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.
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.
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.