TORONTO, Ont., Canada – Kyle Kaiser’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points lead had been gradually eroded in recent weeks, but the 21-year-old Californian stemmed the tide with an accomplished victory this afternoon for Juncos Racing in the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products on the streets of Toronto.
Kaiser’s second win of the season, combined with a mistake by series rival Matheus Leist (Carlin), allowed him to extend his margin to 38 points with only five races remaining. The champion will claim a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to ensure entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Carlin’s Zachary Claman DeMelo, from Montreal, Que., Canada, finished second after a race-long battle with Uruguay’s Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing) and Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing).
Just a few hours after securing his third pole of the season with a new qualifying lap record of 1:05.3511, an average speed of 98.385 mph, Kaiser made the jump from pole position and headed into Turn One with a clear advantage over his pursuers. Leist, who qualified second, immediately lost a position to Claman DeMelo, which allowed Kaiser even more leeway to make a break at the front. He needed no second bidding.
With two laps of the 1.786-mile temporary circuit in the books, Kaiser was already more than 2.4 seconds to the good.
Leist, meanwhile, was clearly struggling to hold off a gaggle of cars headed by Urrutia, local Toronto favorite Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) and Californian Neil Alberico (Carlin). Then, on Lap 4, he left his braking a tad too late at Turn Eight, missed his apex and clattered into the tire barrier on the exit of the corner. Farther back in the pack, Frenchman Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport) was unable to avoid contact with the stricken Carlin car. He, too, was out of the race with broken suspension.
After a full-course caution to clear away the debris, Kaiser took off again in the lead and was never seriously challenged. The third-year Indy Lights veteran extended his lead to over 6.5 seconds before easing off in the closing stages to take the checkered flag 3.6118 seconds to the good.
Urrutia and Claman DeMelo enjoyed an exciting tussle for second place following the restart before the Canadian reasserted himself and maintained position until the finish. Herta, meanwhile, after slipping from eighth on the grid to 10th in the early stages, made remarkable progress at the restart, rising quickly to fourth place. Herta, the youngest driver in the field at age 17, then put the pressure on Urrutia, posting the fastest lap of the race en route to his third consecutive top-four finish.
Aaron Telitz, last year’s champion in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, finished a lonely fifth for Belardi Auto Racing – and earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award in the process – well clear of Colombian Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey), who narrowly held off Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing) following a race-long battle. Piedrahita claimed the Staubli Award.
Kyle Kaiser (#18 Juncos Racing): “It’s amazing – this is my first win on a street course. So now I can say I’ve won on an oval, a road course and a street course and this means a lot. Toronto is one of the better street courses to pass on but if you get a gap, it is really hard to get around someone. The team was telling me the gap every lap, so I knew who was behind me and how far back they were and I was using that to gauge how hard to push. It was a very conscious race, focusing on what I had to do but also being aware of what was going on behind me. But I try not to over think it and go into every race weekend to win. Some weekends, you don’t have the setup so you focus on not getting frustrated and running with what you have. This weekend, we had the fastest car so we maximized what we had. All the stars are aligning.”
Zachary Claman DeMelo (#13 ZCD Montreal/Zoological Wildlife Foundation – Carlin): “I tried to look forward as much as I could, hitting my marks and not making any mistakes. I didn’t want to fight with Santi because I know he’s a tough driver to fight against. We had good pace early on but fell off a bit toward the end, so we’ll fix that and go for the win tomorrow. Since Indianapolis, I’ve worked really hard with the team, done a few sim days and looked at a lot of data – it’s been a big push mid-season. I’m really happy with the car and really happy with the team. We’ve learned so much together and they’ve taught me a lot. If it had been like this at the beginning of the year, we could have been championship contenders but it’s not over yet.”
Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM: “The car was good in free practice yesterday but something changed on the car for qualifying that didn’t work. I got hit on the restart and the car wasn’t the same after that. I pushed hard. The team has worked very hard since Iowa where we had a good result. We’re getting better and better but we just can’t find that last little bit of speed that will give us the win. But tomorrow is another day so we’ll work on the car, hopefully have a good qualifying in the morning and go for the race win.”