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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

After a Friday filled with action for each level of the Mazda Road to Indy, Saturday also delivered with close competition across the board.

Here are some observations from all the on-track action.

Rebound for Thompson

After experiencing mechanical issues in race one, Parker Thompson rebounded in the second race for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Presented by Mazda with a fourth-place finish for his fifth top-five in six events.

The Canadian came just short of winning the championship in his second season of competition last season, winning four races over the season. Now ranked fourth in points, 88 makers behind Oliver Askew, he will need the 16-year-old to have a rough weekend if he hopes to make up ground.

Double for Davis

Kevin Davis is going to leave Indianapolis possibly singing ‘Ring around the Rosey’ after incidents in both Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires events. In the first race, he went spun on Lap 2 with Charles Finelli, followed by getting turned the wrong way in the second round, due to contact from Jeff Green.

The Illinois-driver fought back to finish 10th for his first top-10 finish of the season after placing 11th in the pair of rounds in St. Petersburg and 12th on Friday. He currently leads the National Class standings.

New Points Leader

After feeling he left something on the table on Friday, Kyle Kaiser put together an impressive show on Saturday, capturing his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victory of 2017. It marked his fourth straight podium finish, giving him the series points lead, 13 markers ahead of Nico Jamin. Jamin won round one for the weekend, followed by a fourth in the second race.

Herta entered the weekend with a 16-point lead ahead of Jamin, but experienced trouble in both races. He had a right rear puncture in round one, followed by going off-track en route to 10th on day two.

First Career Top-Five

After crashing out in the first race of the weekend on Lap 1, Kory Enders rebounded in the second event for a fifth-place finish.

Before Saturday, his season has been up and down so far, with a pair of top-10s matching three finishes outside of the top-14.

Much Needed Podium

After coming just a mere couple points shy of last year’s Indy Lights title, Santiago Urrutia has not performed as expected. Although the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pilot scored a runner-up at St. Petersburg, it marked his only top-10 of 2017 entering Indianapolis after four events.

This weekend, he put together a pair of solid races with a seventh in round one, followed by a runner-up on Saturday.

“It has been tough to get the car quick and get into the top five,” he admitted post-race. “We tried to get the lead but second place is really good for us. We’re working as a team to figure out where we’re losing time and when we find that, we’re going to be okay. There is still a long way to go in this championship, so we have to get podiums and points, points, points.”

Ran Off-Road

Besides some trouble on the opening lap, the USF2000 put together a clean event – but that doesn’t mean the last lap ran smoothly. The battle for third saw contact, with Robert Megennis hitting Dakota Dickerson and both drivers going off the track. They both fell back several spots, with Megennis finishing seventh and Dickerson in 10th.

The incident just adds to a rough weekend for Megennis who failed technical inspection following Friday’s event, along with his Team Pelfrey teammate Kaylen Frederick. He started off this season well by winning the opening round of the season but now has two finishes outside of the top-10 to his credit.

Dickerson, meanwhile, entered Saturday’s race with momentum after scoring his first top-five 0f 2017 on Friday. He now has three sixth-place finishes, a pair of 10ths, and a fourth to his credit this season.

Last Place for Blackstock

During the second event of the weekend for Indy Lights, Shelby Blackstock was the only driver to experience a significant problem with an off-track excursion in turn one. As a result, he would finish last on the grid – 14th.

Ever since he posted a fourth-place finish in the season opener, Blackstock’s finishes have continued to get worse each passing week, with this being the first outside of the top-10.

The next event for the series is the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, which saw him finish fourth last season.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Dakota Dickerson: “Need to Step Up the Pace”

After four races for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Presented by Mazda, Dakota Dickerson sits sixth in the standings, which isn’t quite what he envisioned pre-season.

“Going into the season, we had a little higher expectation than where we’re at right now,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I think there are a couple of aspects that have been out of our control that has sent us further back than we are, but definitely need to step up the pace for the next couple of races. We know as a team what we need to do moving forward to improve where we’re finishing.”

The 20-year-old raced for Afterburner Motorsports in 2016, posting eight top-10’s to close out the season en route to finishing ninth in points. Though this year, he entered the lowest tier of the Mazda Road to Indy with a new team, joining Newman Wachs Racing.

“It’s been great working with these guys,” Dickerson said. “When I first talked to Brian last August, it was just a really good connection. I spent a lot of time with the guys over the winter, and I feel like we’ve all bonded very strongly really quick through the beginning portion of the season, which has been great, and having a full-time teammate like Andre Castro has been a really big help. So I think the chemistry between the team is really strong so far – especially signing the two-year deal. It has a little bit of relief for everybody knowing that our program is still going to be continuing into a second year.”

While most of his competitors have a current one-year deal, the American signed a two-year contract with Newman-Wachs, including the possibility of moving up to Pro Mazda next season.

“It’s a really strong commitment for the team,” he said. “I mean, obviously a lot of things change within racing. So to have that commitment, to be able to say that they’ll stick with you through the rough and we’ll be with you no matter what happens, that helps us work together as a team. We’ll be able to have a little bit more knowledge and trust between each other moving from this year to next year.

“I mean, we’re hoping to move up to Pro Mazda next year. That’s the goal for the team. It’s just a matter of being able to complete the task this year to move up.”

Although not reaching pre-season expectations, he scored three straight top-six finishes, followed by a 10th to kick-off the 2017 campaign. Admittedly, it is hard to compare last year to this season with registration numbers doubling and the series debuting the brand new Tatuus USF-17 chassis.

“That’s been a whole new process in the learning curve that we have,” he said. “It sent everybody back on an equal playing field, so the first step this year was learning the new car and developing strategies in how to tune it, and things like that. Obviously, last year, I was just coming up and learning to drive in the series. So learning the new car is something that is pretty new to us.”

His attention will now focus to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which didn’t go as planned last year with an 11th and 20th. However, Dickerson is confident based on the speed he showed during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test driving for ArmsUp Motorsports and Pabst Racing, and how his current team NWR topped the final session with Dickerson’s rookie teammate Andre Castro.

“I’m pretty hopeful going into Indianapolis,” he said. “So I think we’ll be entering that weekend with a fast car. Everybody has done a lot of work during the off-season, but I know the team will be strong.”

Beyond Indianapolis, he is looking forward to Toronto in July, due to enjoying the atmosphere the street courses produced. The streets of Ontario’s capital treated him well last year, with a season-best fourth place finish.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Barber Day No. 2

On Saturday, fans at Barber Motorsports Park were treated to a pair of exciting Mazda Road to Indy events. Oliver Askew continued his strong start in Cooper Tires USF2000 Presented by Mazda, sweeping the weekend with his third victory in four races. Meanwhile, Nico Jamin made it three winners in three races for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Here are some observations from Saturday’s action at Barber.

Mixing It Up

While both USF2000 races at Barber saw Askew win ahead of Kaylen Frederick, there were a couple new faces behind them.

Parker Thompson scored his first podium finish of 2017 with Exclusive Autosport.  The Alberta native has finished in the top-five each race so far, and is hoping to win the championship after a runner-up last year to Anthony Martin.

Meanwhile, Toby Sowery made his debut this weekend with the BENIK team, following up Friday’s 11th-place finish with a fifth in race two. Whether he will return for Indianapolis has yet to be announced.

Ready to Battle

As Andretti Autosport shows speed in the Verizon IndyCar Series, their Indy Lights team is just as strong.

Following Colton Herta’s victory at St. Petersburg, Nico Jamin gave the organization their second win of 2017, leading 27 of 30 laps. It marks a solid rebound as Jamin failed to post a top-five in St. Petersburg, with finishes of seventh and 14th. Dalton Kellett also came back strong, finishing sixth at Barber after kicking of 2017 with a pair of 12ths.

With two podiums at St. Petersburg, Herta continues to lead the points despite finishing 10th at Barber. Notably, Herta had to make a pit stop on Lap 1 after contact with Kyle Kaiser on the aborted start.

Dickerson Fights Back

While the first USF2000 event was clean, the second didn’t go as smoothly with three separate incidents on the opening lap. One of those who found himself facing the wrong way was Dakota Dickerson. Dickerson fought back, though, passing Darren Keane for 10th on the last lap.

Switching to Newman Wachs Racing for 2017, Dickerson has solidly started off 2017 with three straight sixth-place finishes, followed by Saturday’s 10th. As the team grows used to USF2000 competition, Dickerson could possibly be fighting for podiums.

Notably, this is the second year for Dickerson in USF2000 after scoring nine top-10s in 2016, with a best finish of fourth at the Honda Indy Toronto in July en route to placing ninth in the season-ending standings. Newman-Wachs Racing already announced plans to move Dickerson up to Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires for 2018.

Talented Field

As Nico Jamin became the third straight different winner, he was followed to the line by Kyle Kaiser and Neil Alberico.

The runner-up marks Kaiser’s best finish of 2017 following a sixth and fourth to start this season. Early projections had the Juncos Racing driver as part of the championship battle after finishing third in points in 2016. The California native put together an impressive campaign last year, scoring two wins and nine podiums.

Meanwhile, Alberico has been hit or miss so far this season as he posted a second in Round 1 at St. Petersburg, prior to finishing 15th in the second event. Now with a third to kick off Barber, it will be critical for the momentum to carry through Sunday. In his rookie campaign last year, the California native finished 10th in points following six top-10s in 18 races.

Strong Starts Spoiled

Rookies Calvin Ming and Andre Castro both started off their USF2000 campaigns solidly, scoring a top-10 finish in each of the first three rounds. Unfortunately, they finished 21st and 22nd on Saturday after being involved in first lap incidents.

Consequently, both Ricky Donison and Bayley Mickler probably want to leave Barber in the rearview after failing to post a top-20 in either event. Donison entered this weekend following a pair of 13th at St. Petersburg, while Mickler made his debut at Barber.

Looking to Rebound

When Indy Lights starts their second race of the weekend, Aaron Telitz and Santiago Urrutia will be looking to get up front. Both drivers finished outside the top-12 due to being involved in the first lap incident.  

Urrutia knows how to make it happen as he kicked off his sophomore campaign with Belardi Auto Racing at St. Petersburg with a 13th in Round 1, followed by a runner-up.  He also finished second in points last year to Ed Jones.

Meanwhile, Telitz began his rookie campaign with a win and a fifth at St. Petersburg. He enters the series with Belardi after winning last season’s Pro Mazda Championship.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Dickerson Joins Newman Wachs Racing

Dakota Dickerson has a new home for the 2017 season as he signed a two-year contract with Newman Wachs Racing.

As part of the deal for the 19-year-old, he will race for the USF2000 Championship Powered by Cooper Tires in 2017, followed by moving up to Pro Mazda Powered by Cooper Tires in 2018.

“This is a good day for the team,” said Halahan. “Having Dakota be part of our program is huge. When I started looking at drivers, I had to make sure we found someone who could be fast on track and yet represent the team in a professional manner.

“After seeing what he did for Mazda. I knew I had to chase him. My discussions with Dakota started immediately after I announced the team back in August. Once we tested him, I saw how he gelled with the team and I knew, right there and then, that it would work.”

Dickerson got started at a karting track five minutes from his house, eventually running his first national event when he was just eight years old. He then took part in the Skip Barber Karts to Cars Scholarship Shootout at the age of 16, placing second to get a $15,000 scholarship. He also picked up the Bryan Herta Career Enhancement Award. As part of the shootout, IndyCar team owner Bryan Herta attends each day of the shootout and chooses a driver that he finds to be the most passionate, driven and talented to get a $15,000 scholarship.

Racing at Skip Barber, Dickerson had the choice of whether he wanted to go open wheel through the Mazda Road to Indy, or sports car racing through Mazda Road to 24. He stated his preference was getting involved in open wheel, so his primary focus became running as well as he could at Skip Barber to achieve that. At the end of the 2015 season, Dickerson’s efforts were awarded as he won the Skip Barber Shootout, which is a $200,000 scholarship that allows him to compete full-time in the USF2000.

He spent this past season in USF2000, scoring nine top-10s with a best finish of fourth at the Honda Indy Toronto in July en route to placing ninth in the season-ending standings.

“I am extremely excited to be a part of the Newman Wachs Racing team,” stated Dickerson. “Once Brian (Halahan) had announced the return of Newman Wachs Racing, we started discussing how we could set up a test day to see how we could work together. I had heard only great things about them, particularly how professional and dedicated to the sport everyone on the team is.

“After visiting their headquarters in Chicago, and later testing with them along with meeting crucial members of the team such as Eddie Wachs and Anne Roy, all the feedback I had been getting was confirmed. I worked extremely well with Alan O’Leary, our engineer, along with the rest of the team. This all lead to the discussion of a multi-year program. A two-year commitment to the team is something that is extremely exciting and I believe sets up both NWR and myself for great success in the coming years. I look forward to representing the team and am working hard to come out strong for the opening race at St.Petersburg.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.