From the get-go, my concept for the ‘Star of the Race’ segment on the ‘Insider’ was to highlight the best performance outside that of the winner. Oftentimes, the ‘winning’ performance is accomplished by simply qualifying on the pole, because with no challenge coming from behind, the effort needed to the win loses ‘star-power’ in terms of being that overly impressive. As such, I like to go deeper into the field to find a driver who stood out and made things happen.
In looking at the recent Freedom 100, Carlin’s Matheus Leist certainly got the job done in qualifying. The impressive nature of his stunning track-record lap which kicked off his pole-setting two-lap qualifying run is heightened when you take into consideration the rain that washed away both morning practice sessions that were on the schedule for Thursday. Yes, all of the drivers and teams had put in a full day of testing on the previous Monday, but we’d arrived at the actual official event days and the pressure was on. Even with the pressure, Leist blew away the competition on sheer pace, as he was 0.5 mph quicker than Andretti-Steinbrenner’s Colton Herta, albeit with Herta’s half spin as he entered the track for his qualifying run. Carlin certainly gave him a hot rod.
Leist took control early in the race, while contact between Herta and his Andretti teammate Dalton Kellett on the opening lap eliminated the one driver who might have had something for the young Brazilian.
In the past two editions of the Freedom 100, which were run with the Dallara IL-15, we saw that no one could lead unchallenged and that multiple overtakes upfront increased the need for in-race strategy. This year was the complete opposite, as Leist’s package was simply unbeatable. I believe that qualifying on pole allowed his car to be a little more trimmed out, as Matheus was not expecting to have to come through the pack, where more downforce is required. The combination of a great set-up, massive straight-line speed, and a very talented driver proved to be the ticket.
All of this plays back to my initial point that it’s difficult to simply throw the ‘Star of the Race’ honors on the winner. Again, Leist did a tremendous job holding off all challengers, but he definitely had the car to make it happen.
As such, my Star of the Race is Aaron Telitz.
The Belardi Auto Racing rookie started sixth and worked his way to the front, making stellar passes on both the outside and the inside to get himself into a position to challenge for the win. Telitz dispensed of Alberico and then Claman DeMelo, before chasing down and passing Kellett. He then went to work reeling in the leader, and put in one massive lap during which he threw down two outside overtaking attempts on Leist for the win. While he came up short, he made it exciting in the process.
That lap around the outside of the 2.5-mile IMS oval, definitely the long way around, allowed Kellett to get a run and go back to second. But, Kellett laid it all on the line as well trying to catch Leist on the final lap, touching the curbing inside turn four. He needed to get out of the throttle to make the exit, and Telitz was there to capitalize, drafting behind Dalton to the line before jumping out to the right to steal the runner-up spot.
This was the best we’ve seen Telitz run since his dominant opening round win at St. Petersburg, and I think that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
2017 Insider Star of the Race Selections:
St Pete – Round 1: No selection
St. Pete – Round 2: No selection
Barber – Round 1: Nico Jamin
Barber – Round 2: Nico Dapero
Indy GP – Round 1: Zachary Claman DeMelo
Indy GP – Round 2: Matheus Leist
Freedom 100: Aaron Telitz