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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Indy Lights Indianapolis Race No. 1

Starting from the pole position, Nico Jamin led flag-to-flag despite a late-race charge from Zachary Claman De Melo, en route to scoring the victory in the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America.

Here are some observations from the first of two events this weekend.

Right in Contention

Nico Jamin may have started off his season with a pair of finishes outside of the top-five at St. Petersburg, but he’s been doing an amazing job ever since. The Andretti Autosport driver scored his first career Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition in race one at Barber Motorsports Park, before finishing third in the second event.

Now with a second victory, he has put himself second in points, three points behind teammate Colton Herta for the lead.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said. “We want to do this season, win the championship. A win at Barber and a win here – we have good momentum going on now.”

Hiccup for Herta

In just one event for the series, Colton Herta has watched his points lead go from 16 points ahead of Kyle Kaiser to just three ahead of Nico Jamin. Needless to say, he will want to forget how things went on Friday quickly.

The event started off strong for the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing racer, as he quickly moved up to second on Lap 1 after starting sixth. He ran in the runner-up spot for the first 12 circuits, before falling to fourth. He then continued to fall back, eventually pitting on Lap 17 with a right rear puncture.

The rookie has faced adversity once this season, finishing 10th in the first event at Barber Motorsports Park after contact on Lap 1. He rebounded beautifully there with a victory in round two. With a strong qualifying effort on Saturday morning, he could do the same once again.

Career Best for Claman De Melo

Zachary Claman De Melo has continued to get better with each race under his belt, as noted with a stronger average finish through the second half of last year. He hasn’t started off this season so hot with only one top-five in the first four rounds, but the tune may be changing after his performance on Friday.

The Carlin Racing pilot may not have got off to the strongest start on the green flag, but he worked his way through the field over the course of the 30-lap event, crossing the finish line in second for his best career finish. It’s also worth noting that he was closing the gap to Nico Jamin in the closing stages, only 0.8405 seconds behind at the checkered.

Claman de Melo felt he could have given Jamin a run for the win if he had not got caught behind the lap car of Dalton Kellett for awhile, telling the IndyCar Radio Network, “It’s unfortunately what happened with Kellet in that he blocked me. I could’ve had a shot if he hadn’t blocked me there.”

If he continues to run like this, though, it will be one blocked chance left in the rearview.

Poor Piedrahita

Not every driver who was on the entry docket started the event on Friday, as Juan Piedrahita was forced to watch from the sidelines.

Earlier that day in qualifying, he ran into gearbox issues which then led to an accident, with the team unable to make repairs in time for the event. It was reported that Team Pelfrey would possibly have a second car ready for him for Saturday’s event.

In four races this season, the driver of the No. 2 Mazda-powered entry has posted only one top-10 finish.

Third Straight Podium

After posting a pair of runner-ups at Barber Motorsports Park, Kyle Kaiser continued the momentum into Indianapolis with a third-place finish. Like Zachary Claman de Melo, he felt that he had something to challenge Nico Jamin.

“I thought we had a good start,” Kaiser said post-race. “We finished ahead of the points leader, which was my goal for this race. I made a mistake there as I thought we were catching the leader.”

Now entering the sixth round on the schedule, he currently sits third in points, just three markers behind Colton Herta.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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

Leist Joins Carlin; Piedrahita Rejoins Pelfrey

The 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Grid continues to come together, as Carlin Racing announced a new driver while Team Pelfrey announced a re-signing of a driver from last year.

Carlin Racing will bring a new face to the Mazda Road to Indy Program, as reigning BRDC British F3 Champion Matheus Leist will be behind the wheel of one of the team’s Indy Lights entries for 2017.

“I’m very excited to be joining Carlin in Indy Lights” said Leist.  “I had quite a few options open to me in 2017, but a combination of things, including the opportunities in the US and on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, made Indy Lights a great option for me.   I have raced against Carlin before so I know how hard they push as a team to win.  I’m incredibly excited to get out on track in the car and get the season underway.”

The 18-year-0ld makes the trip to the United States after success in both Formula 3 and Formula 4. In his rookie season of Formula 4 competition in 2015, he scored two wins en route to finishing fifth in the points. Then last year in Formula 3, he scored four wins and 11 podiums en route to the championship.

It appeared as though the he’d be headed to GP3, having taken part in the official test in Abu Dhabi with speeds within the top-five, however now there’s a change in the sails.

“We have raced against Matheus for the last two seasons now, and have witnessed first hand his race craft and raw speed,” Trevor Carlin said. “Now we have chance to work together, it will be great to have those talents within the team rather than trying to beat them!  Indy Lights will certainly be a new environment for Matheus and a steep learning curve, but he has the ability and more importantly, the calm and determined nature to overcome these challenges.  I’m very excited to see what we can achieve together in 2017.”

Meanwhile, Team Pelfrey announced Juan Piedrahita will be back with the team this season. He drove the No. 2 Petrosur/Team Pelfrey Dallara to six top-10 finishes last season. It’ll mark his fourth season of Indy Lights competition.

“I couldn’t be happier to rejoin Team Pelfrey for the 2017 Indy Lights season. After working with the crew last year, I knew it was the right fit coming into this year,” said the Colombian. “Gary [Neal] and Yves [Touron] have given me a lot of confidence and they always have a very competitive car at every track. We are going be extremely competitive this year and for sure we are going to seal the deal in the Freedom 100.”

 

“We are extremely happy to welcome Juan back to Team Pelfrey IL for the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires,” stated team manager, Gary Neal. “We built a lot of momentum in post 2016 season testing with Juan and I am sure we will see some great results this 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.