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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

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: Indy Lights Barber Race 2

In the 400th Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event, Colton Herta led every lap en route to his second career victory in four starts.

Here are some observations from the event.

Familiar Faces

Throughout the event, Herta remained unchallenged as he held a lead of at least seven seconds over the field. It marked a solid rebound after a 10th in Race 1 this weekend. The success didn’t come surprising, though, as the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing driver posted a win and runner-up to kick off 2017 at St. Petersburg. Now boasting a 16-point lead over Kyle Kaiser, he’ll look to keep it going into Indianapolis next month.

Kaiser and Nico Jamin finished second and third, to give them both two podiums on the weekend. Jamin won yesterday, while Kaiser finished second.

For Kaiser, he has yet to finish outside of the top-six in the first four races this season, 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 was hit or miss at St. Petersburg as he posted a second in Round 1, before finishing 15th in the second event. Now with two podiums at Barber, he certainly has made up some of the lost ground. In his rookie campaign last year, the California native finished 10th in points following six top-10s in 18 races.

Urrutia Left Upset

Santiago Urrutia will will want to forget Barber as soon as possible as he finished outside of the top-12 in both rounds this weekend. He was involved in the first lap incident on Saturday, followed by contact with teammate Shelby Blackstock on Lap 4 causing a spin and front wing change.

Urrutia came into this season hopeful to fight for a title but has started off this season poorly as he finished 13th in Round 1, followed by a runner-up in the second event.

With three finishes outside the top-10 in four races, Urrutia will need to start picking up wins and podiums if he wants to contend this year, given they only run 16 events a season.

Telitz Rebounds

Following a 13th-place finish on Saturday, Aaron Telitz rebounded with a solid fifth-place finish in Sunday’s event.

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

Eliminated Early

Zachary Cleman De Melo and Pato O’Ward saw their races end on Lap 1 as contact from Claman De Melo to O’Ward on Lap 1 sent both drivers off-track, with O’Ward, stuck in the gravel trap for a full course caution. Claman De Melo was able to continue but parked his car on Lap 3 due to damage.

“We were going to the outside of turn two with Alberico and someone behind me – De Melo – accidentally ran into my right side as I don’t think he intended to and bent my front right, and then kind of kept hitting me, so we lost it, we both went out,” O’Ward said. “It’s a shame.”

Claman De Melo said he couldn’t turn the wheel anymore and tried to give him room, but “we just made contact.”

“I started off the weekend behind due to a missed flight through testing,” Claman De Melo said. “We just got better and better, and I was happy with the race pace. I was happy with yesterday’s solid result.”

The Andretti Autosport driver started this season with a seventh, eighth and fifth before this incident.

For O’Ward, he finished top-five in both St. Petersburg races, before placing eighth. While set to run a full IMSA sports car schedule this season, he has yet to announce any additional Indy Lights races for 2017.

“We had a terrible day yesterday, and today is even worse,” O’Ward said. “I don’t know what that’ll do for the next few races. I’ll have to play the next few weeks and see what happens. It’s just a negative weekend all the way around.”

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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IndyCar Open Wheel

Juncos Racing to Enter Indianapolis 500

Last week came the long-rumored news that KV Racing was closing its doors after 14 years in the Champ Car World Series and the IndyCar Series. However, this week was time for happier news.

Juncos Racing, who purchased the equipment from KV, announced they’re planning an entry for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.”

Juncos, an Argentinian who came to the United States in 2002, is also running two cars in the Indy Lights Series. At press time, no driver or sponsor for the Indy 500 entry has been announced.

Two guesses on the driver would be Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot who has won championships in several rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy with Juncos. Kaiser is set to run the full Indy Lights schedule this year for Juncos along with Nicolas Dapero, while Pigot is scheduled for the road and street courses with Ed Carpenter Racing. While ECR hasn’t confirmed the 500 yet for Pigot, it is highly likely based on their program has been set-up in the past. Kaiser, seeming more likely of the two right now, enters his second year of Indy Lights competition after finishing third in points with two wins and nine podiums.

“It’s always hard to identify the right moment and right time to make a big move and make big decisions in motor racing, but I am confident the timing is right and that we will succeed as we did in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series,” Juncos said. “I want to thank Mark Miles (Hulman & Co. CEO) and Jay Frye (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) from the Verizon IndyCar Series for all of their help and confidence they have had in me and my team. I also want to thank Mr. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing Technology. He has been extremely helpful during this transition and, with his continued support and help with all of his experience in racing, we are confident going into this next level. Thank you to my family and my team for giving me massive support throughout the years, and to all of the fans, thank you!”

Fans and friends of Kevin Kalkhoven will be delighted to hear that the enthusiastic Aussie may be on board to help Ricardo Juncos develop an Indy Car team in a matter of months. Kalkhoven, the KV Racing Technology co-owner, is eager to lend his support to the Juncos Racing effort for the Indianapolis 500.

“We are delighted Ricardo is developing a program to progress to the Indy 500 and beyond,” Kalkhoven said. “We are committed to helping him and his team with our experience, equipment and data to best ensure a successful entry.”

KV Racing Technology posted an Indy 500 win in 2013 with Tony Kanaan driving, Jimmy Vasser as a team co-owner and calling the race for his friend TK. So, an alliance with Kevin, Jimmy and their team members who are otherwise not committed may give Juncos Racing a distinct advantage for the May classic.

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

Kaiser Remains with Juncos Racing for 2017

Kyle Kaiser is going to chase after the Indy Lights Championship Presented by Cooper Tires once again in 2017.

After posting a third place finish in points last year. Kaiser will return to Juncos Racing for the new season. The California native put together an impressive campaign last year, scoring two wins and nine podiums.

“I’m excited to announce I’ll be back with Juncos Racing for the 2017 Indy Lights season,” said Kaiser. “Ricardo (Juncos) is an extremely passionate and dedicated team owner, and it has been a privilege to drive for him the past three years. The work ethic from everyone in the team has made Juncos competitive every race weekend, and I’m thrilled to be returning for another year. It’s great to be working with a group of guys that I know so well and can trust to do everything it takes to win a championship.”

Kaiser joined Juncos in 2014 for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and was able to score multiple podiums and a win in the season finale to secure the championship. Moving up to Indy Lights in 2015, he scored two podiums during his rookie campaign.

“I’m very happy to have Kyle (Kaiser) returning for another season with us at Juncos Racing in 2017,” said Team Principle Ricardo Juncos. “The relationship we have built over the years is second to none and positions us very well for the upcoming season. Kyle has grown tremendously as a driver these past three seasons, and I fully expect him to be in the title hunt again next year. I know everyone at Juncos Racing will be working hard towards this goal, especially Kyle, who wants to add his name to the list of Indy Lights champions.”

Kaiser becomes the second announcement for Juncos Racing during this off-season, joining Nicolas Dapero. The Buenos Aires, Argentina native had a successful rookie season in Pro Mazda last year with Juncos, scoring a win and multiple podiums en route to finishing fifth in the series standings.

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

Juncos Racing Pleased with Chris Griffis Memorial Test Results

Juncos Racing brought three drivers to the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this month, and was pleased with the data gained and results.

“We had a great weekend with all three drivers at the Chris Griffis Memorial test,” Ricardo Juncos said. “Everyone gave a strong run in each area they worked on.”

Kyle Kaiser was behind the wheel of one of the entries, going through a series of tests for tire supplier Cooper Tires. He showed speed both days, breaking into the top-five in the first session on day one.

“Kyle had a great tire test with Cooper Tires, and was able to provide a lot of information going into the 2017 season,” Juncos said.

Kaiser finished in points last year with two victories driving for Juncos Racing.

“It was great working with Cooper Tires this test,” Kaiser said. “We got to try a lot of different stuff and we made some great progress. We gained some valuable data from testing the past two days, and I’m looking forward to more development during the offseason.”

Nico Dapero drove a second entry, making his first official appearance in an Indy Lights entry. Dapero showed speed, posting the fourth quickest time in the first session on day two.

“He has really grown within the team and Mazda Road to Indy series in the past two years, and I look forward to seeing the success continue next year,” Juncos said. ”

Dapero finished fifth this past season in the Pro Mazda Standings with a win and five podium finishes.

“It was great to be back in the Indy Lights car again and even better for an official test,” said Dapero. “I learned a lot from my teammates and tried to put everything into practice the team told me. I also put down more miles in the car which is useful for next year! I think we did a really good job the whole weekend and it showed that we are ready for next season. I want to thank all of the members of Juncos Racing for their awesome job!”

Negrao was behind the wheel of the third and last entry on day one of the two-day test, posting times within the top-five of the speed chart throughout the day.

“Andre, who only ran the first day of the weekend, showed great speed and consistency and was fastest overall in the second session,” Juncos said. “I am really impressed with all three drivers and look forward to seeing what happens for the 2017 season.”

Negrao raced for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian last year, finishing seventh in points with five podium finishes.

“My test with Juncos Racing was amazing for the one day we ran,” said Negrao. “I enjoyed every second in the car! It was simply an amazing feeling. I just want to say thank you to all of the team for giving me this opportunity to test with them. I hope to continue this momentum into next season as well and look forward to contending for the championship!”

The team entered two drivers in the series throughout the 2016 season, but has yet to confirm their driver line-up for 2017 yet officially.

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.