SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Colton Herta, 18, from Valencia, Calif., this afternoon claimed an emphatic victory for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing in the first of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races which will comprise this weekend’s Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.
Despite qualifying a lowly fifth, Uruguay’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia led the first half of the 30-lap race around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course before being obliged to settle for second place ahead of Belardi Auto Racing teammate Aaron Telitz.
What turned into a topsy-turvy race began with championship points leader Patricio “Pato” O’Ward taking his third pole of the season for Andretti Autosport. Teammate Herta lined up alongside on the front row, with Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing), last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, sharing row two of the grid with Wisconsin native Telitz.
The initial start was clean, with O’Ward maintaining his advantage as the field accelerated down the long start/finish straight toward Turn One. Deep into the braking area, however, Franzoni inadvertently nudged into the rear of O’Ward’s Dallara-Mazda. The unwanted additional momentum sent the leader wide and forced a close-following Herta to take evasive action.
Urrutia, who had been tucked into the inside in the braking area, gratefully took advantage of the melee to nip into the lead, followed by Franzoni, Telitz and a recovering O’Ward. The unfortunate Herta resumed in sixth but soon made up one of the lost positions when he out-braked teammate Dalton Kellett at Turn 12.
For the next three laps, Herta posted incremental fastest laps of the race as he quickly made up the deficit to O’Ward in fourth. The Mexican teenager successfully defended Herta’s initial attempt to make a pass under braking for Turn One on Lap Seven, but two tours later he was unable to resist the young Californian.
On lap 11, Herta profited when Franzoni’s challenge for the lead ended with him running wide onto the grass at Turn 12 and losing several positions. Next time around Herta usurped Telitz from second place with a bold move around the outside under braking for Turn One. He then rapidly whittled away at the deficit to race leader Urrutia of 1.7 seconds.
Urrutia tried his best to maintain his lead but it was an unequal struggle. Herta clearly had the best car this afternoon, and even though Urrutia pushed him to the limit under braking for Turn One on the 16th lap, Herta still was able to brake a little deeper and take over the lead. Herta then stretched away to a comfortable margin of 5.1512 seconds at the checkered flag to secure his first win of the season.
Urrutia held onto second place to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award, despite a strong challenge by teammate Telitz in the closing stages.
A setup gamble by O’Ward and his engineer left him struggling with an unbalanced race car in the heat of the afternoon, although he held on to finish fourth and now leads Urrutia by 11 points heading into tomorrow’s sixth round of the 17-race championship.
Qualifying will take place at 8:30 a.m. EDT, with the green flag scheduled for 1:15 p.m., immediately prior to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis Verizon IndyCar Series headline event.
Coverage can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on promazda.com and racecontrol.indycar.com. Sunday’s race will air on NBCSN on May 22 at 6:00 pm EDT.
Colton Herta (#98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing Curb Mazda Dallara-Mazda IL-15):
“There is so much nostalgia here and it means so much – not just to me and my family, but to everyone who ever watched the Indy 500. It’s amazing, it’s what you work for and strive for as a kid. To win this means so much, but I still hope to kiss the bricks at the end of the month!
“It was pretty crazy at the start when Victor got into Pato and knocked us both wide and I wasn’t happy about that. I knew I had a good race car and that I could carve my way back up the field and get a podium but honestly, I didn’t think a win was possible. Santi and Aaron are good at defending and we were so far behind. I locked up a few times getting around Pato – we have respect for each other and we give each other room, so it’s fun to race close like that. It would have been a good battle for the win. I actually thought I touched Santi but I was glad to get around.”
Santiago Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15):
“It’s tough. The Andretti guys are quick and we’re right there, but we just need that last piece. I want to win, and I was close today, but Colton was quicker. We got good points and if we catch Pato in the championship, it will be fine. We gained a lot on the start, taking advantage of the incident. The car was good in the beginning but I was running less downforce so that didn’t help in the middle of the race. We’ll fix that for tomorrow.”
Aaron Telitz (#9 Rice Lake Weighing Systems-Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “It would have been nice to be one or two spots up on the podium, but we’ll take it. We’ve been making progress ever since we had our terrible luck at St. Pete. We’re fast here – we had a good car, though not as good as Colton’s, but I got stuck behind Santi. It’s hard to battle your teammate that hard, but we both know that if we crashed, we would have to go back to (team manager) John Brunner and explain, and that’s the worst person to come back to if you do something dumb like that, so I wasn’t going to force the issue. I’m happy to be on the podium but overall, the feeling is just…okay.”