By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
After winning the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires for Team Pelfrey, Santiago Urrutia moved up to the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with the Soul Red Mazda scheme. Here is a look back at his 2016 campaign.
The start of the Uruguayan’s season was a complete roller coaster as over the first five races, it was one good race followed by a bad race. At St. Petersburg, Urrutia finished fourth in the first race of the season but a pit stop for a wing change in the second race dropped him to thirteenth by the end.
In Phoenix, the SPM driver managed to secure fourth on the first oval race of the season, but Barber Motorsports Park would be a track of mixed fortunes for the then 19-year-old.
At the first race in Alabama, Urrutia had contact with Belardi Auto Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and a drive-thru penalty dropped him down to 11th at the finish. However, the second race on Monday would give SPM their first victory of the season after an aggressive move on Carlin’s Ed Jones at Turn 5.
The month of May would be one of mixed fortunes for Urrutia. A pair of seconds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s permanent road course came after incredible battles with Dean Stoneman but during the Freedom 100, a mid-race spin would drop the Soul Red entry to 14th.
Road America would be another roller coaster weekend for Urrutia. After missing his braking point into Turn 5 on the first lap after being squeezed to the outside of the track by Stoneman, the No. 55 BSE entry would go off track and lose several positions, eventually finishing ninth. However, the second round at Road America would be much better for Urrutia as his championship rivals got into trouble, allowing him to pick up the victory and several critical points.
The last oval race of the season was decent for Urrutia as he managed to secure a top five finish at Iowa Speedway, continuing a top five streak that would run for six races. At Toronto, a pair of fourths would reward Urrutia with a closing points gap as points leader Jones was sixth and fifth. However, Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen would be major championship turning points.
Urrutia would earn a Soul Red Mazda sweep at Mid-Ohio as he won both races and earned the championship lead. His cause was helped as Jones finished sixth in the first race at Mid-Ohio while in the second race, Jones had a crash. However, Watkins Glen would deal a critical blow to Urrutia’s championship aspirations.
A flat tire is never a good thing to have in a race and it’s not good to have when you’re leading the championship with three races to go, but that’s what happened to Urrutia and it dropped him down to 16th at the finish. What made this an even more devastating occasion for him was that it dropped his points lead down to one point.
The Soul Red finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca started off well for the Uruguayan as he finished fifth in the first race of the weekend, but the final race of the season was devastating. Although he finished second, Urrutia was tied on points with Jones heading into the last lap of the race and would win the championship based on the tiebreaker for number of wins. Jones was in fifth at the time behind teammate Felix Serralles, who let Jones by and on to win the Indy Lights championship over Urrutia by two points.
Urrutia did an admirable job for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and I expect to see him back in Indy Lights next year. He has an incredible online presence in his home country and continuing Gonzalo Rodriguez’s legacy in motorsports is motivation enough for the Montevideo native.