Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Urrutia wins Gateway as Kaiser all but seals Indy Lights title

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MADISON, Ill. – Santiago Urrutia did all he could to keep the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title fight alive with his second win of the season, but Kyle Kaiser has all but cinched the title with one race remaining following a wild 75-lap affair at Gateway Motorsports Park.

For the young American, with a revised 31-point lead unofficially over Urrutia, merely starting at Watkins Glen next week will ensure he wins the title and the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship that comes with it.

Kaiser entered the weekend with a 42-point lead and only needed a 34-point margin to ensure he had the title clinched before going to the season finale at Watkins Glen International.

It looked early on in the 75-lap race that Kaiser would be able to pull it off outright, but a strong start quickly faded as the race went on.

After shooting up to third on the initial start from fifth on the grid, Kaiser delivered his statement of intent to wrap the title on Saturday night by making a move on Urrutia for second place on Lap 9, going to the outside of his closest title rival for the position into Turn 1 in an authoritative move.

Urrutia got Kaiser back five laps later on the inside of Turn 1, but with Kaiser not needing to fight it to ensure he had enough of a points gap to clinch at that moment, he kept the door open wide enough for Urrutia to come through.

Up front, Urrutia was left to focus on catching surprise polesitter Juan Piedrahita of Team Pelfrey for the lead and subsequent win of the race.

Kaiser ran in third place with the best battle on the road behind him in the form of Andretti Autosport’s Nico Jamin and Carlin’s Matheus Leist close for fourth.

On Lap 43, Urrutia, having closed the gap significantly on Piedrahita, powered past for the lead into Turn 1. This pass meant Urrutia was within 34 points of Kaiser, who was running in third.

Meanwhile Kaiser fell back into the clutches of Jamin and Leist, which had championship implications in terms of whether Kaiser would have enough points to win the title tonight.

Jamin was by Kaiser for third by Lap 49, and then Leist was by shortly thereafter. Zachary Claman De Melo soon closed in and made a move during the final 20 laps for fifth, and Kaiser then had to hold off Colton Herta for sixth.

On Lap 62 there was a heavy three-car accident that occurred. Contact occurred between Chad Boat, the series debutante, and Neil Alberico entering Turns 1 and 2 as Alberico attempted to lap Boat, and Garth Rickards also got caught up in it. That took out two of the three Carlin cars (Alberico and Rickards), with Boat the third Belardi car (along with Aaron Telitz and Shelby Blackstock) to be involved in an incident during the race.

The race was red flagged as a heavy amount of debris littered the track.

Following the restart, a chaotic battle for the lead occurred between Piedrahita and Urrutia, with Piedrahita briefly getting the advantage on the restart to take lead before another quick yellow was flown for a spinning Nico Jamin.

Jamin’s spin moved Kaiser up a position, again making it appear like he may clinch the championship outright. However, a restart with three laps remaining saw Urrutia finally edge passed Piedrahita, the two going side-by-side for a full lap before Urrutia cleared him for the lead with two laps left. Urrutia was able to hang on from there to take the win.

Colton Herta meanwhile moved up to third while Kaiser ended up fourth, with Nicolas Dapero completing the top five.

More to follow, unofficial results are below.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.