WATKINS GLEN, NY -- Zach Veach dominated Saturday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race at Watkins Glen International to take his second victory of the season, but it was the championship race that grabbed most of the attention.
Santiago Urrutia finished last in the 12-car field and saw his lead evaporate to a single point over Ed Jones, who finished second in the 25-lap race. Indy Lights finishes its season Sept. 9-11 with a doubleheader weekend in the Soul Red Finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that concludes the season for all three levels of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
Veach, who returned to Indy Lights this season with Belardi Auto Racing after a year hiatus, was the class of the field and led wire-to-wire after roaring from fifth to pass pole sitter Urrutia for the lead on the first lap around the 3.37-mile road course.
“With the start, it was just being at the right place at the right time,” said Veach. “I feel like we didn’t get the qualifying result we wanted and didn’t have enough speed to catch Santi, but had a top-three car.
“We just got lucky. People put me in the right position to get through it and I caught Santi’s draft going into the ‘Bus Stop’ and that allowed me to get around him.”
Urrutia was unable to challenge Veach for the lead and began to struggle as the tires on his No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb/Agajanian began to degrade. Jones passed Urrutia for second place on Lap 15 and the points leader found himself all the way down to fifth three laps later.
After running the left front tire he had previously flat-spotted over curbing on Lap 19, the tire let go and Urrutia had to limp all the way around the track to the pits for a change. It put him a lap down, out of race contention and set up a thrilling doubleheader finale next weekend in California.
“We started the race thinking we should win,” Urrutia said. “The car was really fast, but we had a problem on the first lap with understeer and then I was working with the tires and driving really slow, especially on the right-hand corners, but it is what it is.
“Today we lost,” the 20-year-old reigning Pro Mazda champion added, “but we are still leading the championship by one point. Everything is going to finish at Mazda Raceway next week, so we are going to go with the same mindset that we came here and that is to win. So we are going to go for pole position and to win both races.”
Jones crossed the line 3.62 seconds behind Veach in his No. 11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels Dallara IL-15. The Carlin driver admitted that the key to the race was being patient and managing his tires.
“The whole race, I was trying not to melt the tire and trying not to slide it anywhere,” Jones said. “You’re still pushing hard but you’re just below the absolute limit and I think that is what saved us.
“I could see Santi in front of me sliding the car a lot. That works for tracks like Mid-Ohio, but when you have a smooth surface, it’s not very good.”
A delayed telecast of the Indy Lights race airs at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN, immediately before the Verizon IndyCar Series race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi.