Mazda Road to Indy Drivers Head to the Ovals for “Freedom Friday”
 May 22, 2018| 
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Indy Lights 2018 Indy Advance

Indy Lights Protagonists O’Ward, Herta Separated by One Point

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Memorial Day weekend is steeped in tradition, especially in Indianapolis where the annual federal holiday held in remembrance of the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces coincides with the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indianapolis 500.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – a unique open-wheel development ladder which offers scholarship-funded opportunities for drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Indy 500 – pays its own tribute to this nation’s history with the biggest event of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, the Freedom 100, taking place on Friday, May 25, as part of the regular Carb Day activities which include one final practice session for the 33 starters prior to Sunday’s 102nd Indianapolis 500.

In addition, the first two rungs on the ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will see action in the respective Freedom 75 and Freedom 90 events at Lucas Oil Raceway, in nearby Brownsburg, Ind., on Friday evening.

For all three series, this will mark the first oval-track race of the season. A little extra significance will stem from the fact that 50 percent more championship points will be available in comparison to the regular road and street circuit events.

The Indy Lights title-chase is finely poised after six races with a pair of victories for second-generation racer Colton Herta two weeks ago on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit having closed the gap to Patricio "Pato" O’Ward to just a solitary championship point. Up for grabs at the end of the season is a scholarship valued at $1M to ensure entry into at least three races in the 2019 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

But for now the “Brickyard” focus is centered upon Friday’s 40-lap Freedom 100.

“The thrill of being able to race at the Speedway is super-exciting,” says O’Ward, already a three-time winner for Andretti Autosport this season. “It’s going to be my first time so that is the race I’m most looking forward to starting. The oval is so iconic and special in every way. My hopes are obviously to do well – I really want to win that one because it’s basically a mini 500 so I’m going to study and work hard to make it happen.”

O’Ward, 19, from Monterrey, Mexico, posted the second fastest lap, at an average speed of 196.190 mph, during a rain-shortened test yesterday on the historic 2.5-mile oval.

Herta, 18, from Valencia, Calif., already has some speedway experience under his belt, although his debut last year ended prematurely following an incident with Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman. Still, the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing standard bearer has no doubt about the significance of racing at Indianapolis.

“It’s massive, when you work your whole life towards the goal of racing in IndyCar and more importantly the 500,” he says. “There’s so much history within the Brickyard and it makes me feel special just to say I’ve raced on it.

“We run flat-out so it’s more about getting dialed in for the race. The movement of the cars when you’re in dirty air is massive and minimizing that is key. You do this by adding downforce mostly but it’s a trade-off because you want to be able to slipstream and overtake as well, and you do this by running less wing.”

Santiago “Santi” Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, also is in the thick of the title-chase, just six points adrift of O’Ward after winning at St. Petersburg and securing three additional podium finishes for Belardi Auto Racing. Urrutia has raced twice previously at Indy. Last year he secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting his way from 12th on the grid to fifth.

Teammate Aaron Telitz, from Rice Lake, Wis., has overcome a dismal start to his sophomore season in Indy Lights by finishing fourth, third and second in the three most recent races. He also finished second in last year’s Freedom 100.

Andretti Autosport’s Dalton Kellett also has high expectations after finishing third in each of his two previous Freedom 100 starts. The Indianapolis-based Canadian posted the fastest speed during yesterday’s test session at an average of 198.005 mph.

Two-time USAC champion Chris Windom’s hopes of making his Indy Lights debut were unfortunately dashed yesterday when he crashed in Turn Two, causing irreparable damage to his Belardi Auto Racing with Byrd & Belardi Dallara IL-15. Instead, the oval racing flag will be flown by second-generation racer Davey Hamilton, Jr., from Boise, Idaho, who worked his way up to speed methodically, posting the sixth fastest lap for Team Pelfrey.

Following the rain-out of yesterday’s second planned 90-minute test session, the schedule on Thursday, May 24, has been amended slightly to incorporate a pair of 30-minute practice sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., prior to single-car qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Friday’s race, to be broadcast live on NBCSN, will start at 12:30 p.m. All times are EDT.

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