By Tony DiZinno
Colton Herta has captured a dramatic, intense and spell-binding Freedom 100 to kick off the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires’ day of racing first at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then later at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The 18-year-old, driving the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Mazda, has now compledted a perfect month of May sweep in three Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races at both the IMS road course and now on the 2.5-mile oval. Today’s win came after he started sixth in the field.
None of the top four, five or even six positions seemed safe as the positions seemed to change not just lap by lap, but corner by corner.
With 20 lead changes in the 40-lap race, this race obliterated the previous record of nine lead changes here.
A different engine map introduced before the weekend brought the field closer together, and when TSO Ladder spoke to a handful of drivers in the Indy Lights paddock, it was anticipated that positions would be changing regularly. In some respects, this did not look like an Indy Lights race, but almost a NASCAR restrictor plate race.
What followed was a caution-free, 40-lap race that averaged more than 191 mph (191.422 mph).
The action began almost immediately off the green flag with polesitter Dalton Kellett ahead of Victor Franzoni up to second, then Ryan Norman third with Patricio O’Ward fourth and Herta fifth.
Side-by-side action at Turns 1 and 3 followed from there as the lead began to change hands, first to Franzoni, then back to Kellett, then to Herta by Lap 7 at Turn 1, and then back to Kellett again by Lap 10.
At the 10-lap mark, the field had settled down somewhat after an overly frantic first three laps with the order Kellett leading, Herta, Franzoni, O’Ward, Norman, Santi Urrutia, Aaron Telitz and Davey Hamilton Jr.
Although the Andretti cars of Herta and Kellett stayed up front, Urrutia made his move to get up to third by Lap 14, just behind the Andretti pair.
Urrutia moves to the lead by Lap 16, but it’s back to Kellett for the lead on Lap 17.
Franzoni falls from contention on Lap 18, and was fourth when he pits. IndyCar Radio later reports a potential wheel gun malfunction when trying to pit. Franzoni loses laps in the pits but resumes to the race.
Halfway home and the order on Lap 20 is Urrutia leading, Kellett second, then Herta third with O’Ward, Norman and Telitz all in the lead draft. Hamilton Jr. is further back and Franzoni is away from the lead lap.
Big momentum swing on Lap 26 as Herta and Urrutia split Kellett at Turn 1 for the lead, with Urrutia on the inside, Herta on the outside, and Kellett stuck in the middle.
Order on this lap is Herta, Urrutia, Kellett, O’Ward, Norman, Telitz top six.
Urrutia makes it back to the lead by Lap 29 ahead of Herta, O’Ward and Kellett.
By Lap 33, O’Ward’s in the lead over Urrutia, Kellett and Herta. Urrutia and O’Ward exchange positions a couple times with O’Ward back to the lead on Lap 34. Urrutia takes it back on Lap 35, then O’Ward is back on front on Lap 36.
Herta meanwhile gets a monster tow on the outside of Urrutia at Turn 1 and gets past him for second, and is behind his teammate O’Ward on Lap 37.
A decisive move comes later that lap, as Herta dives on the inside of O’Ward into Turn 3 for the lead, gets it, and swings up ahead of O’Ward on corner exit.
Herta’s challenge from here is to defend but on Lap 38 he loses a spot, Urrutia is past at the line. O’Ward and Kellett are third and fourth.
He’s back by though at the line at the end of Lap 39 with the top four cars all covered by a blanket.
O’Ward is close but washes up a bit out of Turn 4 on the final lap. He gets a tow to try to catch Herta, but comes up short by just 0.0281 of a second. It’s close, but it’s a margin of victory bigger than the last three combined under green – which was 0.01 – after the last three were 0.0024, 0.005 and 0.0026 in 2016, 2014 and 2013.
Herta has a perfect month and moves into the points lead, O’Ward is a hard-luck second and Kellett jokes he’s become the “Carlos Munoz of the Freedom 100” with a third straight third place.
Here is the full Lap Chart, which shows just how much movement there was in the entire field.
More to come later today, but for now we are off to Lucas Oil Raceway for Pro Mazda and USF2000 action.
Freedom 100 – Unofficial Results
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