Santiago “Santi” Urrutia claimed an emphatic victory for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/ Curb-Agajanian in Saturday's Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
The Uruguayan rising star’s third win in his rookie campaign moved him to close within just six points of the lead in this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship chase. The winner of the top rung on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will earn a Mazda scholarship valued at $1M which will guarantee entry into three races in next year’s Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500.
Teammate Andre Negrao, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, finished a distant second, while England’s Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport) just fought off a determined challenge from Puerto Rican Felix Serralles (Carlin) to complete the podium.
Urrutia, last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, laid clear his intentions during qualifying early this morning when he topped the charts with a new Indy Lights track record lap of 1:10.9428, more than a half-second faster than Jack Harvey’s mark set in 2015.
Urrutia headed off immediately into a clear lead of the 30-lap race, his cause aided by some shuffling of positions behind him on the opening lap. Serralles had started second but struggled for grip during the early stages, slipping to fourth place on the opening lap behind Negrao and Stoneman, then losing another place to Ohio native Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing) on Lap 2.
Urrutia cemented his authority by extending his lead on all but one of his first 13 trips around the 2.258-mile race track. His advantage had grown to 4.4 seconds by that stage, and when Negrao responded by resetting the fastest lap of the race, Urrutia merely upped his tempo even more. He reset fastest race lap four more times before the finish to ensure a maximum point score of 33 for the day, extending his lead to over 8.6 seconds before cruising home to the checkered flag with a 6.4947-second margin of victory.
Negrao was unchallenged on the way to his second runner-up finish in succession, although behind him Stoneman battled hard to fight off the attentions of Serralles.
Veach ran a relatively lonely race to fifth, well clear of championship leader Ed Jones (Carlin), who was never completely happy with his car’s handling.
Canadian rookie Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing) finished seventh after an intense duel during the closing stages with Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), who qualified sixth, fell to 11th in the early laps, then made a series of impressive passes for position. There was no way past Claman De Melo, however, and the Tennessee native had to settle for eighth.
The championship chase has tightened considerably, with Jones now just six points clear of Urrutia and 24 points ahead of Stoneman, who upon review of the Toronto event, today was credited with an additional seven points from Race Two. Four races now remain this season, including one more tomorrow, starting at 12:25 p.m. EDT.
Santiago Urrutia (No. 55 Mazda/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian): “I was so happy to win today. I really like this track. I won and finished third here in two Pro Mazda races and that really helped me in the championship. The first thing I said when I got out of the car was ‘I have to win again tomorrow’. I saw that Jones was fifth, so I came into this race 24 points back and now I’m only six points back. If you watched the race, it would look like an easy race for me but it wasn’t at all – it’s so easy to make a mistake when you’re out in front by yourself. I just worked on my pace, which was really good. I’m really happy for what we did today but I’ve won three races this year and I’m still second in the championship, so I have to keep winning. I made mistakes early in the season so I have to be consistent now and win races. The series is so competitive and everyone wants to win – especially the Mazda scholarship – so now I will focus on tomorrow.