Patricio O’Ward reclaimed the lead in the closely fought Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase following a hard-earned fourth win of the season for Andretti Autosport in this afternoon’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products.
Santiago “Santi” Urrutia took advantage of various dramas during the 35-lap race to finish second for Belardi Auto Racing, while Ryan Norman equaled his career-best result by completing the podium for Andretti Autosport.
“That was one of the hardest races of the season, mentally and physically,” said O’Ward. “I had to be very careful. I saw the rain getting harder and harder, and you never know what to expect. Some corners here are a real risk in the rain. I tried to keep it clean and do everything in my power to keep the car on the track and not make any mistakes. You saw some very good drivers make mistakes, so it was not easy.”
Former points leader Colton Herta extended his advantage by one point after posting the fastest lap during qualifying this morning, only to slide off into the tires in Turn 9 on his final lap. Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR Medical Director, issued the following statement after examining Herta:
“Evaluation of Colton Herta after his incident in Indy Lights qualifying on Saturday morning revealed a non-displaced fracture at the base of his left thumb. Herta was fitted with a splint to appropriately grip the steering wheel and he was cleared to continue racing activities contingent on his ability to tolerate any discomfort it might cause.”
The Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team had the car repaired comfortably in time for the race. A slow getaway by Herta at the green flag saw O’Ward, who started second, leap into the lead. Urrutia, third on the grid, was caught unaware and inadvertently ran into the rear of Herta’s car, which was lifted briefly into the air. Both cars were able to continue after losing several positions.
“I’m not sure what happened on the start, if Colton was watching me and not the start boards, but as soon as I reached the start zone, I went because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” explained O’Ward. “I jumped in front of him and never looked back. I want to win and get poles and stay in the championship lead. A million dollars on the line and every driver wants it. Some guys have nothing to lose and some have a lot to lose, so it’s a give and take. I just have to continue being smart.”
Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing), who started fourth, followed O’Ward at the completion of the first lap, with Norman up to third from sixth ahead of the recovering Herta.
Herta quickly made his way into third, and on Lap 13 also found a way past Telitz into second. At that stage O’Ward’s advantage had grown to a couple of seconds. Herta did his level best to reduce the deficit, posting what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race, a new record of 1m04.4515s (99.759mph), on Lap 19, despite having to drive virtually one-handed.
Eventually, on Lap 23, the unequal struggle caught up with Herta, who lost his grip on the steering wheel as he ran over the curbing at the apex of Turn 5 and then careened heavily into the wall on the exit of the turn. He will be re-evaluated at 7:30 am tomorrow morning to determine his ability to resume racing.
Some spots of rain began to fall as the remaining cars circulated under yellow, which made the track extremely treacherous at the restart, especially on the unforgiving 1.786-mile street circuit’s many concrete patches.
Urrutia grasped an opportunity to slip past teammate Telitz for second place on Lap 29 in Turn 3, only to jump on the throttle at Turn 9with a little too much alacrity a couple of laps later. The spin cost Urrutia only one position, which he promptly regained on the following lap when Victor Franzoni lost control of his Juncos Racing Dallara and crashed at Turn 5.
Norman moved up to third as the race finished under caution, earning his second Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season, while Telitz inherited fourth despite having stopped to change his Dallara’s nosecone which had been damaged as he attempted in vain to fend off Urrutia a few laps earlier.
A separate qualifying session at 9:05 a.m. tomorrow will set the grid for Round 12 of the 16-race season, which will start at 12:25 p.m. ET.