Emotion, consistency fuel Urrutia’s Pro Mazda title run

Urrutia claims his crown. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

It was hard for the emotion not to show through.

Santiago “Santi” Urrutia took the checkered flag Saturday, September 12, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with fist in the air, following arguably the most important runner-up finish of his career.

Urrutia held his fist high after he’d claimed the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title and a Mazda scholarship just shy of $600,000 to advance into the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2016.

Then when he made it to Turn 4, he was presented with a Uruguayan flag from a corner marshal, with the chance to wave it high around the track.

This title win occurred 16 years and one day to the day, on the same track, where Urrutia’s hero and countryman Gonzalo Rodriguez lost his life in practice for the CART race at the track.

So there was always the underlying element that emotion would tie into the title.

How he got to this point was as unlikely as the odds of clinching at this circuit given the anniversary.

Urrutia struggled during the 2014 GP3 Series season with the Koiranen GP outfit. Neither he nor Carmen Jorda scored a single point all season, while teammates Jimmy Eriksson and Dean Stoneman both won races.

The dip in form came after fourth place finishes in his prior two seasons of action, in European F3 Open in 2013 (Indy Lights driver Ed Jones won the title) and in both Formula Abarth European and Italian Series the year before.

So come 2015, Urrutia shifted Stateside, a late arrival to the Mazda Road to Indy but in a good position with the Nigel Tuckey-led Team Pelfrey, which had captured the Cooper Tires Winterfest title this winter with Jack Aitken driving.

Urrutia also had the management of Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar, the ex-Formula 1 and IndyCar driver, to help guide him through his maiden season racing in North America.

Urrutia, 19, and 16-year-old teammate Pato O’Ward made for a young but potent driving combination in the two cars. Raoul Owens later joined in a third car.

A runner-up finish on debut in St. Petersburg and a win in Round 3 at rain-soaked NOLA Motorsports Park instantly marked him as a driver to watch this season.

“I came to America to win the championship, but I never thought I’d have the chance to win it,” Urrutia told MotorSportsTalk at Mazda Raceway, reflecting on the start of his season.

He banked his second win of the year at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend, in the third race of what was the series’ lone tripleheader round after a NOLA race was canceled due to the rain.

Urrutia celebrates. Photo: IMS Photography, LLC
Urrutia celebrates. Photo: IMS Photography, LLC

His leap out of the car, in front of the Pagoda, stands as one of the images of the Mazda Road to Indy season.

Save for a brief dip in form on the ovals – he failed to finish at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis and finished a respectable if anonymous fifth at Iowa – Urrutia’s consistency was never in doubt over the course of the year.

The Toronto weekend was a needed bounce back for him after Lucas Oil. He didn’t win either race but gained 22 points on closest title rival Neil Alberico in those pair of races.

A win and third place at Mid-Ohio positioned Urrutia for the championship at Mazda Raceway, where he entered the weekend 29 points clear of Alberico for the title.

Alberico ran third with Urrutia second in the dying stages of race one. Urrutia was close to securing the title, but finally did so once Alberico had an off at the Corkscrew.

The championship was secured, in front of dozens of his countrymen who’d made the trip to Monterey to witness the moment in person.

“I was champion already at P2. So I did my pace in the race,” Urrutia explained. “The goal was to win the championship, not the race.

“I’m so happy today. I can’t tell you today how happy I am. I’m only the driver. Behind me are my sponsors, my family, Team Pelfrey, everyone that has put in so much hard work for this moment.

“The Uruguayan people are so crazy. They come here, it’s about 20 hours from home. But they come and they celebrate.”

For good measure, Urrutia added another runner-up finish on Sunday’s season finale, like on Saturday behind Garett Grist.

The champion ended the year with three wins and 10 podium finishes in 16 races, securing a Mazda scholarship to advance into Indy Lights.

More importantly, Urrutia ended the year with his name firmly established as a driver to watch in North American open-wheel racing.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds