PALMETTO, Fla. – Uruguayan Santiago Urrutia holds a slender 16-point edge over Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones as the premier level of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires heads to the Watkins Glen Int’l road course for the penultimate weekend in this year’s hotly contested Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase.
Englishman Dean Stoneman, Puerto Rican Felix Serralles, Californian Kyle Kaiser and Ohioan Zach Veach also are within 52 points of Urrutia. At stake is a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million, which will ensure the champion a guaranteed three races in next year’s Verizon IndyCar Series, including the 101st Indianapolis 500.
Just three races remain – one this Saturday at Watkins Glen, followed by two more at the “Soul Red Finale” one week later at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, Calif., which will host the conclusion of all three levels of the acclaimed ladder system (Indy Lights, plus the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda). A maximum haul of 99 points is available.
This will mark the series’ first visit to Watkins Glen since 2010 and, intriguingly, race winners in each of the last four visits to the scenic, fast, extremely challenging and recently repaved road course have gone on to win the Indy Lights championship – Alex Lloyd in 2007, Raphael Matos (‘08), J.R. Hildebrand (‘09) and Jean-Karl “JK” Vernay (‘10).
Urrutia, who won the 2015 Pro Mazda title and celebrates his 20th birthday today (August 30), grasped the advantage following a sweep of the two most recent races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He is looking to follow in the footsteps of American Spencer Pigot, who won the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights crowns in consecutive years, 2014 and 2015, and this weekend will be driving for Ed Carpenter Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event.
“Winning the Pro Mazda title gave me the chance, with Mazda and Cooper Tires, to be in Indy Lights this year,” noted Urrutia, who has a season-high four race wins to his credit with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. “Now, I want to win the Indy Lights championship and, as a team, we are working hard toward that goal. I can’t afford to make any mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning of the season that cost us a lot of points. Ed Jones is very consistent, he’s always there so I have to be in a position to take points away from him.”
“There is so much at stake here – if I win the championship, I will be in IndyCar next year. There are only three races left, so every race is a like a finale, and we must finish on the podium. We can’t look at what anyone else is doing; we have to focus on our car and our championship.”
Jones, 21, who recently tested an Indy car at Watkins Glen with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has won twice this season for the British Carlin team and held a commanding lead in the points table until experiencing a difficult weekend at Mid-Ohio.
“The championship is the goal, but I have to go very strong in the last three races,” said Jones. “If I can be the best in those races, that’s all I can control.”
Stoneman, who also tested an Indy car recently at Watkins Glen, along with his Andretti Autosport teammates Shelby Blackstock and Dalton Kellett, trails Urrutia by 25 points, while Serralles (Carlin) lies 42 points in arrears. Both have two wins to their credit this season.
Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), who have won once apiece, trail Urrutia by 49 and 52 points respectively.
CREDIT: Andersen Promotions