LEXINGTON, Ohio – Frenchman Nico Jamin claimed a hard-earned victory for Andretti Autosport in today’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda. The 21-year-old Frenchman fended off a determined challenge from yesterday’s winner, Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing), to become the fifth different Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires winner in the last six races.
A delighted Shelby Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., finished third – his first podium appearance since the corresponding event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2015.
Entering the weekend, Jamin and Urrutia were the “form men” at the undulating 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Jamin had won all three USF2000 races at the venue in 2015 on his way to the championship – and claimed a double one year ago in Pro Mazda – while Urrutia had won one Pro Mazda race in 2015 en route to the championship, then swept both Indy Lights races from the pole in 2016. So it was perhaps fitting that they should share the spoils this weekend.
Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., the youngest driver in the field at 17, seemed set to claim a slice of the action when he qualified on pole, then snatched back the advantage for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing despite being passed in opportunistic style on the opening lap by teammate Jamin, who had started third. But one lap after redressing the balance, Herta lost control at the tricky Turn Nine and spun to the back of the field.
Jamin regained the point and was never again headed during the 38-lap race, although he was made to work hard by Urrutia. The Uruguayan trailed by as much as 2.7 seconds at the mid-point of the race, before laying down a series of quick laps to gradually reduce the deficit. By the time he posted the fastest lap of the race on Lap 30, Urrutia had closed to within just a few car lengths, but Jamin upped his pace in response and was able to maintain a slender advantage to the finish line to secure his third win of the season and his first since the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course in May.
Blackstock, who started fifth, made a good start to depose Zachary Claman DeMelo (Carlin), then moved up to third following Herta’s uncharacteristic mistake. DeMelo remained hot on his heels throughout, but Blackstock made not the hint of a mistake.
Argentinean rookie Nicolas Dapero ran fifth during the early stages for Juncos Racing before making a mistake and falling behind Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing). Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 12th and looked secure in fifth until the final laps when Herta closed in after a tremendous drive back through the field from 12th following his early error.
Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), from Aurora, Ohio, fell from sixth on the grid to ninth in the opening laps before righting the ship and then passing Dapero for seventh on the final lap.
Garth Rickards (Carlin), from Mechanicsburg, Pa., retired early but gained some consolation in the form of the Staubli Award.
Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), from Santa Clara, Calif., lost a golden opportunity to put the championship virtually out of reach of his rivals when an attempt to pass Colombian Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) at Turn Five went awry on Lap 13. Kaiser eventually finished a lap down in 12th, although he still holds a healthy 42-point advantage over Herta and Urrutia, who are now tied for second. Matheus Leist (Carlin), who finished 10th, DeMelo and Jamin also are within 13 points of second place heading into the final two races at Gateway Motorsports Park (August 26) and Watkins Glen International (September 3).
In the Team Championship, Andretti Autosport has slipped into the lead by 343 points to the 335 of defending champion and erstwhile leader Carlin, with Belardi Auto Racing also firmly in contention on 327.
Nico Jamin (#27 DuraMAX Powered by RelaDyne Mazda-Andretti Autosport ): “I screamed on the radio (because) I was so happy. The whole 27 team has been struggling so to be first and third this weekend and coming back a bit in the championship feels really good. The track was extremely slippery so my car was all over the place for the first two or three laps, but it was the same for everyone. I knew I had to make it happen at the start so my plan was to be in the lead after Turn Four. I made a great start, right on Colton’s gearbox, and was able to get by. He used his push-to-pass to get back by on the next lap and I thought ‘this is going to be a fun race’ because I thought we’d be going after each other all race long. He made a mistake and I took the lead, but I knew it would be a long race with Santi pushing me like crazy. We raced hard but clean so congrats to them.”
Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM): “Starting on the outside is difficult and Nico got around me. My car was pretty loose but got better and better as the race went on. I used my push-to-pass on the last few laps and got around him on the back straight but he defended really well. The Belardi team has been working so hard and this was the first weekend we put everything together with me, Shelby and Aaron doing really well. It was a good weekend in the championship for us, with the win yesterday and second today and Kaiser down in the standings. The championship is difficult but all we can do is win so we’ll go to the next race with that plan. If we win the last two races, then we wait for the result.”
Shelby Blackstock (#51 Starstruck-Belardi Auto Racing): “I like this place. It’s a driver’s track – very technical and fast. I’ve always done well here, always been top-five unless we had an ‘uh-oh’ kind of day. We came off the truck in good shape this weekend and it was great for the entire team for Santi and me to be on the podium and with Aaron just behind. I had a good start but was pressured the entire time by Zach, which made for a tough day.”