The 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season could be Santiago Urrutia’s road to redemption.
Last year’s rookie of the year, Urrutia lost the championship on the final lap of the season after Ed Jones made a pass for fourth-place on Carlin teammate Felix Serralles – all despite Urrutia scoring the most race wins (four) in the season, including that race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 20-year-old Uruguayan comes into 2017 with a new team in Belardi Auto Racing and more experience, but the same motivation.
“I think the motivation is the same as last year,” said Urrutia, the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires champion. “My goal is the same – win the championship.
“Probably the biggest difference is now I got more experience with one year in Indy Lights, what would be my third year in America, so I know the tracks and I know a lot of the people around here.
Even with that experience, the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 driver still knows there is work to be done on the ovals and has his sights set on reaching the podium in each of the three Indy Lights events (Indianapolis, Iowa, Gateway) this season.
“I think what I have to gain is on the ovals, never got a podium,” said Urrutia. “I was close to getting a podium last year in Phoenix, I finished fourth, but I think there is what I have to improve.
“If I improve on the ovals, qualifying and especially in the race, and get better in traffic … I’m pretty good on the road courses and the street courses, but if I have to say one thing to improve it’s with the ovals. If I improve the ovals, it’s going to help me for the championship.”
Reflecting back on the painful 2016 championship loss, Urrutia made it no secret that is was difficult to get past. However, he believes the after-effect is a strengthened resolve that will make him one of the toughest on the grid for fellow competitors.
“When I lost the championship last year, I was thinking my career was over,” Urrutia said. “So, when I got back to Uruguay, I didn’t work out a lot. I was just standing around. It was difficult for me to lose the championship. It took me a little bit to understand I was the vice champion and not the champion.
“As soon as I (took time to) understand, I got the energy to work again and go to my sponsors and everything. I moved on. I’m glad I have the chance to race again.
“I’m lucky that I have a chance to fight for the championship. On the offseason I was doing a lot of things. I was traveling a little bit here to America. I was in Uruguay working with the sponsors doing some media things. During the holidays, I was in Uruguay because it’s the summer right now, so, yeah, it was good.
“I have all the energy right now to start the championship and go for it.”
The 2017 Indy Lights season kicks off with a doubleheader weekend in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10-12. Sessions will be streamed live at racecontrol.indycar.com.