Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Urrutia’s in-season rebound set him up for potential IndyCar jump

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One driver who made some noise around the end of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season about his potential jump into the Verizon IndyCar Series was Uruguayan Santi Urrutia, who ended second in this year’s Indy Lights championship after a roller-coaster campaign.

While he hasn’t been confirmed for an IndyCar seat yet although he’s met with a couple teams, he put himself in this position by way of his comeback during the Indy Lights season.

He entered as something of a championship favorite after ending runner-up with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016 behind Ed Jones, albeit in controversial fashion. Alas, Urrutia moved over to Belardi Auto Racing when SPM shut down its Indy Lights operation, as Belardi and SPM formed a partnership early in the season, evidenced by the ARROW Electronics branding on Urrutia’s No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda this year.

Amid high expectations, Urrutia was confident of a title-contending year. But, in the first half of the season, things did not go as planned.

In the first four races, Urrutia had three finishes of 13th or worse (13th, 13th, and 15th), broken up for a second-place finish in race two at St. Petersburg.

His season began to turn around at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, where he finished seventh and second. He followed that up with fifth in the Freedom 100 before finishing second at Road America race one.

A final lap race puncture dropped him to 11th in race two there, before he rebounded the next couple weekends. A run up to second at Iowa Speedway saw him infamously/hilarious doing victory donuts after a miscommunication (Urrutia had thought he’d won as he was a fair distance behind Matheus Leist) and then added a third at race on in Toronto.

A mechanical issue resigned him to 11th in race two at Toronto. But the final four races of 2017 saw the title-contending form Urrutia had in 2017 return for good.

He won race one at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, finished second in race two, won at Gateway Motorsports Park courtesy of a late-race pass of Juan Piedrahita, and ended the year by finishing second at Watkins Glen behind teammate Aaron Telitz.

All told, Urrutia overcame the rocky start to end up second in the championship for the second consecutive year. Urrutia, true to form, didn’t mince words about his disappointment – particularly in his own performance – at the start of the season.

“Honestly, the first part of the championship, I was really bad. I was all over the place. Didn’t have the pace for top five,” he told NBC Sports at the Watkins Glen season finale.

However, he also detailed that mechanical woes hampered them, and an engine change at Road America helped set in motion their charge in the second half of the season.

“When we changed (the) engine at Road America, it went the right way. I have the same engineer (Tim Neff) from last year. We changed guys in the team. But Belardi won a ton of races last year. They’re competitive. We had the pace, especially second part of the year, but struggled in the beginning because of the engine. Considering I was 11th at Road America and now I’m vice champion, for sure I’m way more happy than last year.”

Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock celebrate the 2017 Indy Lights team championship with team owner Brian Belardi. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Further, Urrutia was a contributing factor in Belardi Auto Racing winning the team championship in 2017, the highlights being a pair of victories for both Urrutia and Aaron Telitz.

“I am so proud of this team,” Brian Belardi said of the accomplishment. “Winning the team championship was a big goal of ours. We’ve had an amazing history in a short amount of time, with drivers like Anders Krohn, Peter Dempsey, Gabby Chaves, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach.

“Sometimes you’re a cheerleader, sometimes you’re a father figure. We’re all following a dream here – there have been ups and downs but we seem to prevail somehow so hats off to everyone who’s ever been with our team.”

Looking ahead to 2018, Urrutia has his eyes on the Verizon IndyCar Series, and he seemed confident that he could secure a full-time seat, and even more confident that he can be a contender right away.

Belardi, too, indicated he may be on the verge of an Indianapolis 500 debut – same as Juncos Racing did this year – while focusing full-season on an at least three and possibly four-car Indy Lights program.

“(If) there’s that time I sign the contract, I want to be competitive and win races,” Urrutia said. “It’ll be similar to the Indy Lights car, so that’ll be an advantage.

“It’ll be my first year, and I think I can win races in my first year. It should be fine.”

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Neurosurgeon discusses brain injuries such as Michael Schumacher’s

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PARIS (AP) — More than four years after a ski accident caused him a near-fatal brain injury, little is known about Michael Schumacher’s current condition. Updates on his health have been extremely scarce ever since he left hospital in September 2014 to be cared for privately at his Swiss home on the shores of Lake Geneva. Details of his specific condition and the treatment he received have been kept strictly private. The last public statement 16 months ago clarified nothing further would be said.

