MRTI Observations: Indy Lights Royal Purple Grand Prix of Indy Race 1
There may have only been seven cars on the track, but the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires made the most of it as they put on a show in the first Royal Purple Grand Prix of Indy supporting the Indiana Chapter of Lupas Foundation of America race this weekend.
When Pato O’Ward qualified on pole, you had to wonder if it’d once again be the Andretti Autosport driver showing the way from green to checkered, just like he did at Barber Motorsports Park, as he had won three of the first four races. However, a little contact from behind courtesy of Victor Franzoni entering the first corner bumped him from leading to sixth. Ouch. O’Ward was able to make a slight comeback, though, scoring a fourth-place finish. Expect him to be looking for glory on Saturday.
The contact for O’Ward allowed Santiago Urrutia to take over the top spot. A lot of people expect a lot out of the Belardi Auto Racing driver considering he’s been the championship runner-up the past two seasons. While he had the pace and looked solid, it wasn’t meant to be his day, either, as he eventually crossed the finish line in second. That said, he didn’t make it easy on his competitors, putting a great block on Franzoni.
A great pass by Colton Herta put the Andretti Autosport driver in the lead – quite possibly the move of the season into turn one, where he simply drove away from the field en route to his first victory of the year. It marks his first victory since winning last year at Barber Motorsports Park in April. He entered the season very confident, expressing the fact that he was ready to win the championship and move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series last year. One of the things that was seemingly lacking despite consistency was his ability to reach victory lane. Does this help solidify his title chances?
If you combine the wins by O’Ward and Herta, that gives Michael Andretti four wins in five races. Not too shabby for a team that a lot of people were concerned about through the middle portion of last year in whether they had pace to run with the other organizations. Of note, his drivers have scored at least one podium in each race since the Honda Indy Toronto event in July 2017. That said, let’s just state for the record that it’s fun to watch the Andretti Autosport drivers battle against each other as they can put on a good show.
Belardi Auto Racing isn’t too bad off, either, as they have won a race this year with Urrutia and thankfully, Aaron Telitz has turned his bad luck around. After failing to finish the first three event of 2018, he has now scored a fourth and a third.
Juncos Racing’s Franzoni is also someone to keep an eye on as it is his rookie Indy Lights campaign after winning the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last year. Although he started off strong and ran in the top-three most of the race, going wide in one corner proved costly as it put him in sixth-place, where he never recovered.
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