Colton Herta picked up where he left off in May at IMS with a beautifully controlled win at Road America’s first Indy Lights race of the weekend, and moved into a 12-point lead over Andretti Autosport teammate Pato O’Ward.
Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni comfortably led away from pole but into the heavy braking zone of Turn 5 on the opening lap, Andretti Steinbrenner Racing’s Herta went down the inside of Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia to grab second place, while right behind them O’Ward replicated that maneuver on the other Belardi car of Aaron Telitz.
On Lap 3, O’Ward grabbed third from Urrutia, again down the inside at Turn 5, while up front Franzoni was struggling to hold off the charging Herta, the pair of them 2.5sec clear of O’Ward. However, Herta was getting impatient to pass because that gap back to his teammate was closing.
The Andretti Steinbrenner car finally hit the front down the hill to Turn 5 into Lap 6, and three corners later, Franzoni dropped a wheel in the dirt. The Juncos driver lost momentum and, after running side by side with O’Ward through the bottom of the Carousel, conceded second place to the second Andretti car.
O’Ward now found himself 1.3sec behind Herta, a gap that stayed the same over the following lap, but on Lap 8 of the 20, it was down to 0.9sec, with Franzoni now 3.2sec off the lead, his lead challenge spent.
O’Ward closed in on the leader and Herta’s exaggeratedly defensive line into Turn 5 on both Laps 11 and 12 almost cost him the lead on corner exit. But on the latter lap, O’Ward ran wide and lost ground, also locking his left-front into Turn 6. He was now also out of push-to-pass, and he dropped to 1.2sec behind Herta, then 1.6sec, 1.8sec, 2.2…
Herta’s eventual winning margin was 3.7061sec, with Franzoni 1.86sec behind O’Ward, with the Belardi pair just 0.6sec apart and 6.5sec ahead of Ryan Norman.
Dalton Kellett needed a pitstop for a puncture, taking seventh and last.
The second Lights race starts at 9.50am local (Central) time on Sunday.