The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion for 2017 may be all but determined, but there is still plenty on the line as the series heads into Sunday’s season finale at Watkins Glen International.
As soon as he takes the green flag to start the race, points leader Kyle Kaiser will officially clinch the title and $1 million Mazda scholarship for 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series competition that goes with it.
“Heading into the weekend, I have a very different feeling from the other weekends this year,” admitted Kaiser, driver of the No. 18 Dallara IL-15/Mazda for Juncos Racing. The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires scholarship guarantees the 21-year-old from Santa Clara, California, at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races next season, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“Each weekend this year, I’ve always had the championship in the back of my mind, but without that restriction I think I’ll be able to go out there and enjoy racing on such an amazing circuit,” Kaiser added. “This is also likely my last race in the MRTI, so there is plenty of motivation to go out and perform at my best. My approach and preparation for this race weekend won’t be any different, but my plan is to show up and go for the race win to end this amazing season on a high note.”
Behind Kaiser, there’s a frantic battle for second in the standings among four drivers, including last year’s Indy Lights runner-up, Santi Urrutia. The 21-year-old Uruguayan holds an eight-point advantage over 17-year-old Colton Herta (No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing), who is contending against 18-year-old Matheus Leist for series rookie of the year. Leist (No. 26 Carlin) trails Herta by 17 points and is a single point ahead of Zachary Claman De Melo (No. 13 Carlin).
Urrutia said he will follow the same plan that earned him a victory last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry.
“When I was second behind Juan (Piedrahita in the Gateway race), I said, ‘I’m going to win this race or I’m going to finish in the wall’ because the only thing I got to do was win,” Urrutia said. “At Watkins Glen, I was quick last year and got the pole position, so this year I’m going to go in with the same mind.
“Try to take the pole position and, if I have a competitive car, try and win the race, so that’s what I’m going to do. Go for the win and try to finish in the best position for the championship.”
The team championship in Indy Lights is calculated on a different points system than the driver championship, and is still up for grabs. Andretti Autosport holds an 11-point advantage on Belardi Auto Racing, with Carlin 19 points out of the lead.
Indy Lights will conduct practice sessions on the 3.37-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen road course at 4:25 p.m. ET Friday and 8:45 a.m. Saturday. Qualifying is set for 2:15 p.m. Saturday, with the race to conclude the 2017 season at 10:50 a.m. Sunday. All sessions are scheduled for a live video stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.