LEXINGTON, Ohio – One year ago, victory in the first of two Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course cemented Santiago “Santi” Urrutia’s position as championship leader. He went on to clinch the title, plus a Mazda scholarship to facilitate graduation into this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Fast forward 12 months and Urrutia’s hopes of repeating the feat and following in the footsteps of current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot by claiming back-to-back Mazda scholarships in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights have been bolstered by sweeping both races that comprised this weekend’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
Urrutia arrived in Ohio 24 points behind Carlin’s Ed Jones in the Indy Lights title-chase, but an impressive double win, allied to a series of misfortunes for Jones today, has vaulted him into a 16-point lead heading into the final three races of the season.
Englishman Dean Stoneman finished second today for Andretti Autosport, while Urrutia’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian teammate Andre Negrao, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, finished a strong third.
Urrutia, 20, from Miguelete, Uruguay, qualified on pole position for the second successive day but was pushed hard during the early stages by another title contender, Felix Serralles (Carlin). Urrutia and Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, traded fastest laps as they edged clear of Stoneman in third, before Serralles abruptly lost control on Lap 12 and spun in Turn Nine. He resumed in ninth. A few moments earlier, in an unrelated incident, Canadian Garett Grist (Team Pelfrey) ended his race in the gravel trap at Turn Four. Cue a full-course caution.
Urrutia maintained his lead at the restart ahead of Stoneman, with Negrao moving up to third ahead of Ohioan Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing) and Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), who for the second day in a row was making some impressive passes after starting eighth.
All eyes were on Serralles as he tried to fight his way back into contention, but on Lap 20 he made contact with the rear of teammate – and championship leader – Jones’ identical Dallara-Mazda IL-15 as he pulled out to make a pass for sixth on the back straightaway.
The impact ripped the right-front wing from Serralles’ car, forcing him once again to the back of the field after a pit stop to effect repairs.
Jones continued, but only as far as Turn Two on the very next lap when his car suddenly speared straight on into the tire barrier. The Englishman was out of the race, thankfully unscathed, but his once-commanding championship lead was no more.
After another caution, Urrutia continued where he left off, romping to a clear victory over Stoneman, who was never able to shake off the attentions of Negrao. Veach finished fourth ahead of Blackstock, who found his way past Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) with six laps remaining.
Urrutia now leads Jones by 309 points to 293 as the 18-round championship heads next to Watkins Glen International, N.Y., on September 3, followed by a double-header season finale one week later at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The Teams Championship also is up for grabs with Carlin’s lead over Schmidt Peterson now reduced to just nine points, 337-228.
Santiago Urrutia (#55 Mazda/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian): “I’m really happy for these two victories. It was great for me, for the team and for the championship. It was a much harder race today with the restarts and Felix pushing me very hard. I was able to use my push-to-pass and keep everyone behind me on the restarts. The Cooper tires came to me through the race and we did our pace. I didn’t expect to take the championship lead this weekend, I have to say, but I came here to win both races and we did that. The team did a great job with the car; it was so quick. But the series is so competitive and there are three long races to go. I made some mistakes early in the season that cost me points and we had a bad weekend in Toronto, so we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”