Urrutia’s in-season rebound set him up for potential IndyCar jump
One driver who made some noise around the end of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season about his potential jump into the Verizon IndyCar Series was Uruguayan Santi Urrutia, who ended second in this year’s Indy Lights championship after a roller-coaster campaign.
While he hasn’t been confirmed for an IndyCar seat yet although he’s met with a couple teams, he put himself in this position by way of his comeback during the Indy Lights season.
He entered as something of a championship favorite after ending runner-up with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016 behind Ed Jones, albeit in controversial fashion. Alas, Urrutia moved over to Belardi Auto Racing when SPM shut down its Indy Lights operation, as Belardi and SPM formed a partnership early in the season, evidenced by the ARROW Electronics branding on Urrutia’s No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda this year.
Amid high expectations, Urrutia was confident of a title-contending year. But, in the first half of the season, things did not go as planned.
In the first four races, Urrutia had three finishes of 13th or worse (13th, 13th, and 15th), broken up for a second-place finish in race two at St. Petersburg.
His season began to turn around at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, where he finished seventh and second. He followed that up with fifth in the Freedom 100 before finishing second at Road America race one.
A final lap race puncture dropped him to 11th in race two there, before he rebounded the next couple weekends. A run up to second at Iowa Speedway saw him infamously/hilarious doing victory donuts after a miscommunication (Urrutia had thought he’d won as he was a fair distance behind Matheus Leist) and then added a third at race on in Toronto.
A mechanical issue resigned him to 11th in race two at Toronto. But the final four races of 2017 saw the title-contending form Urrutia had in 2017 return for good.
He won race one at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, finished second in race two, won at Gateway Motorsports Park courtesy of a late-race pass of Juan Piedrahita, and ended the year by finishing second at Watkins Glen behind teammate Aaron Telitz.
All told, Urrutia overcame the rocky start to end up second in the championship for the second consecutive year. Urrutia, true to form, didn’t mince words about his disappointment - particularly in his own performance - at the start of the season.
“Honestly, the first part of the championship, I was really bad. I was all over the place. Didn’t have the pace for top five,” he told NBC Sports at the Watkins Glen season finale.
However, he also detailed that mechanical woes hampered them, and an engine change at Road America helped set in motion their charge in the second half of the season.
“When we changed (the) engine at Road America, it went the right way. I have the same engineer (Tim Neff) from last year. We changed guys in the team. But Belardi won a ton of races last year. They’re competitive. We had the pace, especially second part of the year, but struggled in the beginning because of the engine. Considering I was 11th at Road America and now I’m vice champion, for sure I’m way more happy than last year.”
Further, Urrutia was a contributing factor in Belardi Auto Racing winning the team championship in 2017, the highlights being a pair of victories for both Urrutia and Aaron Telitz.
“I am so proud of this team,” Brian Belardi said of the accomplishment. “Winning the team championship was a big goal of ours. We’ve had an amazing history in a short amount of time, with drivers like Anders Krohn, Peter Dempsey, Gabby Chaves, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach.
“Sometimes you’re a cheerleader, sometimes you’re a father figure. We’re all following a dream here – there have been ups and downs but we seem to prevail somehow so hats off to everyone who’s ever been with our team.”
Looking ahead to 2018, Urrutia has his eyes on the Verizon IndyCar Series, and he seemed confident that he could secure a full-time seat, and even more confident that he can be a contender right away.
Belardi, too, indicated he may be on the verge of an Indianapolis 500 debut - same as Juncos Racing did this year - while focusing full-season on an at least three and possibly four-car Indy Lights program.
"(If) there’s that time I sign the contract, I want to be competitive and win races,” Urrutia said. “It’ll be similar to the Indy Lights car, so that’ll be an advantage.
“It’ll be my first year, and I think I can win races in my first year. It should be fine.”