Patricio O’Ward and Andretti Autosport tightened their grip on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship – and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500 – during a weekend of perfection at the Cooper Tires Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Powered by Mazda.
O’Ward, 19, this afternoon held off a race-long challenge from championship rival and teammate Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) to secure his seventh win of the season.
Herta finished second for the second day in succession for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, despite driving with a broken left thumb sustained in a crash two weeks earlier. Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, thrilled his hometown crowd by completing another podium sweep for Andretti Autosport.
O’Ward made another strong start from his eighth pole position of the season to hold a commanding lead over outside front row starter Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing) by the completion of the opening lap around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The margin over second had grown to over three seconds by the time Herta found a way past Telitz’s wayward-handling machine after just two laps, although that margin was eradicated at a stroke on Lap 10 by a full–course caution after Telitz was nudged into a spin by Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) in Turn 5.
Telitz resumed a lap behind, while Franzoni was obliged by the race officials to serve a drive-through penalty for his part in the incident.
Herta never relented in his pursuit of O’Ward after the restart. Twice he took advantage of his Mazda/AER engine’s push-to-pass feature to draw alongside the Mexican on the main straightaway that leads downhill toward Turn 4, but on each occasion O’Ward was able to maintain his lead. After a slight slip by Herta in Turn 9 with three laps remaining, O’Ward was able to edge clear and take the win by a margin of 4.3680 seconds.
“My plan was to get out to at least a two-second lead so the guys behind me couldn’t use the push-to-pass,” O’Ward said. “But then the yellow came out so once Colton could engage it, he was able to stay behind me. I just had to stay in front and try to make him use all of them early. He got close to me once but I made sure I was fast in Turns 1 and 2, because that’s really the only place you can pass. At that point, it’s about keeping everything focused and tidy.
“I did have a mistake early, locking it up in Turn 2, so I was just hoping I hadn’t damaged the tires. I’m happy to get the sweep, it’s great momentum for the championship.”
Telitz’s teammate, Santiago “Santi” Urrutia ran third but couldn’t hold a candle to the two Andretti cars ahead of him. Nor could he hold off the attentions of Norman, who started seventh but made good progress as he found a way past teammate Dalton Kellett on Lap 5, then was elevated two more positions following Telitz’s assisted spin and Franzoni’s penalty.
Norman stalked Urrutia doggedly before using the push-to-pass and making his move for third even before the braking area for Turn 4 on Lap 20. Norman then drove away from Urrutia to confirm his third podium – and his third Tilton Hard Charger Award – of the season.
The weekend’s double victory for Andretti Autosport was enough to clinch the Team Championship over Belardi Auto Racing with just three races remaining.
The driver’s championship remains up for grabs, with O’Ward and Herta separated by 32 points, 395-363, as the contenders head to the third and final oval race of the season at Gateway Motorsports Park on August 25.