Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz a winner, Kaiser a champion after wet Indy Lights race

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The skies opened up completely for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season-finale on Sunday morning, as a heavy rain storm dropped buckets of water on Watkins Glen International throughout the race.

In fact, the race needed to be red flagged after 16 laps, as heavy rainfall resulted in standing water out on the circuit. However, the race was eventually restarted and ran the full distance.

Ultimately, it was Aaron Telitz taking the win, his second of the 2017 Indy Lights season (he won the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, while Kyle Kaiser survived the conditions, though he did have a quick spin in the middle of the race, and finished seventh to clinch the 2017 Indy Lights championship.

Starting third, Telitz went three-wide with Santi Urrutia and pole sitter Colton Herta entering Turn 1. Herta managed to briefly hold the lead on the opening lap, but Telitz dove up the inside of Herta in Turn 1 on Lap 2 to take the lead.

Aaron Telitz, Colton Herta, and Santi Urrutia went three-wide in turn one to start the Watkins Glen race. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The three drivers dueled each other in the early laps in a three-way battle for the lead, but Telitz was able to start building a gap, leading by over four seconds on Lap 6. Urrutia, meanwhile, emerged ahead of Herta in second and began trying to chase down Telitz.

The red flag and subsequent restart, on lap 17, gave Urrutia a chance to battle Telitz for the win in the closing laps, but Telitz held off every challenge, winning by over two seconds.

“I think relief is my primary emotion – the team joked with me that I might not remember how to get to Victory Lane. But it was a great way to end the year. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the off season, thinking that all the hard work was worth it,” said a relieved Telitz, who endured a roller-coaster 2017 campaign in between his bookend victories.

Telitz revealed that a tire test from earlier this year, in which he took advantage of a chance to run on rain tires, was critical in his ability to hold the lead, especially in the early laps. “The start was tricky but I had some rain experience here earlier in the year – we did a Cooper Tire test and it was raining in the afternoon, so I thought I would go out and run in the rain. I did about 10 laps, so I knew where the grip was going to be on the track, whereas everyone else was still figuring it out,” Telitz said of his prior rain experience.

Colton Herta held on for third, with Matheus Leist and Nico Jamin completing the top five.

Prior to the red flag, the race was slowed by a crash involving Dalton Kellett, who spun exiting the bus stop and hit the outside tire barrier on corner exit. Shelby Blackstock also stalled under the caution.

Kyle Kaiser, respectively, drove a quiet race, spending a large portion of it even outside the top ten, even spinning in the middle of the race as the rain grew heavier.

Kyle Kaiser survived a treacherous and difficult season-finale to clinch the 2017 Indy Lights championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

However, he survived the treacherous conditions and the chaos to finish seventh and become the 2017 Indy Lights champion.

“I never could have imagined this at age 7, getting into a kart for the first time. It has been an absolute dream,” said an elated and relieved Kaiser afterward.

He also added that, contrary to the easy assumption, he never thought about winning the title. “The championship never entered my mind during the race – I was just trying to manage the conditions,” he detailed. “I think these were the trickiest conditions we’ve had all year. I tried pushing and that’s why I spun. But I just really wanted to bring the car home. We just won the Indy Lights championship and it’s time to celebrate.”

Results are below.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”