The dream of racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is nearly complete for Santiago Urrutia.
After falling one spot short of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires title last season, Urrutia returned this year and is riding a wave of momentum that has him tied for second in the championship with Colton Herta, 42 points behind leader Kyle Kaiser with two races remaining.
The 20-year-old also revealed in a news conference last week in his home Uruguay that he has secured “70 percent of the budget” for a Verizon IndyCar Series seat in 2018.
Urrutia missed out on the 2016 Indy Lights crown – and the accompanying Mazda scholarship of nearly $1 million to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series this year – by a mere two points to Ed Jones. He said his work on securing a 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series ride took higher priority following last month’s Indy Lights weekend in Toronto “because I saw the (possibility of winning the Indy Lights) championship was pretty difficult.”
Adding finishes of first and second in the most recent Indy Lights doubleheader, July 29-30 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, kept the momentum going for the driver of the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15.
“After the Mid-Ohio weekend, it helps a lot,” Urrutia said. “So I confirmed that I had 70 percent of the (2018) budget after the Mid-Ohio weekend and I did that press conference in Uruguay to let everybody know that I have to find the next 30 percent, and I hope that I can find that 30 percent from Uruguay.
“Even though it’s a small country, I’m pretty sure that I can find that money from there.”
Urrutia, who turns 21 on Aug. 30, said he has had talks with three Verizon IndyCar Series teams. A five-time Indy Lights race winner and the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires champion added there is no extra pressure on him in the final two Indy Lights races to help land the Verizon IndyCar Series ride next season.
“I never feel the pressure, to be honest,” said Urrutia. “The only thing I have to do is win. The only thing I have to focus on is win. I prefer to finish last than second because the only thing I’ve got to do is win. But, yeah, it takes a little bit of the pressure out.
“The guy that is feeling the pressure right now is (points leader) Kaiser because all I have to focus on is winning. He has to care about crashing and other things. So, yeah, not really any pressure from my side.”
With six podiums in his last nine starts, Urrutia understands that closing his Indy Lights season on a high note could help close the gap on the remaining 30 percent of the budget.
“If I finish the year stronger, I know that is going to help me for INDYCAR,” said Urrutia. “So if I do well in Indy Lights, I’m going to be in a better situation to negotiate for INDYCAR.
“That’s what I was doing the last three years in the Mazda Road to Indy – just do my best every weekend, show the team that I am ready to be there, working and giving my 100 percent. Even this year, when I was in a bad situation and got (several) points behind the leader, I never gave up. Always working, working, working and I think that’s really good for me.”
“I’m going to focus on Indy Lights and win the race. I’m not going to focus on (the chance to move up to) INDYCAR.”
Indy Lights returns to Gateway Motorsports Park for its second oval race of the season on Aug. 25-26 as part of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline race weekend featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series race. Indy Lights concludes its season Sept. 1-3 at Watkins Glen International with a single-race weekend.