By Road to Indy
PORTLAND, Ore. – After yesterday clinching the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship – and a scholarship valued at $1M to step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2019 – Patricio O’Ward said this morning he was planning to have some fun in today’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Portland Powered by Mazda. Indeed he did.
The 19-year-old rookie from Monterey, Mexico, profited from an opening lap melee at the Festival Curves chicane to move from seventh on the grid to third, and made two superlative passes to move into the lead on Lap 18. He then reeled off three consecutive fastest laps of the race to streak clear of the field and secure his ninth win of the season for Andretti Autosport.
Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., matched his best result of the season with second, as Belardi Auto Racing teammate Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, completed the podium in third.
O’Ward was obliged to start from seventh on the grid for the 17th and final race of the season following an incident in qualifying yesterday morning. He didn’t stay there for long. After a crazy opening few hundred yards which saw virtually the entire field fan out across the wide main straightaway that leads into the tight Festival Curves chicane, the ensuing carnage was rather predictable.
Andretti Autosport’s first-time polesitter Ryan Norman found himself under siege from both Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) and Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) at the apex of Turn One, which left Andretti’s Dalton Kellett with no option but to straight-line the chicane. Unbeknownst to him, an advertising hoarding had been held in place by some sand bags, which he hit at virtually unabated speed, causing his Dallara-Mazda IL-15 to rear into the air and tear off its front wing.
Kellett rejoined at the back of the field, several laps down, but the unfortunate Norman – who last week claimed his first career win at Gateway – was eliminated due to contact.
Urrutia actually led the field for an instant, but a more circumspect approach by teammate Telitz, who had qualified second, allowed him to make a better exit to Turn Two and sneak into the lead, with O’Ward somehow emerging from the chaos in third.
After a few laps of cleanup behind the Mazda Pace Car, Telitz took off into the lead (for the first time this season), with Urrutia, O’Ward, Franzoni and Herta all charging along behind in a high-speed five-car train.
Urrutia made a nice pass for the lead at the Festival Curves on Lap Nine, with O’Ward also finding a way past the erstwhile leader next time around. The newly crowned champion stalked Urrutia for the next seven laps before faking to the outside and then diving to his right at the last possible moment to snatch away the lead under braking for Turn One. It was a textbook maneuver. O’Ward then checked out to end his season in style. He also claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Telitz redressed the balance over Urrutia with a neat pass into Turn One on lap 25 to make second place his own. A little farther back, Franzoni made a bold attempt to pass Herta in Turn Seven but succeeded only in taking both cars off the racing surface. He was instructed by Race Control to give back the position, and duly did so. The closing stages of a thrilling race were enlivened as both Herta and Franzoni closed in on Urrutia as the trio crossed the finish line less than a second apart.
After capping his impressive year in emphatic style, O’Ward will have another opportunity to celebrate tomorrow evening when he will take home the lion’s share of the honors at the traditional Mazda Road to Indy Championship Celebration awards banquet.
Patricio O’Ward (#27 CDMX Mexico City Stellrecht Mazda-Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I wanted this win! It’s the only race in my life where I won’t have any pressure. I wanted to end my Indy Lights career in style and be out there doing donuts. I knew that was going to happen at the start, and I can’t wait to see my onboard camera. I saw six cars go in and I figured maybe two would come out, and sure enough, we were third at the end of that. I just picked them off one by one, though Santi made it really hard, but I knew I could run away with it.
“But nine wins and nine poles, wow. I told my dad at the beginning of the season that I wanted 10 wins and 10 poles, but I was kind of joking. But I came one short, so I’m speechless. I’m so proud of this team, I had an absolute bullet of a car.
“This means so much to me, because I will be the last Mazda champion on the highest level of the Mazda Road to Indy. It’s super special and I’m grateful for the opportunity – without them, I wouldn’t be going into the IndyCar series next year.”
Aaron Telitz (#9 Rice Lake Weighing Systems-Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL1-5): “It was an insane start. I saw everyone locking up tires on the inside, so I let them all run into each other, just picked up the pieces and came out of there in first place. Santi was able to use a few shots of push-to-pass to get by me and that slowed me up enough to let Pato get a run on me. I don’t think anyone had a car to beat Pato, he was in another league. But this is the toughest season I’ve ever had, so to end up on the podium is a good way to end the season for me.”
Santiago Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I was planning that start from yesterday, to try to go on the inside. It worked, except that I locked up the brakes on cold tires. During the race, I just didn’t have the speed and I had a lot of understeer, so to finish on the podium is good. It’s been hard: I’ve been in Indy Lights for three years and haven’t been able to win the championship but I’m happy to finish on the season-ending podium for all my sponsors and for the team. Congratulations to Andretti and Pato, they truly dominated this year. I’m hoping I can put something together and join them in IndyCar next year.”