Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, set the pace today for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian at Barber Motorsports Park as the top rung on the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, took to the 2.3-mile road course for one final opportunity to prepare for next weekend’s championship-opening races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Urrutia, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, turned a best lap of 1:12.4479 this afternoon, fractionally slower than the record 1:12.3865 lap turned in qualifying last year by eventual series champion Spencer Pigot.
“We put the lap together on the last run, on new tires, and I was P1,” said Urrutia, who claimed a pair of podium finishes at Barber last year during his championship-winning Pro Mazda campaign. “This track is very physical, like [the oval at] Phoenix, so I need to train my neck a little bit! I’m happy but there’s a long way to go. Everyone is quick so I need to be quick.”
Urrutia, 19, edged out Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing) by a mere 0.0190 second, with Canadian Scott Hargrove, who won the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and finished second in the 2014 Pro Mazda title-chase, ensuring that three different teams would be represented at the top of the timing charts with a 1:12.6222 lap for Indy Lights newcomer Team Pelfrey.
“We’ve tried a huge number of things today, back and forth with different testing programs,” said Rosenqvist, who was fastest in another pre-season road course test recently at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. “We learned quite a lot. I had some small issues in the afternoon so I think we can find something more for the race. There’s definitely more to come.
“This circuit is fantastic,” continued the winner of last year’s FIA European Formula 3 Championship. “I think it’s one of the top-five best circuits I’ve driven, it’s really nice and flowing. It’s a proper circuit – you’ll pay for it if you make a mistake. It’s very high speed and very physical, so it really tests the teams, the cars and the drivers.”
The quality field of 16 drivers completed a total of 1,433 laps today. Ed Jones (Carlin) was fastest in this morning’s three-hour session with a time of 1:13.0287, despite sitting out the final hour after spinning into the wall at the exit of Turn Five and damaging his Carlin car’s suspension. Jones also missed virtually all of the afternoon session due to an electrical sensor gremlin.
Hargrove was merely 0.0145 of a second shy this morning, while Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) and Rosenqvist also circulated within 0.2 seconds of Jones’ fastest time.
The two junior levels on the Mazda Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will take over at Barber tomorrow and Monday for two more days of testing. Meanwhile, the Indy Lights teams will now pack up and head south for next weekend’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Lucas School of Racing. The season opener will comprise the first two of 18 races to determine the winner of a Mazda Scholarship prize, valued at $1 million, which will include a guaranteed entry in three 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series events, including the Indianapolis 500.