Urrutia, Franzoni post exciting Mazda Road to Indy wins

Santi Urrutia
Santi Urrutia

Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing) passed Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) with two laps to go in the Indy Lights race at Gateway Motorsports Park and drove on to his second win of the season. Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) finished fourth and needs only to start the Sept. 3 season finale at Watkins Glen to clinch the championship and $1 million Mazda scholarship to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.

Victor Franzoni passed championship rival Anthony Martin on Lap 19 and went on to win the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race at Gateway. With the victory, Franzoni (Juncos Racing) took a two-point lead over Martin (Cape Motorsports) with a doubleheader race weekend remaining Sept. 2-3 at Watkins Glen.

Urrutia Wins a Thriller on Indy Lights Return to Gateway Motorsports Park

MADISON, Ill. – Santi Urrutia claimed a last-gasp victory in this evening’s Mazda St. Louis Indy Lights Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval. The Uruguayan’s second win of the season for Belardi Auto Racing came after a tense battle with fellow South American Juan Piedrahita, who started from the pole position for Team Pelfrey but had to be content with a career-best second place finish.

Second-generation Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires racer Colton Herta finished third for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, narrowly ahead of fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing). The result means Kaiser merely needs to take the green flag for practice at next weekend’s season finale on the Watkins Glen International road circuit in upstate New York to put the coveted championship title beyond the reach of his rivals and secure a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million which will guarantee him entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Indy Lights’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park following a 14-year absence proved to be a huge success as the large and appreciative crowd was treated to a thrilling 75-lap race.

Both Urrutia and Herta, who arrived at Gateway tied for second place in the championship, knew they needed to win the two remaining races to have any chance of beating Kaiser to the crown. In short, it was a long shot.

Urrutia, who lost out on the 2016 title in heartbreaking style at the season finale, did his level best to secure the additional championship point for pole position, only to be denied by series veteran Piedrahita – by a scant 0.006 of a second. Nevertheless, he knew his dream was still alive when he lined up on the front row of the grid.

The opening stages were marred by a succession of incidents. Aaron Telitz, last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, was particularly unfortunate when his Soul Red Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda was collected by a couple of spinners on the very first lap.

When the race finally got under way, with Piedrahita narrowly maintaining his advantage, Kaiser laid clean his intentions by passing Urrutia for second place around the outside in Turn Two. He didn’t hold it for long as Urrutia repaid the favor on Lap 15 and immediately began to pressure Piedrahita for the lead.

Kaiser, meanwhile, soon slipped back into the clutches of a battling Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), Herta – who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, Kaiser’s teammate Nico Dapero and Matheus Leist (Carlin), who had won the two previous ovals raced this season and quickly fought his way up from a lowly 12th on the grid.

Urrutia finally found a chink in Piedrahita’s armor on Lap 42, when he sliced past on the exit of Turn Four, but by then he had already lost any chance of gaining one of the other bonus points – for leading most laps. A little later in the race, on Lap 61, Zachary Claman DeMelo (Carlin) put the final bonus point – for fastest race lap – beyond Urrutia’s reach when he turned a lap in 28.0370 seconds, an average speed of 160.502 mph.

Santi Urrutia
Santi Urrutia

Still, Urrutia had eked out a margin of almost 1.5 seconds with 15 laps remaining, so at least the race win seemed to be well within his grasp. Furthermore, by then Kaiser had been overtaken firstly by Jamin and then by Leist and DeMelo.

But then the complexion of the race changed again when Carlin teammates Neil Alberico and Garth Rickards, who were battling for the 11th position, tangled with the slower car of debutant Chad Boat (Belardi Auto Racing), who earned the Staubli Award.

Officials wisely displayed the red flag while the wreckage was cleared away, leaving enough time for what was expected to be a five-lap shootout to the checkered flag. Piedrahita promptly made an opportunistic move around the outside of Urrutia at the restart, only for the yellows to fly again following an incident involving the third and fourth-placed cars of Jamin and Leist.

The green flew again with just three laps remaining. Urrutia knew it was now or never. He and Piedrahita battled side by side for almost two full laps before Urrutia completed the pass and sped away to a brilliant victory. Herta emerged in third, while Kaiser, who narrowly escaped becoming embroiled in the drama, crossed the line in fourth to ensure that his own dream was almost accomplished

Kaiser now holds an unassailable 31-point edge as the series heads to Watkins Glen next weekend, although he will still need to turn up and practice for the race in order to be assured of the championship spoils.

The Team Championship remains more finely poised, with Andretti Autosport holding a 11-point lead, 364-353, over Belardi Auto Racing. Last year’s champions Carlin now trail in third on 345 points.

Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM): “It was one of the best races of the year – competitive, clean and really exciting. It was good racing against Juan. He was quicker than me on the straight and I was better in Turns One and Two so when he made a small mistake in Turn One, I was able to get past. When the red came out, I was worried because I thought he would be able to pass me on the restart. When that happened, I knew it was my last chance and I had to try to get by. I’m happy – I did what I had to do today; the rest was out of our control. We had a difficult start to the season but the second half we have been really strong, and I hope races like this will help me be in IndyCar next year."

Juan Piedrahita (#2 Petrosur-Team Pelfrey): “There were two perfect cars this weekend: my car and Santi’s car. It just happened that his car was perfect in Turns One and Two and my car was perfect in Turns Three and Four, so we could get a run on each other but not hold it. I gave it my all today. It feels awesome to be up front, but I’m heartbroken not to get the win for the team. But Santi did a great job. I kept hoping the race would end, because it was so difficult mentally. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I had a run on him, then he had a run on me – it was crazy. We both did a great job and I hope I can get the win at Watkins Glen."

Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda-Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “It was discombobulating, between the yellows and the red flag, so it was a tough race, but I also think it was one of the best races of the year. We came into the red flag in seventh and made some good moves on the restart. I think if we had a few more laps we could have challenged for the win. The year has gone so quickly, and I’m happy with what we’ve done this year. I didn’t expect to be in the title chase our first year; we planned on a two-year program. So we’re ahead of the game."

Franzoni Reclaims Points Lead with Gateway Win

Pro Mazda start
Pro Mazda start

Madison, Ill. – The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires made its inaugural visit to Gateway Motorsports Park a memorable one as title rivals Victor Franzoni and Anthony Martin once again traded the lead of the championship as Franzoni claimed his fifth victory of the season in this afternoon’s St. Louis Pro Mazda Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires. The pair now share five wins apiece.

Martin, of Cape Motorsports, took pole position in qualifying earlier this afternoon – his sixth pole of the season – with Juncos Racing’s Franzoni a close second. Martin held the advantage at the start but a yellow followed shortly after the green flag following a spin by Jeff Green (Juncos Racing) and Brendan Puderbach (Fat Boy Racing!). The battle for the lead resumed on Lap 3 with some entertaining side-by-side racing between the two.

Carlos Cunha of Team Pelfrey, who qualified fourth, managed to pass teammate TJ Fischer and briefly enter the fray at the front of the field. Franzoni made several attempts to get around Martin on the high side and finally made the move stick on Lap 18. Once past Martin, Franzoni romped to the checkered flag with a 4.6 second lead claiming the bonus points for most laps led and fastest race lap.

Cunha held off Fischer to claim his fourth podium of the season and narrow the gap to Fischer to just five points for third in the championship.

Jeff Green recovered from his earlier spin to pass the third Team Pelfrey car of Nikita Lastochkin and finish fifth, earning the Staubli Award. The Quarter Master Hard Charger Award went to World Speed Motorsports’ Sting Ray Robb with a gain of two positions. Juncos Racing earned the PFC Award.

Franzoni now leads Martin by two points (287 to 285) with the final two races on the docket coming down to the season finale at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

Podium
Podium

Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “After qualifying, I wasn’t sure we could do it, since I was three-tenths slower than him. We thought, we’ll make some big changes and just hope to survive and finish second. But when I passed him and started to pull away, I knew the changes worked. Here, we had to have a little bit more respect for each other, because the ovals are more dangerous and things happen so fast. But both of us were so focused on winning. I had to try outside in Turn One on the first lap and it was crazy oversteer, I thought I would go into the wall. I tried a couple of lines until I found one that worked. I think we’ll be really strong next weekend, so I’m very confident for the championship."

Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA – Cape Motorsports): “We were fighting really hard at the start. We struggled with the car a little bit during the race while Victor and the Juncos team had a really good car and really good race pace. He was just able to make the car stick in Turn One and get around, and I couldn’t stay with him. We were fast all weekend so it’s a shame to finish it like that, but we took good points, and he’s only two points ahead. It doesn’t matter who’s ahead and who’s behind, you go in to win the race. At this point, I have to get all the points I can so you forget the championship, really. You have to win, there’s nothing else. I’m going to go into the last two races striving to do my best. Anything can happen at Watkins Glen so we’ll go in with guns blazing."

Carlos Cunha (#81 Team Pelfrey): “I think ovals are amazing! I thought it would be easy but when we came here for the test two weeks ago, I realized it would not be easy. I actually touched the wall twice during the race. You need to be technical all the time and tell the engineers the right things because the car is the most important. You have to drive on the limit and you get what you get – and for us, that was third place today. Victor and Anthony had better place but for my first oval, it was good. I had no mistakes and we finished on the podium. I’m really excited to do another oval."

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