Colton Herta leapt back into the Indy Lights championship conversation with a commanding win on the IMS road course on Friday, the first of two races that comprise this weekend’s Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.
Herta started from second on the grid, but fell to fifth at the first corner when he was forced wide to avoid pole-sitter Pato O’Ward, who’d been tagged from behind by Victor Franzoni.
He gradually worked his way back through, and took the lead from Santi Urritia with a spectacular move around the outside at Turn 1. That was the last anyone saw of him for the rest of the race, and he crossed the line 5.1s clear of the Uruguayan.
“There is so much nostalgia here and it means so much – not just to me and my family, but to everyone who ever watched the Indy 500,” Herta said. “It’s amazing, it’s what you work for and strive for as a kid. To win this means so much, but I still hope to kiss the bricks at the end of the month!
“It was pretty crazy at the start when Victor got into Pato and knocked us both wide and I wasn’t happy about that. I knew I had a good race car and that I could carve my way back up the field and get a podium but honestly, I didn’t think a win was possible. Santi and Aaron [Telitz] are good at defending and we were so far behind. I locked up a few times getting around Pato – we have respect for each other and we give each other room, so it’s fun to race close like that. It would have been a good battle for the win. I actually thought I touched Santi but I was glad to get around.”
With Herta having disappeared, Urrutia’s focus became the threat being posed by Aaron Telitz; the pair finally separated by just 0.5s after a scrap that lasted several laps.
“It’s tough,” Urrutia admitted. “The Andretti guys are quick and we’re right there, but we just need that last piece. I want to win, and I was close today, but Colton was quicker. We got good points and if we catch Pato in the championship, it will be fine.
“We gained a lot on the start, taking advantage of the incident. The car was good in the beginning but I was running less downforce so that didn’t help in the middle of the race. We’ll fix that for tomorrow.”
For Telitz, third was another positive step after a brutal start to the season.
“We’ve been making progress ever since we had our terrible luck at St. Pete,”he said. “We’re fast here – we had a good car, though not as good as Colton’s, but I got stuck behind Santi. It’s hard to battle your teammate that hard, but we both know that if we crashed, we would have to go back to [team manager] John Brunner and explain, and that’s the worst person to come back to if you do something dumb like that, so I wasn’t going to force the issue. I’m happy to be on the podium but overall, the feeling is just…okay.”
Most of the action in the seven-car field took place up the front, relegating O’Ward – who was never able to really recover from the opening lap – to the role of frustrated spectator in fourth, where he was mostly occupied with keeping Ryan Norman at bay. A setup gamble by O’Ward and his engineer left him struggling with an unbalanced race car in the heat of the afternoon. He now leads Urrutia by 11 points heading into tomorrow’s sixth round of the 17-race championship.