Monterey, Calif. – Garett Grist scored an accomplished victory for Juncos Racing in this afternoon’s Allied Building Products Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but a second-place finish for Team Pelfrey’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia was enough to clinch the season-long Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The gifted Uruguayan thereby guaranteed himself a $590,000 Mazda Scholarship prize to assist in his graduation to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2016.
Grist, who left it until the final moments of qualifying to clinch the pole position for the penultimate round of the 16-race championship, was much more assertive during this afternoon’s 30-minute race. After a collision among the midfield contenders prior to the green flag ensured that the first four laps were run under caution, Grist took off into the lead and quickly established an appreciable advantage over Juncos Racing teammate Will Owen, who jumped from third on the grid to second. Urrutia slotted into third place ahead of his closest championship rival, Neil Alberico (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing).
As Grist made his escape at the front, also posting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 9, Owen allowed both Urrutia and Alberico to move past on Lap 5 before slotting into fourth place and commencing a race-long battle with teammate Jose Gutierrez.
At that stage, the championship already seemed to be securely in Urrutia’s hands, having claimed the provisional pole position for tomorrow’s final race by virtue of setting the best of each drivers’ second-fastest laps during qualifying. The accompanying bonus point ensured he would have a 33-point margin over Alberico if their positions remained unaltered in the closing stages. Ultimately, though, that became moot when, just two laps from the finish, Alberico spun at the exit of the Corkscrew. His failure to finish ensured that the title was Urrutia’s – 16 years and one day after his countryman and boyhood hero Gonzalo Rodriguez tragically lost his life at Mazda Raceway following an accident during practice for an IndyCar event on September 11, 1999.
The other pre-weekend championship aspirants, Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) and Timothé Buret (Juncos Racing), already were out of the picture. Tan ultimately finished fifth, while Buret took the finish in 11th after serving two drive-through penalties.
The RePlay XD Move of the Race Award went to Raoul Owens (Team Pelfrey) for his pass on Daniel Burkett (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) immediately following the start. Owens, who started 12th, went on to finish seventh. Paralyzed racer Michael Johnson (JDC MotorSports) claimed the Quartermaster Hard Charger Award after climbing from 17th on the 19-car field to an impressive 10th at the finish, equaling his best result from St. Petersburg in 2014. Johnson also took home the Staubli Award. The PFC Award went to the winning car owner, Ricardo Juncos of Juncos Racing.
Juncos Racing extended its lead in the Team Championship to 31 points over Team Pelfrey, with a maximum of 40 points available during tomorrow’s season finale which will start at 11:50 a.m. PDT.
Bobby Eberle claimed the Expert class honors, for drivers over 30 years of age, after finishing 14th for the California-based World Speed Motorsports team.
Santi Urrutia (#81 Ancap/BSE/Antel/Corporacion de Maquinaria/AgroLavalle/Fadisol – Team Pelfrey): “I lost one place on the start until Will put a wheel off in Turn Six. I knew Neil was behind me so I adjusted my pace. It was a good race today, because the goal was to win the championship, not so much the race. It’s very special for me to win here, because we lost the biggest driver from Uruguay here 16 years ago, Gonzalo Rodriguez. I was wearing a helmet like his this weekend and was so happy to win this championship. I am pretty sure Gonzalo was here, pushing me. I can’t explain how happy I am, I can’t believe it. This is not only the result of this year’s work, but past years. I appreciate all the hard work by everyone in Uruguay who helped me and everyone who came and pushed me to win the championship.”
Garett Grist (#5 Lander property Management-Juncos Racing): “It was pretty straightforward. I knew that if I put in consistent laps, I’d be able to pull away. That’s the key here, since the track doesn’t have the most grip. It’s easy to make mistakes. I did make a few mistakes in the middle of the race that let the guys behind me catch up, but other than that, I just had to do consistent laps. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again tomorrow. We’ll start from the front row and try to get another win.”
Pro Mazda Championship