08.03.17 – Although the track is well-liked in the paddock and the IndyCar event is a huge fan favorite on the schedule, the wheel-to-wheel racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is never overly thrilling. It’s a tough place to pass, especially when you consider that the primary overtaking opportunity is at the end of a long straightaway that is fed by a downhill, off-camber hairpin. Aero-push is very prevalent in the MRTI cars at all levels, and when a driver is close enough to challenge, the loss of front downforce is significant and the resultant mid-corner understeer in the Keyhole makes it truly tough to get a run on the car in front. Thankfully, the Indy Lights enjoy and fully leverage their 50 hp push-to-pass boost, which provides us with some action in Turn 4. This characteristic of the track piles a great deal of importance on qualifying, and for the most part, the races don’t see a tremendous amount of overtaking.
I’ve selected Belardi Auto Racing’s Santiago Urrutia as the Star of the Race for the opening Indy Lights race, based primary on his ability to lay down a big performance when absolutely necessary. Coming into Mid-Ohio, Urrutia knew that he needed to win and he also knew that he’s been very strong at the venue in the past, winning in both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. It was time to capitalize on that fact. Still teamed with the same engineer who he won at Mid-Ohio with in 2016 – Tiff Neff – the pressure was on and Urrutia delivered, qualifying on pole and holding back the multiple challenges of Andretti Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta. Santi had no choice but to win to remain in mathematical contention for the championship, and he produced the result that was required. He came back on Sunday and took second, and I’ll give him props for making one aggressive bid to pass Andretti Autosport’s Nico Jamin for the win, and then settling in for second. I thought it was a very mature drive for the young pilot from Uruguay. Honorable mention goes to Belardi’s Shelby Blackstock, who laid down the fast time of the race enroute to fourth. With a podium finish in third on Sunday, this was the finest Indy Lights weekend of Blackstock’s career.
In Race 2, Belardi’s Aaron Telitz was impressive. Starting 11th, he drove his way up to fifth, avoiding early race chaos. A mid-race physical issue with his back made the final laps virtually unbearable, but he soldiered on through the immense pain to a strong result. Aaron’s six-position advancement was the most of any Indy Lights driver during the weekend. The next closest was just three positions, by Carlin drivers Neil Alberico and Matheus Leist in Race 1. Jamin is well-deserving on the Honorable Mention in Race 2, rebounding from a rough stretch to win after finishing third on Saturday. Nico had to fight to hold off Urrutia in the late stages of the race, which made for an exciting finish.
We started the Pro Mazda tripleheader with a flat-out battle between Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin and Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni, the two drivers fighting for the title. Martin qualified second and he has Franzoni quickly got past Team Pelfrey’s Carlos Cuhha for the lead, and the fight was on. Martin needed a flawless race to keep Franzoni at bay, and he produced one, hitting his marks to score the win, which gives him my Star of the Race for the first head-to-head scrap of the weekend.
For Race 2, I’m giving the Star of the Race nod to National class driver Bob Kaminsky, who swept the weekend in the sub-category for drivers 20-years-of-age and older. At 54, Kaminsky is more than qualified for the class, but he’s always impressively quick and consistent. After qualifying 10th, he drove to seventh overall to win the class and he also turned a fast lap quicker than four of the Championship class drivers.
Martin turned in a stellar performance in Race 3, dominating the action, but the Star of the Race belongs to World Speed Motorsports’ Sting Ray Robb for delivering his breakout run of the year. I’ve kept a close watch on Sting Ray all season, as he made the big jump from the FormulaSpeed 2.0 series at Sonoma in to Pro Mazda this year. It was a major step, and unlike others in the field who have learned the tracks on the circuit through their time in USF2000, it’s been a steep learning curve for Robb each race. The Idaho driver started sixth, and hounded Nikita Lastochkin during the early going and then passed him on the outside of Turn 5, which is not easy to do. He then turned up the wick and, over the final laps, he was quicker than everyone else in the top-five other than Martin.
The opening race of the USF2000 doubleheader featured some good racing upfront, but a driver to watch was Exclusive Autosport’s Dev Gore, who turned in his best run of the year. Gore started 18th and finished 10th. He handled both the initial start and the mid-race restart nicely to advance positions, and he passed cars during green flag running as well. It’s been a tough season for the St. Pete resident, but things really came together at Mid-Ohio. David Malukas deserves Honorable Mention for his Race 1 drive from 17th to sixth, but that would not have been needed had the team not elected to keep him in the pit during the early part of the qualifying session. The multiple red flags caught them out and David could never get in a clean, fats lap. Nonetheless, he performed well coming back through the field.
Although passing isn’t easy at Mid-Ohio, the first lap is always thrilling and Team Pelfrey’s Kaylen Frederick certainly filled the highlight reel through the opening circuit. Kaylen got past DE Force’s Andres Gutierrez in the Keyhole and then slipped inside Pabst Racing’s Calvin Ming at the end of the straightaway to sit fifth. Frederick was a monster through the opening laps, dropping Askew to fifth during the second run through Turn 4 before moving to third in the same corner, out-braking Pabst Racing’s Lucas Kohl to the apex. The 15-year-old challenged Rinus VeeKay for second after the late-race restart, but had to settle for an impressive third, which earned him my Star of the Race.