Urrutia’s in-season rebound set him up for potential IndyCar jump

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
0 Comments

One driver who made some noise around the end of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season about his potential jump into the Verizon IndyCar Series was Uruguayan Santi Urrutia, who ended second in this year’s Indy Lights championship after a roller-coaster campaign.

While he hasn’t been confirmed for an IndyCar seat yet although he’s met with a couple teams, he put himself in this position by way of his comeback during the Indy Lights season.

He entered as something of a championship favorite after ending runner-up with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016 behind Ed Jones, albeit in controversial fashion. Alas, Urrutia moved over to Belardi Auto Racing when SPM shut down its Indy Lights operation, as Belardi and SPM formed a partnership early in the season, evidenced by the ARROW Electronics branding on Urrutia’s No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda this year.

Amid high expectations, Urrutia was confident of a title-contending year. But, in the first half of the season, things did not go as planned.

In the first four races, Urrutia had three finishes of 13th or worse (13th, 13th, and 15th), broken up for a second-place finish in race two at St. Petersburg.

His season began to turn around at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, where he finished seventh and second. He followed that up with fifth in the Freedom 100 before finishing second at Road America race one.

A final lap race puncture dropped him to 11th in race two there, before he rebounded the next couple weekends. A run up to second at Iowa Speedway saw him infamously/hilarious doing victory donuts after a miscommunication (Urrutia had thought he’d won as he was a fair distance behind Matheus Leist) and then added a third at race on in Toronto.

A mechanical issue resigned him to 11th in race two at Toronto. But the final four races of 2017 saw the title-contending form Urrutia had in 2017 return for good.

He won race one at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, finished second in race two, won at Gateway Motorsports Park courtesy of a late-race pass of Juan Piedrahita, and ended the year by finishing second at Watkins Glen behind teammate Aaron Telitz.

All told, Urrutia overcame the rocky start to end up second in the championship for the second consecutive year. Urrutia, true to form, didn’t mince words about his disappointment – particularly in his own performance – at the start of the season.

“Honestly, the first part of the championship, I was really bad. I was all over the place. Didn’t have the pace for top five,” he told NBC Sports at the Watkins Glen season finale.

However, he also detailed that mechanical woes hampered them, and an engine change at Road America helped set in motion their charge in the second half of the season.

“When we changed (the) engine at Road America, it went the right way. I have the same engineer (Tim Neff) from last year. We changed guys in the team. But Belardi won a ton of races last year. They’re competitive. We had the pace, especially second part of the year, but struggled in the beginning because of the engine. Considering I was 11th at Road America and now I’m vice champion, for sure I’m way more happy than last year.”

Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock celebrate the 2017 Indy Lights team championship with team owner Brian Belardi. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Further, Urrutia was a contributing factor in Belardi Auto Racing winning the team championship in 2017, the highlights being a pair of victories for both Urrutia and Aaron Telitz.

“I am so proud of this team,” Brian Belardi said of the accomplishment. “Winning the team championship was a big goal of ours. We’ve had an amazing history in a short amount of time, with drivers like Anders Krohn, Peter Dempsey, Gabby Chaves, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach.

“Sometimes you’re a cheerleader, sometimes you’re a father figure. We’re all following a dream here – there have been ups and downs but we seem to prevail somehow so hats off to everyone who’s ever been with our team.”

Looking ahead to 2018, Urrutia has his eyes on the Verizon IndyCar Series, and he seemed confident that he could secure a full-time seat, and even more confident that he can be a contender right away.

Belardi, too, indicated he may be on the verge of an Indianapolis 500 debut – same as Juncos Racing did this year – while focusing full-season on an at least three and possibly four-car Indy Lights program.

“(If) there’s that time I sign the contract, I want to be competitive and win races,” Urrutia said. “It’ll be similar to the Indy Lights car, so that’ll be an advantage.

“It’ll be my first year, and I think I can win races in my first year. It should be fine.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne

 

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

0 Comments

Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”