By Steve Wittich
For the second time in three years, Patricio O’Ward heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course as a Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires championship leader.
In 2016, O’Ward came to Speedway, Ind. having just swept a pair of races at Barber Motorsports Park, after winning one of two races during the season-opening event in St. Petersburg, Fla. If that scenario sounds familiar, it is. O’Ward, who just turned 19 earlier this week, swept the last two Indy Lights races at Barber Motorsports Park after taking one of two races in the season-opening event in Florida.
“Coming into Indy as the championship leader is obviously not a negative,” explained the native of Monterey, Mexico. “But, there is a long way to go, so I will approach this weekend the same way as I’ve been doing. If I know I have a winning machine, I will go for the win, but if I’m struggling for pace, which I hope I won’t be, then I’ll be smart and settle for as many points as I can get.
“I know the Andretti team will give me a rocket ship, as they have been the past couple race weekends, so I’m definitely going to try and continue this good winning streak. I know it won’t be easy, but it can definitely be done. I will be on my A game.”
O’Ward has made five previous starts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, all in Pro Mazda, and has two wins, two poles and finished in the top six in all five races.
A driver from O’Ward’s Andretti Autosport team has visited the top step of the podium in one of the two races at this event the last two years, so the team should have the pace to be competitive.
Santi Urrutia, who has finished as the Indy Lights vice-champion the past two seasons, heads to the three races that make up the “Month of May” in a much better position than the previous two years. In 2016, the Uruguayan was fourth in points and last year was 11th.
The 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course is a track that the 21-year-old has had some success at winning once in Pro Mazda and finishing second three times in Indy Lights.
Urrutia’s next win, his eighth in Indy Lights, will move him into a tie for fifth on the all-time wins list, tied with Wade Cunningham, Bryan Herta and Townsend Bell. Pretty darn good company.
Second generation driver Colton Herta led the Indy Lights points table headed to the “Month of May” in 2017, but had a forgettable three races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing 12th, 10th and 13th to drop behind eventual champion Kyle Kaiser.
The 18-year-old had the type of weekend at Barber Motorsports Park that he will need more of if he wants to win the title. It’s tough to tell a quick 18-year-old hot shoe not to push 110% on every single lap, but taking what the race weekend gives him is precisely what Herta needs to do. The Californian has the speed, now he needs to prove that he has thinking game to go along with the pace.
Here is a great interview that “Humans of Racing” did at Long Beach with Colton and Brian Herta
Herta’s next pole moves him ahead of his dad Brain, and into a tie for fifth with Greg Moore, Wade Cunningham, and Thiago Maderios
Victor Franzoni heads to “Indy” after collecting his first Indy Lights podium and looking forward to the event that helped kickstart his 2017 run to the Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire championship.
Of the eight drivers entered in the Indy Lights doubleheader, the 22-year-old has the most experience on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and will be making his ninth and 10th start. His results on the 2.439-mile circuit include two wins, two poles, five podiums and four races led.
Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett have not had ideal starts to their seasons.
Norman was super quick during pre-season testing and scored what looked like a possible breakthrough podium in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the 20-year-old fell back to mid-pack and Barber Motorsports Park and will need to up his qualifying game to improve his results.
Kellett will be making his ninth and 10th starts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Like Norman, the Canadian needs to step up his qualifying game against such a deep and talented field of drivers.
Aaron Telitz, a two-time winner in Indy Lights last year, finally completed his first lap of competition during a fourth-place driver in Sunday’s damp race at Barber Motorsports Park. The Rice Lake, Wisc. native has stood on the second or third step of the podium four times in USF2000 and Pro Mazda competition at this circuit but will have to overcome a Belardi Auto Racing past results on this circuit if he wants to make inroads on the drivers further up the points table.
The Brownsburg, Ind. based team has zero wins, zero poles, zero laps led and only a pair of podiums on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
TSO is curious to see what kind of progress Alfonso Celis, Jr. will make again this weekend. The former Formula 1 test driver got more comfortable in each session in his first event at Barber Motorsports Park, and even though he made a few mistakes in the wet on Sunday, was able to turn the fourth quickest lap.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points standings headed into the “Month of May.”
|10||Alfonso Celis, Jr.||27|
For the second straight year, Royal Purple will team up with the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires to raise money and awareness about lupus.
The difficult to diagnose chronic autoimmune disease has no cure, and the silent illness impacts the daily lives of 1.5 Million Americans, including some people close to the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires paddock.
