O’Ward Claims Victory, Points Lead at Barber
 April 21, 2018| 
  • Series News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Patricio “Pato” O’Ward made an opportunistic move on polesitter, fellow teenager and Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta to take the lead on the opening lap of this afternoon’s Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires.

O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, took full advantage as he held off a race-long challenge from Herta to secure his second win of the season and reclaim the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points lead. At stake is a scholarship valued at $1 million to ensure a guaranteed entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Uruguay’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia, who led the standings following the first two races of the season in St. Petersburg, Fla., last month, finished third for Belardi Auto Racing.

The day began with an intense qualifying session which saw O’Ward on top of the timing charts for the opening stages before Herta used his second fresh set of Cooper tires to eclipse the young Mexican and earn his eighth Indy Lights pole position for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing.

Herta duly catapulted into the lead at the start, but his advantage lasted only as far as Turn Five, where O’Ward dived to the inside under braking and left Herta with no alternative but to give way. Moments later, the field was neutralized as yellow flags waved for an incident a little farther back in the field.

Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) had made an impressive start, vaulting from sixth to fourth at the first corner, only to lose control and spin at Turn Two. Kellett’s faux pas extended an appalling run of luck for Wisconsin’s Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing), who had absolutely nowhere to go, ending his race with a broken suspension.

O’Ward took off at the restart and initially looked like he might be able to build a gap over his pursuers, only for Herta to gain his stride and close onto the tail of his rival once more. The teammates circulated as one for almost the entirety of the 25-lap race before O’Ward eked out a little breathing space over the final couple of laps around the challenging 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course. His eventual margin of victory was 1.3247 seconds.

Urrutia, who qualified third, remained there throughout, neither close enough to challenge the top two, nor under any pressure from behind.

Brazilian Victor Franzoni, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, continued his strong start to the season with his third successive fourth-place finish for Juncos Racing following a protracted battle with Ryan Norman of Andretti Autosport. The pair was never separated by more than a couple of car lengths but, try as he did, Norman, from Cleveland, Ohio, was unable to breach the Brazilian’s defenses. Norman’s consolation came in the form of the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started in seventh.

Qualifying for the fourth Indy Lights race of the season is scheduled to take place tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. CDT, with the green flag slated for 12 noon, immediately prior to the Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series headline event.

Coverage can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on promazda.com and racecontrol.indycar.com. Indy Lights is also featured on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

NBCSN will air Sunday’s Indy Lights race on Monday, April 23, following the NHL Playoffs.

Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#27 Riverina CDMX Mexico City Mazda-Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I just wanted to stay clean at the start but I saw Santi right behind me, so I tucked behind Colton. But coming into Turn Five, Santi was right on my gearbox, so I knew I would have to brake deep. My intentions were not to launch and go to first, but I was watching my mirrors and braked really late and it worked. The car was really a handful through the race, much different than it was in qualifying. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, going into the grass a few times when I was fighting the car with major oversteer. It took all my knowledge to keep it on the black stuff – I was so relieved to see the checkered flag.”

Colton Herta (#98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing Curb Mazda Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I thought I had a good gap going into the braking zone in Turn Five and that was just enough to let Pato come up the inside, and I couldn’t defend – and that was pretty much it. (The race) was challenging in its own way, trying to stay in contact with Pato in case he made a mistake, but he didn’t. The championship is in the back of your mind all the time, but you can’t bring it to the front because that’s when you make mistakes. We just need to get wins and put points on the board. To win the championship, you’re going to have to finish on the podium every race.”

Santiago Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I had a good start, but in Turn Five, Pato went to the inside and I went to the outside and I got stuck in third. I didn’t have the pace to stay with them, so we have to figure out what we can do for tomorrow. I was on my own most of the race, and I had to really keep my concentration so I didn’t make a mistake.”

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