INDIANAPOLIS – Santi Urrutia came into Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires this year as one of the favorites for the championship, after finishing an agonizingly close second in 2016.
But his title aspirations were dealt a blow in November, when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with which he had signed a two-year contract, announced its withdrawal from the series.
Enter Belardi Auto Racing, which with help from SPM, honored the second year of Urrutia’s contract and set him back on track.
The team experienced its share of growing pains early on, with Urrutia capturing only two podium finishes in the first seven races. But they have roared back in the second half, taking four podiums and a victory in the last six events to put Urrutia 42 points back of title leader Kyle Kaiser with two races remaining.
That the 20-year-old Uruguayan not only survived, but thrived under the tutelage of Brian Belardi’s eponymous team is a testament not only to the team’s championship pedigree, but to Urrutia’s passion and determination to reach his goal: the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Urrutia appreciates the chance the 2014 champions gave him to return to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires this year.
“It was difficult at the beginning,” Urrutia acknowledged.” I wanted to do my second year with Schmidt but Brian gave me a chance to race with his team and that was big. He believes in me and helped me race with them. Everything was new in the beginning since I didn’t know anyone on the team. As soon as I adapted to the way they work, everything was okay.”
Not only was the team new, but so were the teammates, sophomore Shelby Blackstock and rookie Aaron Telitz, who succeeded Urrutia by winning the Pro Mazda championship last season.
Telitz scored the first victory of the season but it took the team chemistry a bit longer to get off the ground, though becoming accustomed to the atmosphere in the United States also has demanded some adaptation for the intense young driver.
“Just like with the mechanics and engineers, it took a while for us to figure it out, but once we did, it really worked. Shelby and Aaron are really good guys. We go out to dinner and talk not just about motorsports but about life. It’s gotten stronger all season and I’m really glad to have them as teammates,” said Urrutia. “We help each other make the cars quicker.”
“Coming from Europe, where the atmosphere is colder, you don’t have relationships with other teams or other drivers. It took me a little while to understand how it is here in America but now I realize how friendly it is, that you can talk to other drivers. I know people still call me ice man here, probably because I don’t smile so much, but when I win, I’m happy.”
Continued on the next page…