Pato O’Ward’s early pass of pole-sitter Colton Herta proved to be the difference as the Andretti Autosport driver and took the championship lead with a victory in the first of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
The day began with an intense qualifying session which saw O’Ward on top of the timing charts for the opening stages before Herta used his second fresh set of Cooper tires to eclipse the young Mexican and earn his eighth Indy Lights pole position for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing.
O’Ward took the lead from teammate Herta in the opening lap before Dalton Kellett brought out the caution with a spin behind the leaders in Turn 3. While he was able to continue, he collected Belardi Auto Racing’s Aaron Telitz, causing terminal suspension damage and forcing Telitz out of his third straight race on the opening lap.
“I got nothing,” said Telitz, who has been working tenaciously to raise funds to replace the IL15 that crashed at St. Petersburg. “This was another incident just like the start of Race 2 at St. Pete where it had nothing to do with me.”
“Dalton was on new tires, threw it up the inside of Turn 1, ran me off the racetrack into the grass and then he goes and spins out ahead of me in Turns 2 and 3 and nowhere I can go, so that was awesome,” he continued sarcastically.
“That’s all that matters right now is winning races, that’s pretty much it right now.”
O’Ward resumed with the lead on the restart, and despite locking his brakes with 11 laps to go and giving Herta some daylight, was able to hold off his teammate and cross the finish line 1.3247 ahead.
“It was definitely a handful,” said O’Ward, who earned his second win of the season and now holds a one-point lead over Santi Urrutia in the standings. “We went a little aggressive on the setup because I was having a lot of problems during qualifying about understeer. But man, that was I think one of the races where I had to keep myself together for the whole time. Colton was right on my tail, I knew he was faster.
“I tried to keep it on the track; I kinda went on the grass a little bit. The hardest thing on these Indy Lights cars is keeping the rear tires under you, and this race was definitely one of them where you had to be super, super smooth on throttle, and you know all those things where everything you know you have to put it to the test. But I’m really happy for the win.”
“I thought I had a good gap going into the braking zone in Turn 5 and that was just enough to let Pato come up the inside, and I couldn’t defend – and that was pretty much it,” Herta said of O’Ward’s early pass for the lead.
“[The race] was challenging in its own way, trying to stay in contact with Pato in case he made a mistake, but he didn’t. The championship is in the back of your mind all the time, but you can’t bring it to the front because that’s when you make mistakes. We just need to get wins and put points on the board. To win the championship, you’re going to have to finish on the podium every race.”
Belardi’s Urrutia finished third, followed by Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni in fourth, who held off a hard-charging Ryan Norman by four-tenths of a second.
Kellett finished sixth and Alfonso Celis finished all 30 laps and came home seventh in his series debut with Juncos.
Qualifying for the fourth Indy Lights race of the season begins Sunday at 8:00 a.m. CT, with the green flag set for noon, immediately prior to the Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series race. NBCSN will air Sunday’s Indy Lights race on Monday, April 23, following the NHL Playoffs.