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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio

During the course of a season, there are races that you forget, and events that are remembered for how they affected the landscape of the year. The Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda was a memorable one.

With Nico Jamin returning to victory lane, combined with championship contenders experiencing problems, the event had a little something for every single Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires fan. 

Here are some observations from the day.

Back On Top

For the first time since winning two races in the initial five events of the season, Nico Jamin is back on top as he scored the victory on Sunday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

After a thrilling back and forth battle for the top spot with Colton Herta, he’d take the lead on Lap 2 and leave the field. While Santiago Urrutia was able to close the gap in the closing stages, it was never enough to make a pass, handing the victory to Jamin. 

When the season started, Jamin was strong in the first six races with a pair of victories and four straight top-fives. However, since the Indianapolis Grand Prix in May, he failed to post a top-five in the following six events. This weekend in Mid-Ohio was the perfect turnaround, as he matched the victory with a third on Saturday. 

Championship Struggles

While it was a dreamy weekend for some, the top-two in the standings experienced weekends they’d like to forget.

Points leader Kyle Kaiser finished 12th on Saturday after starting sixth. Then on Sunday, he qualified ninth, putting himself behind the eight-ball early. He was able to make up some ground, moving up to seventh by Lap 12, though a dive inside of Juan Piedrahita resulted in him spinning around and losing valuable track position. He was unable to make it up, finishing 12th once again.

Kaiser’s struggles should have been the perfect opportunity for Colton Herta to gain points, but he had his own problems. After finishing second on Saturday, he battled for the lead early with Nico Jamin before a spin put him behind the field on Lap 3. The incident did not take any speed out of his Mazda, as he caught the back of the field, and drove his way up to sixth by the checkered flag.

Entering the last two rounds of the season, Kaiser leads Herta by 42 points, with Santiago Urrutia just one more marker behind. Although there was some ground gained by Herta, it could have been more if he would’ve equaled the performances he’s been known for this season. If Kaiser puts together two more solid finishes, he will walk away as the champion. But another weekend like this, and the tables could turn at Watkins Glen.

Lap 1 Tangle

Before their race even really got going, it did not start out how Dalton Kellett or Garth Rickards planned, with the pair getting together on Lap 1. Rickards was done for the event, while Kellett carried on to finish 13th, one lap down after a pit stop.

The pair could have done without the incident, as this season has not gone as either would have liked, with both drivers sitting outside of the top-10 in points. Rickards has only four top-10’s in 14 races, while Kellett has eight top-10’s, including two podiums.

With silly season set to be busy through the winter and a bunch of driver changes rumored, both drivers could use a pair of good runs to close out their campaigns.

Returns to Podium

If you are going to struggle through the middle portion of the season, the goal is simply to finish out the year strong. That’s exactly what Shelby Blackstock is doing.

After making the move to Belardi Auto Racing, he began the season with solid finishes, posting five straight top-10’s. However, the summer stretch proved tough, with only two top-10’s in the next seven races. 

This past weekend at Mid-Ohio, Blackstock appears to be finding his groove as he posted a pair of top-fives, placing fourth and third in the two events.

Now moving ahead to closing out the 2017 campaign, after posting a sixth-place finish last year at Watkins Glen, another podium finish – or possibly a win, could make the summer easier to handle.

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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires

On Sunday afternoon at Iowa Speedway, there was no catching Matheus Leist as after taking the top spot on Lap 32, he drove away from the field en route to scoring the Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires victory.

Here are some observations from the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event.

Matheus Dominates

With three victories in the last four races, Matheus Leist is finding his groove in Indy Lights after a rough start to the season with two finishes outside of the top-10. Now with eight straight top-seven finishes, the Carlin Racing driver has moved up to second in points, 13 markers ahead of Kyle Kaiser.

While Leist’s wins at Indianapolis and Road America were impressive, the victory on Sunday goes beyond those. He did not have the best starting position, qualifying 10th, and managed to build a gap of 2.93 seconds ahead of Santiago Urrutia by the time the checkered flag flew. The gap could have been larger, but Leist elected to back his lap times down once he got the lead to conserve the tires.

Being almost three seconds ahead was enough to cause some confusion, though, as Urrutia thought he won the event, performing a series of donuts on the frontstretch post-race.

“When I went by (Dalton) Kellett, I thought that I had gotten the lead, so I thought, ‘alright’ because I had never seen Leist,” Urrutia said post-race. “So when I get by Kellett, I tried to save a little and then thought we won at the end. But it’s alright, we struggled today so to get back through there and a good solid finish, is a great result, and hopefully, we can run well in Toronto, too.”

Rough Day for Rickards

Out of the 14 drivers that started, only one failed to finish the event, which was Garth Rickards. He went around for a quick spin on the backstretch at Lap 23, before pulling off shortly after the restart and retiring from the event.

“Right off the start it didn’t feel right,” he said. “It was loose. I tried to use the bars to improve the handling, but it just didn’t work. It felt good in practice, but it was just undrivable there.”

The 14th-place finish adds to the struggles this year for Rickards, who has posted only two top-10’s in his rookie campaign.

Colton Leads Early

Before Leist making his way through the field, Colton Herta led the first 32 circuits from the pole and looked set to score his third victory of 2017 possibly. However, he would fade through the second half of the 100 lap event to a fourth-place finish.

“They had it figured out today,” he said. “The car went loose on us, and there’s not much that you can do on a short oval when that happens.”

Herta started off his season well with two wins and a runner-up in the first four races but struggled with only one top-10 in the following four events. Now with back-to-back top-fives, it seems momentum is back on the young driver’s side as he heads to the streets of Toronto for the first time in his career. The street circuit could be the right ticket to getting back in victory lane; his first career win came on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Debut Put on Hold

Chad Boat was supposed to make his series debut, but that was delayed till Gateway Motorsports Park.

The 25-year-old was not medically cleared by INDYCAR officials to drive due to injuries sustained during a National USAC midget race on Sunday, July 2.

“To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I’m feeling right now, but I trust the doctors and medical staff at INDYCAR and know they have my best interest in mind,” said Boat. “I’ll continue to follow the instructions I’m receiving for recovery and look forward to being back soon. Thanks to Pristine Auction and Belardi Auto Racing for the opportunity.”

Belardi Auto Racing team owner Brian Belardi added that he was “extremely disheartened” by the news, but “remains excited and positive about the future based on his pace in last week’s test.”

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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI OBSERVATIONS: Rookies are Here to Play, and More

This past weekend, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires kicked off their season, with doubleheaders for each of the three divisions on the streets of St. Petersburg. With new faces alongside familiar faces, it was certainly a memorable weekend for some rookies.

Here are some observations from the weekend of action.

 

Rookies are Here to Play

When new talent joins the fray, questions are always asked as to whether they will succeed, or fumble. Thus far, it appears the new talent is going to impress all season.

Fresh off winning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout, Oliver Askew was able to duck to the inside on a restart in the second Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda race and pass Parker Thompson for the lead, never looking back the rest of the way.

Anthony Martin proved that he’s ready for Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires competition after winning the USF2000 Championship last year, sweeping the weekend’s events. He also did it in dominating fashion, as he led flag-to-flag in both races.

Another graduate, 2016 Pro Mazda Champion Aaron Telitz, proved that he was ready for the next jump in his career. He dominated the first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event by leading right from the start of the race. Meanwhile, MRTI newcomer Colton Herta was able to lead flag-to-flag in the second race, despite the massive number of restarts, to become the youngest series winner.

 

The Highs and Lows of Racing

Robert Meginnis entered the season hoping to do well after partaking in the second half of the schedule last year with some success. This weekend was a mix of two worlds, though.

The first race went well as the Team Pelfrey driver started on the pole, and led every single lap in route to his first career USF2000 victory. The second race, though, was a bit of a different story. He started off strong, moving into third on an early race restart, only to make a mistake on Lap 18. He was credited with a 19th place finish.

While both races didn’t go as planned, it appears as though he’s still in high spirits based on the driveability of the series’ new chassis.

“I can’t say enough about the Tatuus USF-17,” he said. “It’s comfortable to drive; it’s consistent throughout the sessions; you can push it harder. It’s fun and exciting to drive, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”

 

Pelfrey Strangle on Pro Mazda Broken

Last year, Team Pelfrey won all of the races in Pro Mazda, except for a single event. This year, though, they currently stand zero for two.

It isn’t for lack of speed, though, as the group showed they were fast in the first event, with their drivers finishing third through fifth. Using his experience from last year, TJ Fischer led the team in third, followed by rookies Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin.

The second event didn’t see the threesome all have success, though. Fischer continued to lead the charge, once again posting a third place finish after posting a best finish of fifth last year in his partial schedule. Lastochkin was also able to put in another solid run, finishing fifth, while Cunha finished 12th following mechanical issues.

With the team showing speed already, it’s only a matter of time before the drivers gain enough experience to find their way to victory lane like Telitz and Pato O’Ward did last year.

 

Rough Start for Carlin

After winning the Indy Lights Championship last year with Ed Jones and having multiple drivers up front throughout the season, this year began strongly as Carlin Racing would’ve hoped. Each of their drivers appeared to have a good race and a bad race this past weekend.

Neil Alberico proved the team is still fast and one to watch this season, posting a third place finish in the first race of the weekend, with teammate Zachary Claman De Melo eighth. Meanwhile, the other half of the team didn’t do as well with Garth Rickards 11th and Matteus Leist in 15th following mechanical issues.

On the flip side, Claman De Melo was the only driver for Carlin in the top-10 at the end of the second event, finishing seventh. Leist completed all the laps this time, finishing 11th; Rickards and Alberico found themselves at the bottom of the charts behind Leist after being involved in an incident during the race.

For Carlin, it’s right now a balance as both Rickards and Leist are entering the series for the first time, as Leist comes from an international background while Rickards is making the jump from USF2000 to Indy Lights, versus running Pro Mazda in between. However, the rookies should learn and improve with having the experience of Alberico and Claman De Melo alongside them. There’s also a good possibility Alberico will be in victory lane before the season’s over.

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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News Open Wheel

Rickards to Indy Lights with Carlin

After winning the championship this past season with Ed Jones, Carlin Racing has begun to solidify their 2017 driver line-up. The organization announced on Friday that Garth Rickards will be behind the wheel of one of their entries.

“To say I am excited is an understatement and I can’t thank everyone who was involved enough,” Rickards said. “Carlin has proven that they are one of the best junior open wheel teams in the world with their track record. Their focus on driver development will really help me grow and move my way up through the field in my rookie season. Trevor and the whole Carlin squad have been extremely supportive and I’m excited to work with them hopefully for many years. I want to personally thank David Luther and Luther Automotive for believing in me and helping me continue to chase my dream. Together with all my associate sponsors coming on board it has put us in a great position to be a force in 2017.”

The 24-year-old has spent the past two years racing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda Series, finishing ninth and 10th in the series standings. In 32 starts, he managed to post three top-fives and 20 top-10 finishes, including a podium finish near the end of 2016 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Prior to USf2000, Rickards raced in the F1600 Championship Series, scoring one victory and nine podiums en route to a runner-up in the standings.

Racing director Trevor Carlin said, “We are extremely pleased to have Garth join us here at Carlin for 2017. Garth has shown real potential in his career so far and it’s always nice to see a driver moving further up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. We know that Garth will be a strong addition to our team and having already worked with him over the course of a test programme we’re looking forward continuing where we left off and building a strong programme together for the season ahead.”

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.