Decisive Mazda Road to Indy Weekend in Store at Mid-Ohio
 July 24, 2018| 
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O’Ward Holds the Advantage in Indy Lights

PALMETTO, Fla. – It’s coming down to crunch-time for all three tiers of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, which collectively offers scholarships and prizes valued at more than $3.5 million to assist drivers in their progression from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The title-chases for both Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires are finely poised heading into this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, near Lexington, Ohio, which will feature double-headers for each of the two series. Meanwhile, the outcome of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is highly likely to be settled in favor of 19-year-old Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., who requires only a modest points haul from the unique triple-header on deck to put the top prize beyond the reach of his rivals.

Two race victories and a second-place finish from the last three races have catapulted Patricio O’Ward into a relatively comfortable 18-point lead over primary rival Colton Herta prior to the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Powered by Mazda.

The pair have endured a somewhat tortuous battle for supremacy this year. It began with O’Ward, 19, from Monterrey, Mexico, winning three of the first four races for Andretti Autosport – although it should have been four straight wins had he not made a mistake while leading comfortably in Race Two on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Herta, 18, from Valencia, Calif., kept himself in contention by claiming three podium finishes for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. He then went on a tear of his own, winning four consecutive races to gain an advantage in the quest for a scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

But there has been another shift in power over the course of this month, with O’Ward claiming victory on the Iowa Speedway oval, then adding a win and a second two weeks ago on the streets of Toronto. His path was eased considerably when Herta suffered a dismal weekend in Toronto. Three separate crashes left Herta with a broken left thumb and caused him to pull out of Race Two in the hope of allowing the injury some time to heal.

Herta has been obliged to rest as much as possible during the intervening two weeks, and he will race with a special cast on his wrist at a track where, in 1993, his own father, Bryan, clinched the Indy Lights Championship in style by winning the race for his Hilliard, Ohio-based Tasman Motorsports team.

Uruguay’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia also remains in the championship mix for Belardi Auto Racing. After finishing runner-up in the standings in each of the past two years, Urrutia won Round Two at St. Petersburg back in March and added another “W” in the most recent race at Toronto. The 21-year-old has enjoyed plenty of success at Mid-Ohio before, winning once on his way to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2015 and emerging victorious in three of four Indy Lights races over the past two years at the undulating and challenging 2.258-mile road course.

Belardi teammate Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., also has enjoyed some recent success after a difficult start to the season, finishing on the podium in Toronto, although the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, twice a winner in 2017, is still seeking his first victory of the year.

Brazilian Victor Franzoni, who succeeded Telitz as Pro Mazda champion and therefore carries the distinctive Mazda Soul Red livery on his Juncos Racing Dallara-Mazda, claimed a well-deserved first Indy Lights victory last month at Road America, while Ryan Norman, from nearby Aurora, Ohio, has been edging closer to his first win with a pair of podium finishes this season for Andretti Autosport alongside teammate Dalton Kellett, who finished third in the Freedom 100.

The 13th and 14th rounds of the 17-race title-chase will follow the usual format, starting with 40 minutes of official practice at 9:25 a.m. on Friday, July 27, and the first of two 25-minute qualifying sessions (to set the grid for Race One) at 1:20 p.m. After another qualifying session to determine the starting order for Race Two at 9:20 a.m. on Saturday, the two races are scheduled for 3:05 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday – immediately before the headline Verizon IndyCar Series event. All times are EDT.

Coverage of on-track action in all three series 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 the series’ respective websites and 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.

The Indy Lights race will be broadcast on NBCSN at 6:00 pm EDT on Tuesday, July 31.

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