MRTI: Can SPM Indy Lights road course juggernaut be stopped?

Urrutia (55) and Stoneman (27). Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
0 Comments

With just two race weekends left on the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, it appears the road to the title will go through Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.

Via both incredible weekend performance and the best luck, both Santiago Urrutia in the No. 55 Soul Red Mazda and teammate Andre Negrao in the No. 17 Lucas Oil-backed Dallara IL-15 Mazdas have been on a roll of late.

Urrutia’s won the last three races on permanent road courses and four overall this year; they’ve been the site of all four of his wins this season.

Additionally, the Uruguayan who seeks his second straight Mazda Advancement scholarship after winning last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires crown, has been a points-scoring machine on the road courses.

He has 201 points in the eight permanent road course races, two apiece at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Closest title rivals Dean Stoneman and Ed Jones are second and third, respectively, with 165 and 163 points.

That being said, Urrutia has also had luck on his side. He’s one of only two full-season drivers – Shelby Blackstock is the other – who has had not a DNF in one of the eight road course races this year.

Either mechanicals or accidents have hit the rest of the grid at least once. So with three road course races remaining, you worry if the law of averages will catch up with Urrutia.

Negrao, meanwhile, has been on a roll as well and this could be the site of his first career victory. He’s scored two seconds and a third in the last three road course races, and with second in Toronto race two as well, he’s been on the podium four of the past six races.

Since Road America race two, Negrao has scored 115 points, which is second only to Urrutia’s 151 in the same time frame of six races.

Zach Veach (111), Felix Serralles (105), Stoneman (103), Kyle Kaiser (101) and Jones (89)  – the other title contenders – have all scored less in that same time frame.

With just the two cars, SPM’s road course performance has perhaps surprisingly gone up in the last two road course weekends – and SPM has six of a possible six podiums achieved in the last three races. Stoneman, with two at Mid-Ohio, and Veach, with one at Road America, have been the only drivers to break the stranglehold.

Jones, surprisingly, has not stood on a road course podium since his win at the first of two IMS road course races back in May. Carlin teammate Serralles managed a third behind Veach and Stoneman in Road America race one, the last weekend before Indy Lights Race Director Tony Cotman placed Jones, Stoneman and Urrutia all on probation for the rest of the season.

So what will happen at Watkins Glen? It’s a one-race weekend, and only a two-day event with two practice sessions on Friday before qualifying and the race both take place on Saturday (race airs Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, as a lead-in to Verizon IndyCar Series race coverage).

Judging by recent performances, it’s hard to say SPM will be toppled. The repaved Watkins Glen track will produce smooth, fast lap times.

And while the cars were different, SPM has a potential setup edge – along with Andretti Autosport – from having run here in Indy Lights’ past races at Watkins Glen from 2005 to 2010. Combined, they won the last six Indy Lights races (Andretti with Wade Cunningham, Raphael Matos and JR Hildebrand and Schmidt with Alex Lloyd, Richard Antinucci and JK Vernay) from 2007 through 2010.

But Andretti’s trio could do well here. Stoneman, Blackstock and Dalton Kellett all recently tested one of Andretti’s IndyCars apiece here – so they have a bit of track experience. Blackstock loves the circuit; he has a good amount of sports car experience here, and a podium or top-five finish should not be discounted for him. Jones, who tested with RLL Racing, also had a chance to sample this track surface.

Meanwhile Carlin, Belardi Auto Racing, Juncos Racing, Team Pelfrey will all be making their first Indy Lights starts at the track. Belardi’s Veach and/or Pelfrey and Garett Grist could be sleepers; Pelfrey team manager Gary Neal knows the track well from 8Star Motorsports’ sports car days and Grist has overachieved at times in his first few Indy Lights starts.