After some aggressive passes on the opening lap by Zach Veach, there was little doubt about who would win today’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires.
But the outcome of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1M to ensure entry in a minimum of three races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series was rather less straightforward.
Veach, indeed, sped home to a controlled victory, his third of the season and series-high sixth for Belardi Auto Racing by a comfortable margin of 2.8798 seconds. Behind, with one lap remaining around the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), the winner of last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, was in position to emulate Spencer Pigot’s feat in 2014 and 2015 by claiming consecutive Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires championships by the narrowest of margins over season-long rival Ed Jones (Carlin) – a tie-breaker based on Urrutia’s four wins this season to the two of Jones.
Jones held a seven-point edge over Urrutia following yesterday’s second-place finish and gained another point for having earned the pole for today’s season finale. After the first start was waved off by Race Control, Jones led the field away at the second time of asking, with Urrutia, who started immediately behind in third, virtually glued to the Englishman’s gearbox as the leaders accelerated through the gears.
Jones just about held off the Uruguayan’s advances in Turn Two, and then suddenly his mirrors were filled by Veach, who forced his way past Urrutia in Turn Two after starting in the fourth position. Veach, clearly, was in no mood to stand on ceremony. His eyes were focused purely on claiming another win. A few hundred yards later, the Ohioan dived to the inside of Jones on the approach to Turn Three. Wisely, the Englishman chose to lift off the throttle abruptly, but in doing so lost valuable momentum. As Veach sped away in the lead, Jones fell quickly to fifth place behind Urrutia, yesterday’s winner Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Serralles.
Moments later, a spin in Turn Four by Garett Grist (Team Pelfrey), who had started seventh but was effectively caught out by the melee in Turn Three, necessitated a full-course caution.
The restart was more controlled, with Veach soon establishing the fastest lap of the race as he edged away from a battling Urrutia and Kaiser. Similarly, another gap began to open up between Kaiser and the two Carlin drivers, Serralles and Jones, who were trailed closely by Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), Sean Rayhall (Team Pelfrey), Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport) and Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing).
The top four positions remained unchanged for the remainder of the 38-lap race, with Veach controlling his pace and extending his advantage to over five seconds before cruising home to the finish.
Urrutia held off the attentions of Kaiser for second, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as Jones moved past Serralles to pick up the points he needed for the championship crown and crucial Mazda scholarship.
Team owner Trevor Carlin’s day was made complete by clinching the coveted Teams Championship by a 29-point margin, 413-384, over Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
Ed Jones (Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels-Carlin): “It’s an incredible feeling right now. It’s really a dream come true to know that I’ll be driving an Indy car next year. There’s been so much hard work and we really deserve this championship. It’s only the second year in America for myself and for the Carlin team, so to win this means so much. I’m so happy to have this opportunity and to be able to show what I’m made of.”
Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing): “I’m just so thankful for Belardi Auto Racing because they were the ones that made it possible for me to come out here. I didn’t have the budget to do Indy Lights. They said ‘Well, let’s not worry about that. We’ll figure it out as we go.’ I’m so thankful to be able to give them back what they gave to me and to show how fast Belardi Auto Racing is. We came in here a second-and-a-half off in the first practice session so to be able to work through all that to win today, it’s very special to me. I’m glad I was able to make the pass in the first corner and make it stick. Congratulations to Ed, he did a great job all year.”