Sunday was a very busy day, with seven back to back Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The day got off to a late start due to a two-hour fog delay. Lunch was abbreviated, to help make up time, but at least the SFR SCCA volunteer marshals and race officials got to come in for lunch and have a breather to sit down, after starting their day at 7am in the fog and ending at 5:40pm as the fog rolled back in.
There was a lot of driving talent to be seen, with these development/ladder series races, and somewhat sad there weren’t more fans to enjoy the racing and the racers. The paddock was wide open. They could have seen a future Indy 500 or Le Mans winner.
I spotted at least two talent scouts in the paddock, including IndyCar team owner Dale Coyne. Also on site and taking a turn at being interviewed on the PA was IndyCar driver, Max Chilton.
The Sunday afternoon Indy Lights Soul Red race got off to a rocky start and ended with what some consider a controversy. Title contender, Ed Jones of Dubai in No.11 Carlin had the pole position, and title contender, Rookie Santiago Urrutia of Uruguay in No.55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian started third behind Saturday’s race winner, Kyle Kaiser in No.18 Juncos Racing. Zach Veach of OH started fourth in No.5 Belardi Auto Racing and Jones’ teammate, Felix Serralles of Puerto Rico, started fifth in No.4 Carlin. The first attempted start was ragged with the second row jumping the gun, so the starter waved them off. The 15-car field finally took the green flag on their fourth go-around, after two pace laps.
Jones led the first lap, but was soon overtaken by a charging Veach who seemingly came out of nowhere, moved right up the line to grab the lead on Lap Two. The dimunitive driver then continued to lead the parade for the remainder of the 38-lap race. Veach admitted afterwards that he used Jones championship against him, saying he knew Jones wouldn’t do anything to risk it (the championship), so “I made myself present and got by.” Jones and Urrutia were side by side until Urrutia got by Jones and then Kaiser, while Jones fell back to fifth, behind his teammate, Serralles. Veach said post race that he has to thank Michael Andretti, who taught him to be the fastest out of the pits. “I was pretty lucky to make that move.”
Rookie Garrett Gris of Canada in No.3 Team Pelfrey spun out on Lap Two in Turn Four, bringing out a one-lap Caution
The top five positions remained in lock-step for most of the race – Veach; Urrutia, and the two Carlin drivers, Serralles and Jones. The Carlin boys raced hard in the final laps, until the last lap. At that point the championship was on the line. Urrutia would win the championship over Ed Jones, despite their equal points because Urrutia had more 2016 wins – four, and that would be the tie-breaker.
Then on the last lap going into Turn Two, Serralles did an “After you, Alfonse” move, Jones passed and won the Championship from fourth place. Urruttia finished second, sans championship.
Veach won the race, led the most laps and turned the fastest lap of 103.749 mph/77.6563 sec on Lap 5. It was his third Indy Lights victory this season, and second in two weeks.
It was painful to watch the podium ceremonies. There were some boos, and not a lot of joy – except for race winner Veach who was all smiles. Jones won the 2016 Indy Lights Championship and with it the $1 million for a guaranteed three-races in the 2017 IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500 race.
Afterwards Jones was low-key in his Media Center appearance, saying he was glad to win the championship, as he has been struggling with his budget. “It was a tough weekend, and I’m disappointed not to have won more races.” He teased Veach about “his ambitious move.”
Veach said he’s had three years in Indy Lights and as he’s not a paying driver, and still without the necessary funding to go IndyCar racing, that’s still his goal and he’s hopeful. If he can’t race IndyCar next year, he wouldn’t mind another year in Indy Lights, and a second year with the Belardi team; as this year he was on a learning curve. Veach drove No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at the IndyCar Sonoma Raceway Thursday, and reportedly was the fastest of the Indy Lights drivers testing that day.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is located on Highway 68 between Del Ray Oaks, Monterey and Salinas. The nearby area is still dealing with the Soberanes Fire, with one area still under evacuation and another evac order put out Saturday night, which was expanded Sunday afternoon. The wide-spread forest fire has been going on for 52 days, with wind and heat causing flareups in the rugged, inaccessible regions.