WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Zach Veach went from fifth to first on the opening lap of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race at Watkins Glen International and never looked back en route to his second win of the season on the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
Meanwhile, behind him, the title chase took a big shakeup going into next week’s season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with Santiago Urrutia going off course, then puncturing his left front tire, pitting and falling to last place in the 12-car field.
Coupled with Ed Jones (Carlin) finishing second behind Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), and suddenly Urrutia’s points lead that began the day at 17 points is down to one point leaving the day.
Veach’s run from fifth to first on the opening lap was miraculous, and he was by polesitter Urrutia at the Inner Loop (Bus Stop) after picking off three cars by the exit of Turn 1.
Urrutia’s weekend came unglued by way of not having done any long runs in practice. He hadn’t run very many long stints in practice or qualifying – he’d only done a total of 12 practice laps before qualifying in the two official sessions – and his tires went off as the race went on.
He had held off a train of Jones, Andre Negrao and Kyle Kaiser before it all went away on Lap 15. Jones made it past, then Negrao, and then Kaiser within a two-lap period.
While Urrutia was fifth and at least still moderately in play, when he went off on Lap 19 that was the end of his race chances. He needed to pit, and it dropped him to the rear of the field.
Two other title contenders also needed to pit owing to damage, in Felix Serralles and Dean Stoneman. Stoneman made something out of his race by setting fastest race lap but only ended 10th, while Serralles recovered to seventh.
Veach came through to win with a margin of victory of 3.6268 seconds over Jones, who scored his first road course podium since winning the first of two races on the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend back in May.
Negrao, meanwhile, banked his fourth straight podium finish overall. Kaiser was fourth and Neil Alberico a season-best fifth for Carlin.
The result today leaves Urrutia just one point ahead of Jones (319-318), with Stoneman (296), Veach (288), Serralles (281) and Kaiser (279) all with a mathematical possibility and within 40 points going to the final two race weekend doubleheader at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next weekend.
Said Veach, post-race: “I saw an opportunity and I had to take it. I noticed that the inside lane was moving faster at the start so I knew I would be in a good position. When I found myself beside Negrao going into Turn One, I thought I had a chance. I had to get off the corner well and get into Santi’s draft and I did just that.
“We knew how fast Santi was and I wasn’t sure I had the car to match him, so my goal was to get around him and lead as many laps as I could. My pace stayed the same and I saw him dropping off and then disappear, so I had to work on keeping the gap and just keep going.
“It’s so emotional. This is one of my happiest wins. In all my previous wins, we’ve been fast all weekend and here, we had clutch problems in qualifying, then had a starter problem just before the race and we had to come from fifth to win. I pushed hard to build up a gap and I managed my Cooper tires to the end.”