Santiago Urrutia rebounded from a dreadful GP3 season in 2014 by moving to America and winning his way up the Road to Indy. He was denied the Indy Lights title as a rookie, and is still waiting on his IndyCar chance
When Felix Serralles allowed his Carlin team-mate Ed Jones past at Turn 3 of Laguna Seca on the final lap of the 2016 Indy Lights season, he ensured that Jones would win the title rather than Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s Santiago Urrutia.
The 20-year-old Uruguayan was on track to be crowned champion on wins countback prior to Carlin’s switch of positions, which has proven to be the defining point of his career.
“I can say I was an IndyCar driver,” Urrutia reveals to Formula Scout, “but I didn?t have the money to race. I have two contracts in my house, with two different teams.
“In my first year in Indy Lights, I was champion until the last lap – but the guys from Carlin took my title away, which wasn?t fair. But it is what it is and that?s how it goes.
“I already had a contract to race in IndyCar the next year but then I didn?t have the money [by missing the $1 million scholarship for becoming champion], so I had to do another two years in Indy Lights.”
Urrutia won four times in his rookie season with championship behemoth SPM, which departed Indy Lights at the end of the year. He signed for the more modestly sized Belardi Auto Racing for 2017, along with his SMP engineer Tim Nuff, but the combination took a while to gel and he finished runner-up once again.
Last year was Urrutia’s most consistent yet, against stronger opposition too, but after leading early on he was jumped by Andretti Autosport pair Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta – now two of the hottest properties in IndyCar.
“I have nothing bad to say about Belardi?s team, but it?s definitely not as competitive as Andretti is,” Urrutia says.
“If you see what Andretti has built, it?s amazing. It has a winning IndyCar team, it can be competitive in Formula E and Indy Lights, it has won the past two titles there.
“Sam Schmidt was the best team I could have raced for in Indy Lights. He was the number one back in those days, very competitive. Then pretty much all the SPM people went to Andretti. What Andretti has right now is what Schmidt used to have.
“Belardi definitely put a lot of effort into the car and everything, but it?s a very small team. It?s difficult for them to be as competitive as Andretti, even with the great people they have there.
“I was reserve driver for SPM at one point in IndyCar, I think I did two or three tests.
“My first time [in an IndyCar] was at Sonoma, and it was really good. I think Montoya on that day was the quickest, and I was nine tenths behind him – but on a new track, new car, new everything. The team was very, very, very happy about it.
“IndyCar was my dream. It?s not my dream anymore, but I believe one day I will have the chance to race. If you see the guys that were competing against me in Indy Lights: Herta didn?t win the title and he is now in IndyCar and he is competitive.
“I didn?t get in IndyCar not because I didn?t win the Indy Lights title. Last year, after my third Lights season, I had two more contracts, but never found the money to race.
“If one day I went back to America, it would be all about Andretti. The only team I want to race [for] is Andretti. I know I can win with Andretti and I know can do great things together with [Michael].
Rather than spend a fourth season in Indy Lights, Urrutia leant on his connections as an Audi Uruguay ambassador to join W Racing Team in TCR Europe this year. Despite his inexperience, he finished third in the standings.
“I have nothing bad to say about the single-seater world, and coming from a small country, I think I had a decent career there.
“I won races in every series that I competed in except that bad year in GP3. Then in America I had really good years. I won the Indy Pro 2000 title championship, and then I was in top three in Indy Lights for three years in a row. I couldn’t get into IndyCar because I do not have the money, so I decided to come to TCR because of that.
“I have sponsors here, I have a good contract with WRT and Audi. It?s completely different to what I used to do, and of course it took me a little while to understand how it is, like front wheel drive, the weight and the way you race so aggressively. I’m really happy about how my career has now changed, but that doesn?t mean that I?ve closed the door to single-seaters.
“I?m still dreaming about that one day where I can race in the Indianapolis 500. I will do whatever it takes to race next year in the World Touring Car Cup, and see if one day I can do the Indy 500, which would be perfect. I’d be the first Uruguayan to race in it.”
Prior to his ill-fated GP3 campaign with Koiranen GP and subsequent campaigns in America, Urrutia was a race-winner in Italian Formula 4 predecessor Formula Abarth and Euroformula Open.
“When I left my house when I was 14 years old and came to Europe for the first time, my goal was Formula 1. I understood that I did not have the support enough to get there, so went to America and the goal became IndyCar.
“I did everything I had to do in America – I won on street courses, road courses and ovals. I had a lot of people that helped me, but it was never enough to get the deal in IndyCar.”
Despite repeatedly referring back to finances denying him his IndyCar dream, Urrutia is quick to say he’s “not frustrated” by the fact the likes of Herta and O’Ward have attracted significant attention and praise for their Indy Lights achievements.
“I?m happy and I try to enjoy every weekend. Right now, I?m racing. It could be worse. I could be working at home in something else that isn?t motorsport.
“I could be working on a farm in Uruguay, on a tractor. Which I?m doing all the time [anyway], because I need to get the money. It is what it is. Honestly, it makes me sad and I have cried a lot at home, because I say ?why, why is nobody giving me the chance. If I have won everything in America, I have done everything I have to do and nobody believes in me?.
“Of course there?s been difficult times. But right now, I?m 23 and I?m racing here so I?m happy and I don?t care [about the past]. I will do my best as always, give my 100% and everything will come at the right moment.”
There is a substantial fan group that follows Urrutia around the globe to where he races, some of whom offer financial support as well as sitting in the grandstands. It’s not lost on Urrutia that his country’s motorsport interests focuses primarily on him.
“There are kids racing in go-karts in Uruguay right now that want to become like me. But it will be difficult. We don?t have enough support [or investment] to be in the big leagues of motorsport. If you don?t come from a family that can support you at least till Formula 4 or Formula 3, then it?s very difficult.
“You?re not going to see any Uruguayans driving around [internationally] in single-seaters for the next 10 years, I would say.
“For Formula 2 I would say 30 years. In 30 years time you?re going to listen back to this, and you?re going to see in 30 years there will be no drivers from Uruguay in Formula 2. In F3 or F4, possibly. But even then you have to wait at least 10 years.”
If an opportunity arises that does allow Urrutia to race in the Indy 500, maybe as early as next year in the third car of McLaren Schmidt Peterson, then it may be the catalyst needed to inspire the next generation of Uruguayan single-seater talent.