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Title drama builds as Veach takes Indy Lights win at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Zach Veach went from fifth to first on the opening lap of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race at Watkins Glen International and never looked back en route to his second win of the season on the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

Meanwhile, behind him, the title chase took a big shakeup going into next week’s season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with Santiago Urrutia going off course, then puncturing his left front tire, pitting and falling to last place in the 12-car field.

Coupled with Ed Jones (Carlin) finishing second behind Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), and suddenly Urrutia’s points lead that began the day at 17 points is down to one point leaving the day.

Veach’s run from fifth to first on the opening lap was miraculous, and he was by polesitter Urrutia at the Inner Loop (Bus Stop) after picking off three cars by the exit of Turn 1.

Urrutia’s weekend came unglued by way of not having done any long runs in practice. He hadn’t run very many long stints in practice or qualifying – he’d only done a total of 12 practice laps before qualifying in the two official sessions – and his tires went off as the race went on.

He had held off a train of Jones, Andre Negrao and Kyle Kaiser before it all went away on Lap 15. Jones made it past, then Negrao, and then Kaiser within a two-lap period.

While Urrutia was fifth and at least still moderately in play, when he went off on Lap 19 that was the end of his race chances. He needed to pit, and it dropped him to the rear of the field.

Two other title contenders also needed to pit owing to damage, in Felix Serralles and Dean Stoneman. Stoneman made something out of his race by setting fastest race lap but only ended 10th, while Serralles recovered to seventh.

Veach came through to win with a margin of victory of 3.6268 seconds over Jones, who scored his first road course podium since winning the first of two races on the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend back in May.

Negrao, meanwhile, banked his fourth straight podium finish overall. Kaiser was fourth and Neil Alberico a season-best fifth for Carlin.

The result today leaves Urrutia just one point ahead of Jones (319-318), with Stoneman (296), Veach (288), Serralles (281) and Kaiser (279) all with a mathematical possibility and within 40 points going to the final two race weekend doubleheader at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next weekend.

Said Veach, post-race: “I saw an opportunity and I had to take it. I noticed that the inside lane was moving faster at the start so I knew I would be in a good position. When I found myself beside Negrao going into Turn One, I thought I had a chance. I had to get off the corner well and get into Santi’s draft and I did just that.

“We knew how fast Santi was and I wasn’t sure I had the car to match him, so my goal was to get around him and lead as many laps as I could. My pace stayed the same and I saw him dropping off and then disappear, so I had to work on keeping the gap and just keep going.

“It’s so emotional. This is one of my happiest wins. In all my previous wins, we’ve been fast all weekend and here, we had clutch problems in qualifying, then had a starter problem just before the race and we had to come from fifth to win. I pushed hard to build up a gap and I managed my Cooper tires to the end.”

Ryan Norman returns to Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport in 2019

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Ryan Norman will return to Andretti Autosport for their third season together in 2019 after scoring his first win and first pole with that organization in 2018.

I’m really excited to finally make it official that I’ll be returning to Andretti Autosport for my third season competing in Indy Lights,” said Norman in a press release. “We’ve built a solid foundation over the past two years and I’m ready to fight for wins, podiums and ultimately the championship, with such a great group of people who have become like a family to me.”

Norman finished 2018 fourth in the championship, earning his first career win in race 15 of the 17-race schedule at Gateway Motorsports Park in August.

Norman’s first pole came in the finale at Portland International Raceway in September, but he crashed on the first lap and finished last (8th).

“We’re very happy that Ryan is rejoining us for his third season of Indy Lights,” said Andretti Autosport President, JF Thormann. “We were pleased with his performance this past season, and his potential as a driver began to really shine after his win at Gateway. He’s right on track with his progression plan put together by his engineering team, and we feel strongly that he has what it takes to be a contender for the 2019 championship.”

Norman will essentially replace teammates Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta, who will race for Rookie of the Year honors in IndyCar next season.  O’Ward finished first in the Indy Lights standings last year; Herta finished second.

Norman’s 2019 campaign will begin on the streets of St. Petersburgh, Florida March 9, 2019. That will be the first of a double-header with Race 2 running the following day.