By Tony DiZinno
Herta delivers encore comeback performance in second Indy Lights thriller
On a weekend where the low car count in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires created a bit of chatter, the full field still delivered an encore of a great race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Saturday afternoon.
For the second straight day, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta completed a comeback drive of his own to pull off the win, and promptly swept the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America weekend.
Herta emerged from a back-and-forth battle with Santiago Urrutia during the 35-lap race. Urrutia and polesitter Patricio “Pato” O’Ward both saw their win hopes evaporate on a day when clouds also took over from the sun in the Indianapolis skies.
The leaders got away cleanly after yesterday’s hectic start and at the end of the first lap it’s O’Ward, Urrutia, Telitz, Herta, Franzoni, Norman and Kellett.
Action begins on Lap 2 as Herta and Telitz collide at Turn 1 battling over third, and Telitz falls down to last briefly behind Norman and Kellett. Meanwhile Urrutia goes down O’Ward’s inside at Turn 7 to take over the lead.
This changes the order to Urrutia first, O’Ward second, Franzoni up to third with Herta, Kellett, Telitz, then Norman.
Telitz began his comeback with a pass of Kellett in an over-under move at Turn 1, and Kellett also lost a spot to Norman.
By Lap 5 it’s still Urrutia, O’Ward, Fraznoni, Herta, Telitz, Norman and Kellett.
On Lap 7, O’Ward set the fastest lap and was within just 0.7089 of a second of Urrutia. Meanwhile Herta pulled a second on Franzoni, who was 1.6 seconds clear of Telitz.
O’Ward continued to close after Turn 7 through the back portion of the course. By Turn 12, he was right behind Urrutia’s gearbox, which set up him nicely for a proper pass attempt on the frontstraight.
Herta closed further on the top two to just over three seconds behind.
At this stage, the order left the points standings with O’Ward only six ahead of Urrutia, 156-150, and Herta third on 136.
By Lap 10, O’Ward was down to eight seconds of push to pass remaining, while Urrutia still had 16 seconds available. The gap stabilized between 0.6 and 0.7 of a second from there, although O’Ward continued to close under braking.
Herta slowly has crept up, getting to within 2.3 seconds of the top two on Lap 12 of 35. Telitz closed on Franzoni as he was within 0.7 of a second, and trailed his gearbox. Telitz made it past at Turn 7 on the inside for fourth place, getting past Franzoni cleanly. Franzoni tried to get him back on the outside at Turn 1but was unable to do so, which brough them within Norman’s clutches.
Herta’s stealth drive has continued. He’s now just over 1 second behind O’Ward for second and 1.9 off Urrutia for the lead.
By Lap 15 of 35 it’s a pair of three-car groups, with Urrutia, O’Ward and Herta covered by 1.9 seconds and Telitz, Franzoni and Norman covered by just 0.8 of a second.
Herta is now on O’Ward’s gearbox by Lap 19, just over four tenths of a second behind his teammate.
At Lap 20 it’s Urrutia, O’Ward and Herta within 1.4 seconds, then Telitz now 1.1 seconds clear of Franzoni for fourth, Norman just over 1.7 seconds behind Franzoni and Kellett further back after a quick off-and-on at Turns 7 and 8.
On Lap 22 O’Ward makes a major lockup at Turn 1 to his left front Cooper Tire and that opens the door for Herta to grab second place easily on the inside, and begins to set sail to catch Urrutia.
Urrutia now leads Herta by 1.3 seconds with O’Ward third, 2.9 seconds back and almost out of push-to-pass and with a flat-spotted left front, then Telitz fourth but 6.8 seconds back.
It’s fully game on between Urrutia and Herta from here, and at the moment it shifts the “points as they run” number to O’Ward 153, Urrutia 150 and Herta 139.
Herta increases the pressure by setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 23, at 1:17.2706, and immediately cuts the gap two more tenths to 1.1253 of a second.
The gap is under a second on Lap 24, with Herta now just 0.9315 of a second behind. Just 10 laps to go and Herta is just 0.8705 of a second back.
It may come down to who has more push-to-pass left, and at this stage, Herta has only 11 seconds while Urrutia still has 16.
Herta closed to 0.6420 of a second on Lap 26 and 0.4869 of a second on Lap 27. Herta has the aero wash, but locks up under braking into Turn 1 and avoids hitting the Uruguayan’s rear wing.
O’Ward goes off and on, loses time and positions, and then pits with a left rear tire that appeared to be down and then replaced by his Andretti Autosport team.
Meanwhile the potentially decisive moment of the race occurs at Lap 30. Urrutia defended to the inside of Turn 1 as Herta went to the outside, then Urrutia washed out wide at Turn 1, and Herta had no choice but to follow him into the grass!
Norman and Kellett had a back-and-forth dice for what is now fifth place after O’Ward hits the pits.
Herta regained a couple tenths by Lap 31 to only 0.5690 of a second, after falling from 0.7654 back on Lap 30.
The drama reached its fever pitch on Laps 32 and 33. Urrutia defended to the inside of the backstraight into Turn 7 with Herta behind him by the end of Lap 32 by just 0.2101 of a second.
On Lap 33, Herta was right behind Urrutia. Urrutia again chose the inside line to defend but Herta went to the outside. He almost got past at the exit of Turn 1, but with Urrutia not ceding an inch, the two collided at Turn 2. Herta’s right front caught Urrutia’s left rear and pitched the Belardi driver into a spin. The contact came after a hard fought battle but did not trigger any further action from Race Control.
Herta held on from there to lead the final three laps and beat Telitz by 4.1968 of a second. Franzoni finished third to complete the podium.
“Man that was incredible!” Herta told the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network’s Ryan Myrehn.
“I thought I couldn’t top yesterday but I had more fun today. I was fully focused the whole 35 laps.
“Rubbing’s racing. Sometimes it happens. Just like last year I had contact and didn’t finish.”
Urrutia fell to fourth ahead of Norman and Kellett, with O’Ward ending seventh after a very frustrating weekend.
This leaves the points incredibly tight after six races, where O’Ward has three wins, Herta two and Urrutia one.
Unofficially, O’Ward still leads the points standings but by only one point over Herta (145-144). Urrutia falls to third with 139 points. Franzoni (119), Norman (102), Telitz (98) and Kellett (87) are in the next tier.
The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series resumes with the Freedom 100 on Carb Day, Friday, May 25. Testing for the race on the 2.5-mile IMS oval takes place on Monday, May 21.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – Race #2 Unofficial Results
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