Telitz wins opener but Herta stars at St. Petersburg


Aaron Telitz took the opening victory of the 2017 Indy Lights season at St. Pete - Credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The opening races of the 2017 Indy Lights season took place at St. Petersburg last weekend and the race wins were shared out between series rookies Aaron Telitz and Colton Herta.

Both drivers starred from pole position, with Belardi Auto Racing’s Telitz taking the honours on Saturday before Herta won from the front on Sunday for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing.

Telitz survived a chaotic start when Juan Piedrahita attempted to run down the inside, only to lock up and head straight on, with cars taking avoiding action and leaving Dalton Kellett spun and facing the wrong way.

Matheus Leist ran second early on before dropping down the field as an engine issue on his Carlin machine eventually curtailed his day, leaving his team-mate Neil Alberico to give initial chase to Telitz.

Shelby Blackstock moved up to third before Herta made a move on lap thirteen, before the young American chased down Alberico. Despite damaging his nose in an earlier attempt, Herta moved into second with five laps to go, but the gap to Telitz by this point was too great, and more than eleven seconds separated the leading two at the chequered flag.

Alberico took his maiden series podium in third ahead of Blackstock, with Patricio O’Ward taking fifth in the closing laps from Kyle Kaiser after Piedrahita was forced to pit for a new front nose with just a handful of laps to go.

Colton Herta was victorious in race two at St. Pete – Credit: Advanced Engine Research

Herta held off the challenge of Belardi Auto Racing’s Santiago Urrutia during Sunday’s second race, becoming the youngest winner in Indy Lights history at only sixteen years of age.

Despite three early caution periods for incidents, the first of which came at turn one on lap one, with Alberico crashing out after a clash with Nico Jamin, who also found his afternoon’s work over before it really began. Further cautions were caused by Kellett, who hit the wall at turn seven and damaged his front wing to leave debris on track, and by Garth Rickards, who crashed out at turn three.

The top five made a breakaway at the final restart, and it looked as though Urrutia was going to make a move on Herta, but the teenager had everything under control, and it left the Uruguayan to fend off the late race challenge of O’Ward. Kaiser finished fourth while Telitz could not match his Saturday efforts and came home fifth ahead of Blackstock.

Herta leads the championship heading out of St. Petersburg after his win and second place, with Telitz ten points back in second and O’Ward a further ten points back in third. The championship now heads to Barber Motorsports Park in April for two more races.