By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The final step of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires has offered some fantastic racing over the past few years. The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires has seen some close finishes and tighter action with its fair share of dicing passes and chaos behind the wheel.
Drivers are looking to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series with the Mazda scholarship award and a few drivers look like they’re on the right track to do just that.
Telitz raced in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda in 2014 and 2015 before moving to the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2016. The Wisconsin native won the Pro Mazda title to earn the right to wear the Soul Red Mazda livery in 2017 in Indy Lights, which he will do for Belardi Auto Racing.
Why he will win the title: Telitz came on strong as the season progressed last year and shows that he doesn’t give up easily, even when the chips are stacked against him. Even when Pato O’Ward was running away from the field in the early part of the season, Telitz stuck with it and had a monster second half of the year to win the title.
Why he won’t win the title: Pro Mazda in 2016 had a very light field to put it mildly. Granted, Telitz still had to do the job, but with O’Ward and Nico Jamin being his only real competition, Telitz just needed to continue doing what he was doing and he would win. Indy Lights will be a whole other ball game.
The Uruguayan won the 2015 Pro Mazda title for Team Pelfrey before moving to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 2016 Indy Lights season. Although Urrutia won four races, he finished second in the championship to Carlin’s Ed Jones after Jones’ teammate Felix Serralles let him by on the last lap of the season to win the championship by two points.
Why he will win the title: With a year of experience in Indy Lights behind him, Urrutia has a much better understanding of the car and might not make as many mistakes.
Why he won’t win the title: Desperate for the championship after losing it in the last race last year might cause Urrutia to drive with more urgency and with it, more risks and might throw away valuable points similar to last season.
The son of Indianapolis 500-winning team owner Bryan Herta returns to race in the U.S. after spending the last few seasons honing his craft in Europe. After a successful test at Homestead with the team, he is looking forward to leading a four car Andretti Autosport effort with a partnership of Steinbrenner Racing.
Why he will win the title: The kid’s got it. He won in a very competitive British F4 championship in 2015 and Spanish F3 in 2016 and after racing overseas, he’ll be ready to do very well in America.
Why he won’t win the title: He hasn’t raced on an oval since Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000 in 2014. Ovals are three rounds of the championship and with every point counting, Herta will need to get up to speed very quickly on ovals if he is to win the championship.
The 2015 USF2000 champion struggled to adapt his driving style to the Pro Mazda car for 2016, but Jamin was able to win two races en route to third in the championship, ending the season with eight consecutive top four finishes.
Why he will win the title: Jamin has been near the top of the time sheets in almost every session and his game will be raised by having a stellar group of teammates around him.
Why he won’t win the title: Jamin’s confidence might have taken a step back from not getting fully used to the Pro Mazda car, which can work against him. However, a win or two at St. Petersburg might start a run that will be unstoppable.
Kaiser is in his third year of Indy Lights and will be looking to finally win the Mazda scholarship award to advance to IndyCar. Kaiser won at Phoenix and Laguna Seca but a mid-season ‘slump’ dropped him to third in points after starting the year with three straight podiums.
Why he will win the title: Kaiser has more experience in this car than almost any other driver except for Juan Piedrahita and Shelby Blackstock but has one thing both of those drivers don’t have: race wins in the IL-15.
Why he won’t win the title: Kaiser has had some inconsistencies behind the wheel. A first lap incident at Long Beach in 2015 did him no favors with Jack Harvey and another early incident in the Freedom 100 have hurt him in the past, but Kaiser will need to put that behind him to win the championship this time around.