“My mom has lupus, and it really does impact your life,” said Pro Mazda driver Oliver Askew. “Not many people understand the disease so to use racing to raise awareness by having the Lupus Foundation of America as part of the INDYCAR GP weekend is so important. I’ll be doing my part to help spread the word. Last year was the first year that Royal Purple joined with the Foundation for this weekend to promote what they do and we saw a huge involvement, so if we can build on that and keep spreading the word about this disease, it will really help us fight it.”
Belardi Auto Racing, spearheaded by team owner Brian Belardi and team manager John Brunner, has been a staunch supporter of the Lupus Foundation of America for some years.
“It’s awesome to be able to bring the awareness of lupus to racing,” explained Brunner. “That’s how I got involved. The daughter of a friend in racing, Dave Hunt, was diagnosed and I had no idea what it was. From that moment on, I tried to educate myself. Brian (Belardi) has a connection as well, and we ran a decal for the Lupus Foundation of America on our cars years ago. To see the relationship between Royal Purple and the Lupus Foundation of America last year was great and we look forward to continuing that and growing.
“We raised over $6,000 last year, and I think we can double that this year. Our hope is that this brings awareness and needed funds – it’s a mystery disease, but it’s amazing how many friends I have who have a personal connection, with family members or friends who have been diagnosed with this disease. We’re proud to do what we can to help.”
Watch for all of the entries across the three series to have this special on the nose of their race cars this weekend.
You can show your support by using the #RaceToEndLupus hashtag this weekend, or better yet you can donate at this special page on the Lupus Foundation of America website.
Amazingly, 12 different drivers have won the 12 Indy Lights races across two iterations of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that the series has raced on. With no former winners entered in this year’s doubleheader, the number will at a bare minimum, reach lucky number 13 races without a repeat visitor to victory circle.
Andretti Autosport is the only active team with more than a single victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield circuit. Juncos racing’s lone win came last year with eventual Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser at the wheel, and Belardi Auto Racing is still searching for their first win in the road course portion of the “Month of May.”
Indy Lights race winners on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
|2017 Race #2||Kyle Kaiser||Juncos Racing|
|2017 Race #1||Nico Jamin||Andretti Autosport|
|2016 Race #2||Dean Stoneman||Andretti Autosport|
|2016 Race #1||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2015 Race #2||Sean Rayhall||8Star Motorsports|
|2015 Race #1||Jack Harvey||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2014 Race #2||Luiz Razia||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2014 Race #1||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport|
|2007 Race #2||Bobby Wilson||Brian Stewart Racing|
|2007 Race #1||Hideki Mutoh||Panther Racing|
|2006||Alex Lloyd||AFS Racing|
|2005||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport|
Pole sitters Nico Jamin and Kyle Kaiser won their respective races in 2017, and the pole sitter has won eight of the dozen races.
Dean Stoneman, who won the second race in 2016 from the inside of the third row is the furthest back that a winner has started.
Andretti Autosport pilots have started on pole on three occasions and are currently tied at three poles with Carlin and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a pair of inactive teams.
Kaiser’s pole last year while driving for Juncos Racing is the only other pole that can be claimed by an active team. Once again, Belardi Auto Racing has a goose egg.
- Last year was the first time that both races of an Indy Lights doubleheader on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course has gone caution free.
- There has never been more than one caution, and caution-free and single-caution races sit at six each.
- All 12 races have finished under green conditions.
- The widest margin of victory in an Indy Lights race on an Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course came during the Liberty Challenge in 2005. Marco Andretti crossed under the checkered flag 12.705 seconds ahead of Wade Cunningham. The inaugural event was held on the original 2.6-mile, 13-turn Formula 1 circuit.
- Luiz Razia beat his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Jack Harvey by 0.6414 in 2014’s second race to score his lone Indy Lights victory.
- Friday’s first race in 2017, with an average speed of 114.063 mph is the fastest Indy Lights race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
- The longest Indy Lights race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race was 97.56 miles (40 laps), and the shortest race was 46.89 miles (18 laps).
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires schedule
Friday, May 11
|10:20 AM – 10:50 AM||Indy Lights Qualifying #1|
|NOON – 12:25 PM||Indy Lights Autograph Session (Fan Village)|
|1:30 PM – 2:30 PM||Indy Lights Race #1|
Sautrday, May 12
|8:30 AM – 9 AM||Indy Lights Qualifying #2|
|1:15 PM – 2:25PM||Indy Lights Race #2|
Don’t miss any of the action: