MONTEREY, Calif. – Teenaged Mexican Patricio “Pato” O’Ward did exactly what he needed to do this afternoon to keep alive his dream of winning this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and a substantial scholarship prize to graduate into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2017. O’Ward out-fumbled Team Pelfrey teammate and championship leader Aaron Telitz at the start, dominated most of the race, then had to fight tooth and nail to secure victory in the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products following a full-course caution which ended with just one lap remaining.
Telitz briefly took the lead but had to settle for second ahead of impressive Argentinean rookie Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing).
Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., extended his championship lead to 15 points by virtue of claiming the pole position – his eighth of the season – in qualifying this morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. But his hopes of translating that into a sixth race win were dashed as the green flag waved, with O’Ward timing his start to perfection and leading clearly as the field sped past the start/finish line to commence their 30-minute race.
A disgruntled Telitz tucked into second place, chased by Dapero and Frenchman Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing), who won last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Telitz was even more concerned to learn almost right away that the fine balance on his #82 Team Pelfrey machine had disappeared. Instead of being able to challenge O’Ward, he had to watch his teammate disappear into the distance and instead focus his attentions on remaining ahead of Dapero.
O’Ward pulled out a commanding margin of over 11 seconds inside the first 16 laps, only for his advantage to be wiped out instantly when National class debutant Kory Enders (World Speed Motorsports) ended his first race at this level buried deep in the gravel trap at Turn Two.
The ensuing clean-up allowed time for only a one-lap dash to the finish – and what a finale lap it was! Telitz’s hopes of victory seemed to be ended when he was unceremoniously squeezed toward the pit wall by O’Ward, only to be promptly rekindled when his rival left his braking a fraction too deep and slid wide at the apex in Turn Two. Telitz immediately grasped the lead, while O’Ward narrowly avoided losing another place to Dapero. O’Ward then atoned for his momentary lapse with a bold late-braking maneuver to regain the lead at Turn Five. He held on for the remainder of the 2.238-mile lap to ensure his seventh victory of the season – and his first since Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in May.
Telitz’s championship lead has now been trimmed to just nine points with two more races remaining tomorrow to decide the 16-round championship.
Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, claimed another accomplished National Class win for JDC MotorSports – his ninth of the season – despite the addition of newcomers Moises de la Vara (DE Force racing) and local driver Dan Swanback (World Speed Motorsports), from San Jose, Calif., earning the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award in the process.
Additional contingency awards included the Staubli Award to de la Vara and PFC Award to the winning team of Team Pelfrey.
Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#80 Gap Guard-Team Pelfrey): “After having a 12-second lead, I told myself I’m not going to lose this race on the restart. I fought back and we came out with the win. I’m really thrilled for myself, for my team and for all my friends who came out to see me. I’ll try to do the same tomorrow – I know it won’t be easy but we were really quick today and I’m really confident for tomorrow. I’m good friends with Aaron and we raced each other clean today and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow. I'm starting second and I'll have to go for it again. Whoever gets the wins is going to take the championship.”