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

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
0 Comments

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.

Follow @KyleMLavigne

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
0 Comments

THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.