Lexington, OH – July 30, 2016 – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) driver Santiago Urrutia became the first three-time winner in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series on Saturday during the first race of a double-header weekend. Teammate Andre Negrao joined him on the podium with a second-place finish.
Urrutia, whose impressive qualifying run (1:10.9428) was six-tenths faster than the next car, started on the pole position for Saturday’s race. From start to finish, the Uruguayan driver never gave up the lead, at one time holding a near-eight-second lead over second place.
“I was so happy to win today,” said Urrutia. “I really like this track, I won and finished third here in two Pro Mazda races and that really helped me in the championship. I hope it is the same this year. But the first thing I said when I got out of the car was, ‘I have to win again tomorrow.’
“I saw that Jones was sixth, so I came into this race 24 points back and now I’m only seven points back. If you watched the race, it would look like an easy race for me but it wasn’t at all – it’s so easy to make a mistake when you’re out in front by yourself. I just worked on my pace, which was really good. I wanted to get the quickest lap and I did. I’m really happy for what we did today but I’ve won three races this year and I’m still second in the championship, so I have to keep winning.
“I made mistakes early in the season so I have to be consistent now and win races. The series is so competitive and everyone wants to win – especially the Mazda scholarship – so now I will focus on tomorrow.”
Teammate Negrao started third after a solid qualifying run of 1:11.7353. He made a great pass on the first lap to claim the second-place spot that he held onto for 30 laps on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course.
SPM Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to the track on Saturday afternoon to qualify for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Both James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, who were assigned to the same group for the first round of qualifying, advanced to the second round. With two minutes remaining in the session, Hinchcliffe was leading with Aleshin in second.
The Arrow Electronics crew made a calculated decision to have Hinchcliffe pit as rain threatened, in order to save tires for Sunday’s race. Although precipitation never appeared, the move proved to be beneficial for the team’s race strategy.
“It was an entertaining qualifying session, if nothing else,” said Hinchcliffe. “We kind of pulled the short straw by being in group two because the rain looked like it was coming so a lot of guys took two sets of reds during that first qualifying round. When we went out for the second round, the guys like me that went out on used reds to start were the quickest so it shows that the car had really good pace on used tires. If we had gotten into the Firestone Fast Six, that would’ve been a good sign for sure but we did our first run and ended up P1.
“The rain looked like it was coming. The guys from group one in the first round had new tires and we really didn’t want to put a second run on our second set of reds. This is a red tire race so punishing the second set of reds for another run, it just didn’t feel right for tomorrow, so it knocked us down the grid a little bit but I think we have a better tire situation than some of the guys in front of us and we can capitalize on that tomorrow. I’m proud of the Arrow Electronics team and the effort this weekend, and we’re going to make it a good race.”
Aleshin’s No. 7 crew was on the same strategy as his teammate, using two sets of red tires in the first session. The Russian driver had to go out on used reds for the second round, later changing to blacks, but wasn’t able to get a fast enough lap to advance further.
“I think the qualifying was not too bad for us,” said Aleshin. “Both cars are in the top ten and for me, it’s definitely not a bad result based on where we started the practices yesterday. That was a difficult day for us and today we had good progress in the SMP Racing car. We finished thirteenth in the session before qualifying this morning and tenth in qualifying, so it’s good progress. We just need to continue going the same way in the race. We have good speed and the race is long so I’m sure we can have a good result.”
On Sunday, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series will compete in the second race of the weekend at 12:20 p.m. ET. Urrutia will start first and Negrao will start third. Later, the 90-lap, Verizon IndyCar Series race will take place from 2:00-5:00 p.m. on CNBC.