Colin Shieff is a retired neurosurgeon from Britain’s National Health Service and a trustee of Headway, the national brain injury charity. Although he has never treated Schumacher, or spoken with doctors who’ve treated Schumacher over the years, he has dealt with similar cases both at immediate critical-care level and further down the line in terms of long-term treatment.

Shieff spent many years working with people with brain injuries and trauma, including at NATO field hospitals in Afghanistan an Iraq. He answered questions for The Associated Press related to the nature of Schumacher’s brain injury, pertaining to how his condition may have evolved in the time since his accident.

MORE: As F1 season begins, Michael Schumacher still fighting, far from forgotten

Q. In your opinion, what’s the likely prognosis at this stage?

A. “The nature of his injury and those bits of information that are available, and have been available, suggest that he has sustained permanent and very major damage to his brain. As a consequence his brain does not function in a fashion similar to yours or mine. The longer one goes on after an injury the more remote it is that any improvement becomes. He is almost certainly not going to change from the situation he is now.”

Q. What ongoing treatments would he be having?

A. “He will have the kind of treatment, which is care: giving him nourishment, giving him fluid. The probability is that this is given in the main – or at least as supplements – through some tube passed into his intestinal system, either through his nose or mouth, or more likely a tube in the front wall of the tummy. He will have therapy to sit him, because he won’t be able to get himself out of a bed and into a chair. He will be treated in a way that will ensure his limbs move and don’t remain rigid.”

Q. Would someone in his position receive around-the-clock treatment?

A. “He will be allowed a period of rest and sleep and relaxation, and he will be given an environment. I’m positive as I can be without knowing the facts (that) he will be living in an environment that – although it’s got artificial bits of medical kit and care and people – will mimic a caring, warm, pleasant, socially stimulating environment.”

Q. Would he be able to sense he’s in such an environment?

A. “I don’t know. There is always a technical, medical and neurological issue with defining a coma. Almost certainly he cannot express himself (in a conversation). He may well be able to indicate, or it may be apparent to those around him, that he is uncomfortable or unhappy. Or (he) is perhaps getting pleasure from seeing his children or hearing music he’s always liked, or having his hand stroked.”

Q. Are patients in his situation aware of touch and voice from family members?

A. “Absolutely. Even in the early stages, even in a critical care unit, when medicines are being given, for one individual at one time there may be an ability to discern and show response to someone they are familiar with. Respond to familiar, respond to family you’re triggered to. You hear them all your life so that’s the very, very familiar (aspect) the person is going to respond to.”

Q. Is there a chance he can make A) a full recovery? B) A partial recovery?

A. “First one, absolutely, totally no. Number one statistically, number two neurologically, and number three he’s been ill for so long. He’s lost muscle bulk, even if he opened his eyes and started talking there will have been loss of memory, there will be impact on behavior, on cognitive functions. He would not be the same person. (As for a) partial recovery, even the smallest thing that gets better is some kind of recovery. But (it depends) whether that recovery contributes to a functional improvement for him to be able to express himself – other than an evidence of saying `Yes’ or an evidence of saying `No.’ (Therefore) if he could use words of two syllables, if he could turn on the remote control for the tele. One can do, professionally, all sorts of wonderful things with electronic devices and couple them up to eye and mouth movements. Sometimes with a person in a situation called `Locked In’ or `Profoundly neurologically comprised’ – which is essentially paralysis but with continuing intellectual function – ways can be found to communicate with those people. If that had been so with Michael Schumacher I am positive we would have known that is the case, so I don’t believe it’s so for him.”

Q. This is a deeply personal decision for the family. But how long can treatment last for?

A. “In, for example, our health system we don’t have the luxury to keep maximal intervention going in a high-tech hospital environment. For Michael Schumacher’s family, I suspect they have the financial support to be able to provide those things. Therefore, for him, the future is longer but it doesn’t imply any change in the quality of it.”

Q. Some reports have estimated the cost of treatment at anything up to 200,000 euros ($245,000) per week. Is that realistic?

A. “I would personally think that’s over the top, in terms of what I reckon that might buy him. He’ll have a nurse, a therapist, a visiting doctor. There’ll be an extra pair of hands when something physical is being done, when he’s being moved to somewhere. That doesn’t add up to 150,000 euros or 200,000 euros. He needs essentially, somebody with nursing or therapeutic qualifications with him at all times. So that’s however many people you need to run a 24/7 roster. You’re talking probably eight people to provide that level of care constantly over a year’s period. That’s the number of nurses required for instance, to nurse or to staff, one critical care bed in an intensive care unit.”

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