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Indy Lights: Intense battle for win occurs at Iowa

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The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires raced Sunday at Iowa Speedway. The race is set to air on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. CT) on NBCSN after NASCAR AMERICA.

Here’s the series recap from Sunday in case you already watched the race coverage online or via social media:

Iowa Speedway, billed as the fastest short track on the planet, provided an exciting stage for the final oval race of the calendar for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this afternoon. The 100-lap all-green Indy Lights Iowa Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires came down to a battle at the end with Felix Serralles of Carlin scoring the win in the closing minute on the .686-mile oval.

This is the second win and fourth podium of the season for Serralles, 24, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, who won the season-opener on the streets of St. Petersburg. Serralles also claimed victory at The Milwaukee Mile oval last year.

Rain forced the cancellation of qualifying with the grid set on championship points, giving Carlin’s Ed Jones his seventh pole in the last eight races. Championship rivals Dean Stoneman, Santi Urrutia and Kyle Kaiser lined up second, third and fourth respectively with Serralles in fifth.

Jones held the lead until Lap 57 when Serralles, who had charged into third on the opening lap and maneuvered past Andretti Autosport’s Stoneman on Lap 26, made his move. He appeared poised to take the checkered flag with only 20 laps remaining until a hard-charging Zach Veach of Belardi Auto Racing took the point.

Veach had started sixth and clearly had a car that was capable of winning, proven by setting the fastest lap of the race. The 21-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio, appeared to have his second win of the season in hand until the closing moments as he and Serralles fought their way through lapped traffic (Serralles’ teammate Neil Alberico and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Heamin Choi). Serralles emerged the victor by 0.6681 seconds with Jones, Stoneman and Urrutia rounding out the top five.

Jones slightly extended his lead in the point standings over Stoneman, 236-213, with Urrutia holding third at 206 points. Serralles’ win has vaulted him to fourth in the standings at 199 with Veach in fifth at 194.

QUOTES

Felix Serralles, #4 SS Tire – Carlin: “It feels great to finally be on the podium again and to win a race! I was really confident today – I had the memory of how confident I was when I won at Milwaukee last year and I felt that way again today. I knew we could get to the front but the Carlin team gave me a car that could help me pull away. You just really can’t give up. One of the biggest parts of ovals is dealing with the lapped traffic and today, that was really difficult. Once I was able to catch Zach, he caught traffic. Some of the drivers were kind enough to let us by but a few others didn’t. But I really have to say the Cooper Tires lasted really well, I pushed all the way through the race and the tires did a great job.”

Zach Veach, #5 – Belardi Auto Racing: “I always like to say that I do better on ovals but what I’ve had this year, I left ‘backing out of it’ off the list of things to do because we had to get to the front. The battle with Dean was one of the most intense battles I’ve ever had on a short oval and I learned a lot. He worked hard to keep me behind him and in trying to get around him, I discovered that my car really liked the high line. That’s what gave me the exit speed and helped me save my Cooper Tires. The tires were amazing; I was worried about how hard I had pushed but the harder I pushed, the more they stayed with me.

“My day changed completely when I came up on lapped traffic. In my view, if you’re a lap down and it’s coming down to the end of the race, you need to make way for the leaders coming through. But I have to be happy with a podium. Things changed for us at Road America, with a win and a third. We could have had a win here, but I’m happy to get the points.”

Ed Jones, #11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels – Carlin: “The turning point of the race for me was getting stuck behind another car. I struggled to get past him and that let Felix by me. That was the momentum changer. From then on, we struggled in traffic. But it was a good result and I’ve extended my lead in the championship and if I keep doing that, it’s all good. The balance changed with the different conditions through the race; I had a lot of understeer. I maxed out my bias early in the race. You want the car to be slightly pointy, with more front end so the car can work in traffic. So every time I got behind someone, that exaggerated the problem and I would lose the exit. It was difficult to get a good run and keep it and that was the difference in the race for me.”

Neil Alberico, #22 Rising Star Racing – Carlin: “I wish we would have had the opportunity to qualify this morning as I believe we had a good shot at starting up front. We did the best we could today in the race after we had to start in the back based off of championship points. Congrats to my teammates on their runs to the podium. I’m looking forward to Toronto.”

(Re: the final laps) “There was no incident. I lifted early and left plenty of room for the leaders to go down the inside in Turn 1.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).