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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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Pro Mazda Indianapolis Race No. 1

After taking the lead on Lap 5, Victor Franzoni led the rest of the way at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to score his first career Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires victory.

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

Freaky Fast Franzoni

When Popular Speed caught up with Franzoni a month ago, the confidence was evident entering this weekend.

“I think this one we’re going to be really strong because the first test that I did with Juncos was there, and the car was fast,” he said in April. “Everything was really good there. It’s a track that I like a lot, so I think we’ll be fast there. I think that’ll be a good track for us.”

He backed up his words as he started on pole, and consistently posted the quickest lap times through the second half of the event, leading 17 of 22 laps en route to his first career victory.

Surrounded by drivers who have never driven one of the Pro Mazda cars before, the Juncos Racing driver has experience as he ran the second half of 2016 with a best finish of fourth, twice. Now with a pair of runner-ups and a win, along with the pole for tomorrow, he could very well leave Indianapolis in the points lead.

No Podium Change

While a new face was in victory lane, his fellow mates on the podium did not change as Anthony Martin, and TJ Fischer joined him once again.

Martin jumped up to Pro Mazda after winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Presented by Mazda last season and came out with a bang as he won both events to kick-off 2017 at St. Petersburg. He jumped from third to first on the opening lap on Friday at Indianapolis, leading five laps before finishing second.

Fischer put together a solid effort, running third solidly throughout the entire event, as he held off his Team Pelfrey teammates in a close battle with them. He ran the second half of 2016, scoring two top-fives in eight starts. Now he sits three races into 2017, with three third-place finishes.

Double Spinners

The race did not go without incident as Kevin Davis, and Charles Finelli both spun around on Lap 2 but were able to keep it going to prevent a full course yellow. As a result, the pair finished 12th and 14th, respectively.

It continues the struggles this year for both drivers as they didn’t fare well in St. Petersburg either, as Davis failed to post a top-10 in either event, while Finelli finished 10th and 14th.

Denes Continues Improving

Phillippe Denes made the jump to Pro Mazda this season after a stellar karting career and finishing third in the F1600 Championship last season with two victories. With each race, he has continued to get better.

After starting off the year with a seventh and sixth at St. Petersburg, he ran solidly in the top-five all day on Friday en route to a career-best fifth finish. If the progress can continue weekly, he could become the next driver to visit victory lane.

Masterful Competition

Everybody knew entering this season that the car counts would be low with teams and drivers holding out as they await the release of the series’ brand new car in 2018 – the PM-18, which is in the beginning stages of testing. With just 15 cars in the field, the fans were still entertained.

Martin and Franzoni delivered a show at the front of the grid as Franzoni chased down the Australian for the lead. The pair then ran side-by-side through three corners on Lap 4 without any contact, with Martin initially holding off his competitor. As they began the next lap, a run by Franzoni down the frontstretch was all he needed to get the lead in turn one.

Typically, the road courses present a single-file affair for the Mazda Road to Indy cars, as showcased at Barber Motorsports Park last month. However, this group proved it’s possible to make some action happen.

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.