Iowa oval kicks off busy month for Indy Lights contenders

Iowa oval kicks off busy month for Indy Lights contenders

Road to Indy

Iowa oval kicks off busy month for Indy Lights contenders

July is likely to be crucial to the outcome of this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title chase. Five races will be held during the month on three markedly different tracks, starting with Sunday’s Mazda Iowa 100 at the fast and challenging 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway oval. This will mark the second of three oval events during the 17-race season.

Up for grabs is a scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee the season’s champion an entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Second-generation racer Colton Herta currently leads the standings for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Herta, 18, from Valencia, Calif., has finished on the podium in all but one of the nine races held so far this season, including a hard-fought victory in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His sequence of four consecutive victories was ended by Brazilian Victor Franzoni in the most recent race at Road America, but Herta retains a 17-point edge in the standings as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bryan Herta, who won the Indy Lights title a quarter-century ago in 1993.

Herta finished fourth last year at Iowa after qualifying on pole position at a new two-lap track record average speed of 163.670mph.

Andretti Autosport teammate Patricio O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, holds second place in the championship after winning three of the opening four races. O’Ward also notched a second-place finish at Indianapolis.

“Last time I raced at this track was in 2015 in the Pro Mazda series and I finished on the podium, so I’m looking to move up two spots better this time around and getting my first oval win of this season,” said O’Ward.

Teammates Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett also are confident of running strongly. Norman qualified a career-best third and finished fifth at Indianapolis, while Kellett took third after recording his first-ever pole position. Kellett also finished third at Iowa in 2017.

“Last year’s race was a lot of fun,” said Canada’s Kellett, who also posted the fastest lap of the race. “We saw different cars taking various lines through the corners and I think that made the action enjoyable for the fans so this will definitely be a race to watch this year. Judging off of our pace last year I’m looking forward to starting this weekend off strong and having a good qualifying effort and seeing what we can do in the race.”

Belardi Auto Racing will enter its usual pair of Dallara-Mazda IL-15s for Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz. Urrutia finished a strong second at Iowa last year and will be looking to rediscover the form that saw him finish on the podium in four of the first five races this season, while Telitz is chasing his first win of the year after standing on the podium in four of the most recent five races.

Franzoni (Juncos Racing), who was out of luck at Indianapolis, forced to pit with a puncture after running strongly in the opening stages, also has high expectations after scoring an emotional first Indy Lights win at Road America.

“I am really looking forward to the race in Iowa,” said the Brazilian. “After the win, I think we can carry this momentum forward for the final half of the season. We were super fast in the Freedom 100, so I am sure we will be fast at Iowa. The team has done a great job finding set ups on the ovals and I enjoy running on them as well so it will be a good weekend. Iowa is a difficult track but it is also a fun track.”

A single 45-minute practice starting at 1:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday will be the only opportunity to prepare for single-car qualifying at 5:00 p.m., while the green flag for the race is set for 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, immediately prior to the Iowa Corn 300 Verizon IndyCar Series headline event.

Sunday’s Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires will have same-day coverage on NBCSN with the race airing at 11:00 pm EDT.

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