Colton Herta Sweeps Indianapolis Indy Lights Double-Header
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Second-generation racer Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) out-dueled Santiago “Santi” Urrutia to claim a dramatic victory in this afternoon’s 35-lap Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.
For the second day in a row, Herta, from Valencia, Calif., had to work hard for his laurels. After falling from second to fifth on the opening lap, the 18-year-old son of 1993 Indy Lights champion Bryan Herta gradually worked his way toward the front, then emerged in the lead following a late clash with Urrutia.
Wisconsin’s Aaron Telitz continued to make up for a miserable start to the season (he failed even to complete a lap in each of the first three races) by finishing second for Belardi Auto Racing. Victor Franzoni, who in 2017 succeeded Telitz as winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, claimed his second Indy Lights podium finish in third.
After snaring the pole position during a separate qualifying session earlier this morning, championship leader Patricio “Pato” O’Ward duly led away on the opening lap. Herta, meanwhile, found himself elbowed wide at the first corner. The youngster fell briefly to fifth but lost no time in making up for lost ground.
Herta moved back ahead of Franzoni by the end of the first lap, then dived to the inside of Telitz at Turn One next time around. It was a late move which forced Telitz back to sixth and also allowed Franzoni to sneak back ahead of Herta into third.
Up ahead, Urrutia had somehow managed to squeeze past O’Ward for the lead in Turn Seven. The two leaders remained virtually tied together for the next 20 laps, with Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, turning a string of impressively consistent laps to remain just out of O’Ward’s reach.
Herta, meanwhile, snuck past Franzoni for third on Lap Seven, then set about whittling away at a deficit of more than 2.5 seconds to the two leaders. By Lap 16, the three leaders ran nose to tail, with Herta clearly intent on making even more progress.
On Lap 22, O’Ward briefly locked up his brakes while under pressure from Herta in Turn One. As the Mexican slid wide, Herta gratefully moved up to second. O’Ward quickly fell away in third until his flat-spotted left-front tire let go on Lap 29 and he headed for the pits for a replacement.
Urrutia continued to lap consistently in the lead, but it seemed only a matter of time before Herta would make his move.
The outcome was settled at Turn One with three laps to go when the two leaders went side-by-side into Turn One, each of them absolutely on the limit of their cars’ braking capabilities. Neither was willing to give the other an inch. Some form of contact was inevitable. It came as they attempted to occupy the same piece of asphalt at Turn Two, and it was Urrutia who came off worst as he spun to the outside. Herta was through and away to another impressive victory.
Telitz, who at one stage was as much as nine seconds behind the leaders, finished second, just 4.1968 seconds adrift at the checkered flag and narrowly ahead of Franzoni, who secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting in sixth.
Urrutia recovered to finish fourth, shadowed by dueling Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett.
O’Ward, who finished a lap down in seventh, retains merely a one-point championship lead over Herta as the Indy Lights field prepares for its first oval race of the season – the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – on May 25.
Colton Herta (#98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing Curb Mazda Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I can’t believe it. I have not swept a weekend on the Mazda Road to Indy, and we needed it to get back into the championship. To get two wins at Indy is just spectacular – now I want to win the Freedom 100 and sweep the month! I knew the start would be tough, so I tried to slot in behind Aaron and move my way forward. I haven’t seen a replay so I don’t know exactly what happened with Santi, but from my side I was ahead going into the corner and he pushed me off into the grass when we were side by side. He didn’t leave me any room coming back onto the track, so we made contact. It was an all-or-nothing move for me because it was my last push-to-pass, but as far as I’m concerned, it was a racing incident.”
Aaron Telitz (#9 Rice Lake Weighing Systems-Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda L15): “My car was not so great early in the race, and Colton and I did some rubbing and I fell to the back of the field. I made my way through the field and up to Victor. Once I got around, I started putting together the best laps I could as my car just kept getting better and better. Given everything that’s happened to me this season, it’s great to finish second. I’ve finished fourth, third, and now second so if I keep that trend going, I should be first at the Freedom 100.”
Victor Franzoni (#23 Mazda Motorsports-Juncos Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I am learning more and more about the Indy Lights car; each race is getting better. I wasn’t fast early in the race, but I got much faster as the race went on. Third is good for the points and we still have a lot of racing to go. Working with the Juncos Racing team, we are improving all the time. I’m happy to get the fastest lap in the race. We just need to put everything together and we’ll be good.”
About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com and roadtoindy.info.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/teamcoopertire.