By Steve Wittich
Patricio O’Ward utilized a good start and withstood pressure from a pair of Andretti Autosport/Andretti Steinbrenner Racing teammates to collect his sixth win of the season. It was the third win in four races for the Monterey, Mexico native, who has jumped out to a 25 point lead over his nearest rival, Colton Herta.
“We’ve carried some good momentum since Iowa and I’m trying to make it better and better each weekend,” explained the 19-year-old. “It’s just tough to keep people behind you when they can engage the push-to-pass, so it’s nice to get more than a second-and-a-half gap, then stretch it out from there. It was a good race. I had pressure from behind the whole way, so to get the win means a lot. There are four more races still to go but these wins definitely help. It was hard after the yellow because the track was like ice, but I did a good job managing the gap to Colton to the checkered. You don’t want to get passed, especially late in the race, so I need to keep doing what I’m doing. The goal is to win every race.”
Herta, who is recovering from a non-displaced fracture at the base of his left thumb, finished second but has been outscored 155-118 in the last five races.
Dalton Kellett completed the trifecta of Andretti drivers on the podium by scoring his second podium of the season.
“I had a good start and was battling with Santi and Aaron, but I had contact with Santi early and got shuffled back,” said the Canadian. “Once I settled into a rhythm, I gained a free spot when Aaron spun out and Santi came in. I took advantage of the pass Colton made on Ryan to get into third, so it’s nice to get back on the podium. But the track changed so much today, especially after all the IndyCar rubber went down and with the higher temperatures this afternoon. It got challenging when Victor was burning all his push-to-pass trying to get by me. We’re lucky that we had the pace to be quicker.”
O’Ward and Norman brought the field to the green flag on the front straight after a pair of pace laps. (Of note – the reigning Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser is driving the Soul Red Mazda 3 pace car.)
Pole sitter O’Ward arrived at the ultra-quick lefthand Turn 1. Norman, Herta, and Telitz were single file going into Keyhole, but behind them, Urrutia, Kellett, and Franzoni entered the 180-degree corner three-wide. At the exit of the corner, Kellett and Urrutia made light Cooper Tire to Cooper Tire contact creating a small puff of smoke.
At the end of the first lap, the O’Ward had a one second lead over Norman. Behind the front two, the running order was Herta, Telitz, Urrutia, Kellett, and Franzoni.
On the sixth lap, Franzoni had an off-track excursion in “Madness,” falling five seconds behind Kellett.
On Lap 7, Herta is making inroads on Norman.
Right behind the three Andretti Autosport drivers up front, Urrutia made a late braking maneuver into Turn 4. The Uruguayan locked up the brakes on the No. 5, missed the apex of the right-hander, but was able to complete the pass around his Belardi Auto Racing teammate.
At the one-third point of the 30-lap race, O’Ward held a slight 1.1 second lead over his teammate Norman. Herta had settled in just behind Norman as the three Andretti Autosport teammates had gapped the Belardi Auto Racing by over 6 seconds.
At the halfway point of the race, Norman had cut the lead to under one second, with Herta another second behind Norman. Further back, Telitz was putting pressure on Urrutia, but the pressure ended on Lap 16.
The Rice Lake Weighing sponsored No. 9 of Telitz hit the bump at the apex of Turn 12, spinning to the inside of the corner. The 26-year-old was able to keep the turbocharged Mazda 2.0 liter engine fired.
Two laps later, Telitz caught the curb at the entry of Turn 9 and spun through the gravel, high siding his car. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team restarted Telitz’s Mazda engine, but he fell a lap behind.
Belardi Auto Racing and Urrutia rolled the dice to put on a fresher set of Cooper Tires. Team owner Brian Belardi told the ADVANCE Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network that they had seven laps on them.
The race restarted with nine laps to go. O’Ward got a great jump up front, and behind him, Ryan Norman got a poor start. That allowed Herta to get by him.
Norman’s teammate Kellett and Franzoni were also able to make around the Ohio native on the lap after the restart.
On Lap 22, Urrutia made an outside move on Norman into Turn 4. The No. 48 Journey sponsored car caught the inside curb and clattered into Urrutia. The No. 5 caught air and both drivers ended up in the grass. Both drivers were able to keep going but Norman was issued a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact.
With five laps remaining, O’Ward’s lead over Herta was 1.2 seconds. On the next lap, the lead had been cut to 0.6 seconds, but the second generation only had four push-to-pass activations left. Herta turned the quickest lap of the race as he took the white flag, but was only able to put token pressure on O’Ward during the final circuit of the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Road Course.
After the race Herta told us that he wishes he could have seen the future and more specifically the safety car period, explaining to us that he used too many push-to-pass activations trying to pass Norman earlier in the race and that he didn’t have enough left to attack O’Ward. He also acknowledged that he was fortunate that the safety car came out.
Behind the leading twosome, their teammate Kellett was facing pressure from Franzoni but was able to hold off the Brazilian to nab the final step of the podium.
The win was O’Ward’s 13th career Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires trip to victory and boosted his career MRTI podium total to 22. Ten of those have come in Indy Lights.
Herta’s trip to the podium was the 17th in 29 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races.
Kellett’s podium was his fifth in Indy Lights and seventh in the MRTI. It’s the 24-year-olds first on a street or road course.
Cooper Tires Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Powered by Mazda Race #1 Unofficial Results
|1||27||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport||30 LAPS|
|2||98||Colton Herta||Andretti Steinbrenner Racing||0.6361|
|3||28||Dalton Kellett||Andretti Autosport||11.8170|
|4||23||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing||12.5038|
|5||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||36.0341|
|6||5||Santi Urrutia||Belardi Auto Racing||56.1149|
|7||9||Aaron Telitz||Belardi Auto Racing||-2 LAPS|