ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Belardi Auto Racing kicked off the 2017 season with an important success, as their rookie driver Aaron Telitz was victorious in the opening round of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The 2016 Pro Mazda champion qualified his #9 ‘Soul Red’ Mazda-backed Dallara IL-15 on pole for the first race of the weekend doubleheader, and then proceeded to power away to an 11.033-second win. The team scored a total of five top-six finishes on the weekend as Telitz backed up his Saturday win with a fifth on Sunday. Shelby Blackstock finished fourth and sixth in the two events, while Santiago Urrutia stormed back after a Race #1 DNF to take second on Sunday.
“I’m so proud of our drivers and this race team,” enthused Brian Belardi, Team Owner. “We finished the second half of last season strongly, and I’m very happy that we’ve been able to maintain that momentum in 2017. The guys are working so well together and Aaron’s win on Saturday was huge for us. I was very impressed to see Santi come back to second on Sunday after getting wrecked at the start of the first race. I think we all know that he will contend for the championship. Shelby showed impressive pace, consistency and awesome racecraft with his two top-six finishes. I’m really positive on this year’s effort.”
The Indy Lights series has moved to separate qualifying sessions for each race of the doubleheader weekends, and Telitz drew first blood when he laid down the fastest lap in the timed session for Race 1 with a 1:07.5844. The Minnesota resident was on fire, and was over three tenths clear of the field. Urrutia qualified sixth for the first race, while Blackstock took eighth to start on the outside of the fourth row.
When the green flag waved to start Race #1, Telitz avoided an over-eager inside line overtaking attempt by Juan Piedrahita in turn one to emerge with the lead after Piedrahita pushed well past the apex. Telitz would not be challenged again, taking an 11.033-second win over Colton Herta.
Urrutia suffered significant damage in the opening corner chaos after contact with Dalton Kellett and was forced to retire, while Blackstock avoided the carnage and jumped quickly to fifth. Shelby battled his way to third, and would eventually finish fourth, even though he was battling a braking issue.
Qualifying for Sunday morning’s Race 2 took place early on Saturday morning, and this time around, Urrutia led the team with a strong effort to secure the outside of the front row. The team elected to roll the dice with Telitz and held back a set of sticker Cooper Tires for use in Race #1, and without the second run on new rubber, he would slot in 10th to secure a position on the outside of row five. Blackstock followed Telitz on the timesheet, taking 11th.
Urrutia followed Herta out of turn one at the green for Race 2 and would pressure him throughout the race and on the three restarts that came during a caution-filled race. Santi made Herta work for the win, and he would have to settle for second in the final tally. It was a strong recovery and crucial points for Urrutia, who left St. Petersburg sitting sixth in the standings, just 26 points out of first.
Starting deeper in the field, both Telitz and Blackstock needed to focus on avoiding the potential wreck and they were both able to find a way through the carnage when Neil Alberico and Nico Jamin got together heading to turn three. Telitz advanced to fifth during the 40-lap race, while Blackstock backed up his fourth place finish on Saturdaywith a sixth on Sunday to sit in a tie with Kyle Kaiser for fourth in the standings. On the strength of his win, Telitz will head to Alabama in April sitting second just 10 points behind the leader.
The Belardi Auto Racing crew has returned to the team’s shop in Brownsburg, Indiana and will begin preparations for the second event on the schedule. The series will reconvene at Barber Motorsports Park on April 21-23 for rounds three and four of the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires schedule. The on-track action from St. Petersburg will also be streamed live on the Mazda Road to Indy app or through the MRTI.TV website (www.roadtoindy.tv), as will the entire Indy Lights season. Be sure to follow Belardi Auto Racing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay updated on all the action.
BELARDI AUTO RACING – DRIVER RESULTS AND QUOTES
INDY LIGHTS – ROUND 1 – MARCH 10-12, 2017
GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERBURG – ST. PETERSBURG, FL
SANTIAGO URRUTIA - #5
Qualifying 1: 6th – 1:08.1124
Qualifying 2: 2nd – 1:06.7391
Race #1: Start – 6th / Finish – 13th
Race #2: Start – 2nd / Finish – 2nd
Driver Quote: “Sunday’s result was good for the championship. The first race was really disappointing, but that racing. Contact like that can happen in every race, but I hope we’ll be able to avoid it from now on. I pushed hard to get past Colton (Herta), but the only place I felt I had the opportunity to overtake was the restarts with my push-to-pass. Colton did a great job defending the inside very well. The championship will be hard this year with a lot of great drivers, same as last year. As you can see in qualifying, there were 12 drivers within 1 second. Belardi Auto Racing did a great job this weekend getting the win on Saturday with Aaron and with me on Sunday in P2, so we’re going to work together and gain as many points as we can at Barber.”
AARON TELITZ - #9
Qualifying 1: 1st – 1:07.5844
Qualifying 2: 5th – 1:07.4712
Race #1: Start – 1st / Finish – 1st
Race #2: Start – 10th / Finish – 5th
Driver Quote: “What an incredible opening weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg! The Belardi Auto Racing guys did a stellar job all weekend. Race 1 could not have gone any better with claiming pole position and then running away to win my first Indy Lights race in my first try. Race 2 was quite a bit more exciting for me as I didn't have as good of a run in Q2 and had to roll off 10th. But I made great use of the Mazda Push-to-Pass to move up to fifth by the finish. Huge thanks to Mazda, Cooper Tires, Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Styled Aesthetic, Morrie's Mazda, Rising Star Racing, Bell Helmets, and Sparco for all the support for this season. Can't wait to get back on track at Barber next month.”
SHELBY BLACKSTOCK - #51
Qualifying 1: 8th – 1:08.2385
Qualifying 2: 11th – 1:07.5098
Race #1: Start – 8th / Finish – 4th
Race #2: Start – 11th / Finish – 6th
Driver Quote: “Overall, I had a good weekend down in St. Pete. After a rough qualifying and some brake issues through both races, I am happy with the two finishes of fourth and sixth. My Belardi Auto Racing car was very fast and the new push-to-pass system made the races very interesting! Coming out of the weekend tied for fourth in points gives me good momentum heading into Barber, because we are very much in the hunt.”
About Belardi Auto Racing: Belardi Auto Racing is an organization comprised of experienced individuals in the racing industry with an aggressive growth strategy and a strong commitment to finishing up front. No stranger to winning, team members having been achieving success in both the amateur and pro ranks for over a decade, winning numerous junior formula car races and championships. Based in Brownsburg, IN, Belardi Auto Racing won the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship and has scored multiple races wins in both Indy Lights and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered By Mazda, including the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis and prestigious races like the Long Beach Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Toronto Indy and events at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile, Pocono, Road America, Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.