After a promising rookie showing in 2017, Aaron Telitz is set to make his return to Belardi Auto Racing for a second season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.
The team’s goal for the Wisconsinite’s sophomore year is simple.
“Championship,” said team manager John Brunner. “I think he’s an outright championship contender.
“Honestly, I think anything less than that will be disappointing.”
Telitz, 26, made the leap to the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy last year, joining Belardi in the Soul Red Mazda Scholarship car after a six-win title campaign in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2016.
The rookie had one aim for 2017 – to claim the Indy Lights crown and move directly on to the Verizon IndyCar Series with another Mazda scholarship.
For a time, he appeared capable of the task. Telitz’s season started on the highest note imaginable after a victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg, and a fifth-place effort in the weekend’s second race kept him second in the championship standings as the field left Florida.
But from there the MRTI veteran’s title chase began to fade. Hampered by a summer slump that affected the whole of Belardi, and hit with the traditional inconsistencies of a rookie campaign, Telitz slowly slid down the standings.
The highs – four podiums, including two victories – were strong enough for championship contention.
Unfortunately for Telitz, the lows were not. Four finishes outside the top 10 in the season’s 16 events ultimately proved too much to overcome. He ultimately ended the year sixth in the standings, well out of the title chase.
“There were some high points and quite a few low points in the middle of season, but it was all part of learning Indy Lights,” Telitz said. “When I had bad weekends, they were really bad instead of just mediocre like championship contenders would have had. When I had shots to win, I did win.”
While he might not have been in contention for the championship in the season finale at Watkins Glen International, the rookie managed to make a resounding statement with a dominant drive to victory in the wet – a triumph that gave both him and the team confidence to carry through the offseason.
“That rain race in (Watkins Glen) was unbelievable,” said Brunner. “The conditions couldn’t have been worse and he didn’t put a wheel wrong. What a drive that was.
“To go into a long offseason with that being your last race felt very good of the team. He had all winter to enjoy and know that he put on that show. I think it builds confidence on both sides.”
Four months removed from that impressive drive, Telitz is preparing for his second season in Indy Lights with Belardi – the first time since his MRTI debut in 2014 that he’s driven for the same organization in successive seasons.
It’s a group continuity that the Rice Lake, Wisconsin, native is proud of, though one he admitted he’d hoped to avoid, saying, “I would have rather won the championship last year and moved on.
“The same team for two years in a row – that’ll be the first time in my career,” said Telitz. “I think that it’s nothing but positive for me. I get to build with the team, engineers and mechanics.”
Without the added funding of the Mazda scholarship, Telitz has yet to secure enough backing to guarantee a full-season effort. But the sophomore is confident he’ll find a way to stay in the Dallara IL-15/Mazda for the complete 17-race schedule.
“I feel secure that I’m going to figure it out one way or another,” said Telitz.
If so, Telitz figures to be among the Indy Lights championship contenders. With a year of experience, he believes his improved knowledge and feedback for the team should help put him in title contention.
“Last year, I was a rookie and was still learning how to communicate with the engineers, to let them know what I’d like the car to be doing to get the most out of it,” said Telitz. “This year, I already have all that knowledge.
“I feel like I’m going to be a lot better on the technical side at every racetrack, making sure that we’ve got the setup on the car to go out and win.”
His plan is simple – stay in contention each week and keep alive in the championship fight to the end.
“The ultimate goal is to win the championship. But it really comes down to being our best every weekend, so that’s what we’ll focus on. We’ll start with St. Pete and Barber, and then go from there.”