Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia is confident of competing for Lights wins right away with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The Uruguayan, who last year won the Pro Mazda title with Team Pelfrey, told Motorsport.com: “I think that to go for the win [in St. Petersburg] would be a real target, although I never drove this car before in a street circuit.
“I think I’ll have a good performance. Of the three official tests we had, in two of them we finished in second place and in the last one we were first, so clearly we’re going in the right direction. Although they were just tests, it’s always nice to be on top and being competitive.”
Urrutia, who scored three wins and seven other podium finishes on his way to Pro Mazda title glory, gave credit to the Schmidt Peterson team for a lot of his confidence ahead of Saturday’s and Sunday’s races around the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg course.
He said: “What helped me a lot to be fast was the fact that the team has a lot of experience, it is a very good team. I was amazed by the professionalism they have.
“Besides being an Indy Lights team, they are also in IndyCar, so when you enter the shop you have the IndyCars, you can see where they develop the cars, the wings... Obviously they have a lot of experience.
“They are one of the most successful teams in Indy Lights history, so no doubt I’m in the right place for this season.”
Making the transition
Urrutia, who raced in Formula Abarth, Formula 3 and GP3 in successive years before hitting the Mazda Road To Indy trail last year, said he found the move from Pro Mazda to Indy Lights was not daunting, despite the cars’ differences.
He said: “I was able to have a good feeling right away with the [Dallara IL15]. Although there is much more power than in Pro Mazda, the driving style is very similar.
“From the physical side it is much more demanding. The car is bigger, has more power, the downforce is different. But although the tires are bigger than in the Pro Mazda car, the compound is very similar, so in qualifying you know when the tires are ok.”
Urrutia stated that the biggest change between Pro Mazda and Indy Lights was in the ovals. In the more junior series, Urrutia raced at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, the 0.686-mile track in Indiana, and at Iowa Speedway.
In 2016, he will race at Phoenix, where he proved fastest in two of the three test sessions last month, as well as Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the Freedom 100) and Iowa again.
“This car has much more downforce the Pro Mazda car,” observed Urrutia, “which in some ways makes it more easy to drive. In the oval you feel the car is a little bit more safe, but it also has an adaptation time.
“It cost me in the beginning, but after that I was able to be quick right away. Phoenix is a demanding oval, flat out all the lap, so you have to be physically strong and also have a good set up in the car, because being flat out all the cars are very even.”
- interview by Federico Faturos