirds of the race gone, the running order was: O”Ward by 0.3 over Herta, Urrutia, Franzoni, Norman, Kellett and Celis, Jr.
Further back, Celis, who was running seventh continued to get quicker as the race went on. With seven laps left in the race, the Juncos Racing rookie, who is making his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires debut, was turning laps quicker than the other sixt drivers.
Herta and Norman continued to pressure O’Ward and Franzoni, but both had significant lock-ups in the downhill braking section to Charlotte’s Web.
With five laps remaining, the gap between first and second was 0.59 seconds.
With four laps remaining, Herta was able to increase his gap to 0.89 seconds. Further back Franzoni was still fighting to keep fourth place over Norman, leading him by only 0.48 seconds.
Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires Race #1 results
Qualifying for the second of race of the Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader is scheduled for 8:30 am tomorrow, but watch our social media channels for possible changes.
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