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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Jamin Wins for Andretti at Indianapolis to Tighten Indy Lights Points Chase

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An enthralling 30-lap Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America this evening on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course saw Nico Jamin claim an impressive win for Andretti Autosport. The 21-year-old Frenchman’s second victory of the season enabled him to close to within three points of series leader Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing), who could manage only a distant 12th-place finish after an unscheduled pit stop.
 
Fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) also is now tied on points with Jamin following his third consecutive podium finish, although on this day he had to give best to Carlin’s Zachary Claman De Melo, who overcame a poor start to earn a career-best second-place result.
 
After securing the pole position in qualifying this morning, Jamin capitalized by holding the lead into Turn One. In his wake, a bold maneuver around the outside at Turn One from Herta, who had qualified a disappointing sixth, saw the 17-year-old from Valencia, Calif., vault all the way up into second place ahead of Kaiser, an equally fast-starting Aaron Telitz, who had started eighth for Belardi Auto Racing, Neil Alberico (Carlin) and surprise front row qualifier Claman De Melo.
 
Herta placed teammate Jamin under intense pressure for the opening couple of laps before settling into second place. A remarkably consistent series of fast laps enabled Jamin to stretch his lead to almost two seconds by Lap 11, whereupon Herta suddenly began to come under attack from a train of cars comprising Kaiser, Claman De Melo and Alberico, who lost a position to his teammate on that same lap but remained firmly in contention.
 
On Lap 14, Herta lost a couple of positions before realizing that his car had lost its balance. A slow puncture was quickly diagnosed, forcing Herta to head for the pits for a replacement left-rear tire.
 
By this time Jamin held a comfortable lead of 3.7 seconds over a battling Kaiser and Claman De Melo, but that margin was gradually whittled down until, on Lap 22, the two leaders were separated by less than two seconds. Next time around, Staubli Award winner Claman De Melo squeezed past Kaiser on the run toward Turn One. Even though the pass cost him a little bit of ground to the ultra-consistent race leader, the young Canadian kept on turning fast laps to take the checkered flag just 0.8405 seconds adrift of Jamin.
 
Alberico claimed his fourth top-four finish of the year, while rookie teammate Matheus Leist recorded the fastest lap of the race as he climbed from ninth on the grid to fifth for his best finish of the young season. Leist, from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
 
Qualifying for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Round 6 will take place tomorrow morning at 9:20 a.m. EDT, followed by the race itself at 1:15 p.m., immediately prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event. Live timing and live streaming will be available on indylights.com, as well as on indycar.com, the Road To Indy TV App and RoadToIndy.TV.
 
Nico Jamin (#27 DuraMAX Powered by RelaDyne Mazda-Andretti Autosport ): “It is amazing emotions – I don’t think it gets any better than winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was nervous starting on pole. You’re always happy to get the pole and the check but I saw in USF2000 here two years ago that the guys behind you can really get a good run into Turn One. I knew I had to get a good jump and I did, though I didn’t want to look in my mirror because I knew it would be a mess. I broke really late into Turn One but Colton was close behind me and I had to defend. We made it clean so it was alright in the end. I pushed hard in the beginning to get away from Colton, who was on his push-to-pass, but then Zach was a rocketship at the end and was catching up. The guys were yelling on the radio for me to push harder, but I couldn’t. But I’m very happy to have gotten the pole and the win for the DuraMAX guys, who have joined me this month.”
 
Zachary Claman De Melo (#13 ZCD Montreal/Zoological Wildlife Foundation-Carlin): “I knew I had really good race pace so my plan at the start was just to stay calm and stay on the track. My plan was also to have a good start, but that didn’t go my way so I had to try and pass as many guys as possible. I didn’t think about much, just that each and every guy in front of me was my target. I had some lapped traffic as I got near to Nico otherwise I think I could have challenged him. The car never dropped off. It gives me good confidence going into qualifying and the race tomorrow.”
 
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About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
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.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni Controls the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Indianapolis for Juncos

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Victor Franzoni had to work hard to ensure victory in this afternoon’s Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America. After setting the pace in qualifying for locally based Juncos Racing by a comfortable margin of almost a half second, the personable Brazilian botched his start and had to come from behind to beat Australian Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) to the checkered flag.
 
Californian TJ Fischer (Team Pelfrey) maintained his streak of third-place positions in the third round of this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He also won the Staubli Award.
 
Franzoni led the field toward the starter’s stand at a virtual snail’s pace, but the ploy backfired as he found himself swamped by several hungry rivals as the field barreled into Turn One. Championship leader Martin, who had won both opening races in St. Petersburg, Fla., took full advantage by sweeping from third on the grid into the lead. Pelfrey teammates Fischer, Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin also were embroiled in the mix.
 
Martin duly led at the end of the opening lap, by which time Franzoni had managed to claw his way back into second place. Franzoni quickly made up the deficit but Martin put up a staunch defense of his hard-earned advantage.
 
After four laps, Franzoni used the draft to draw alongside last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the entry to Turn One… but the canny Australian made sure his Soul Red car was occupying the preferred inside line. Undeterred, Franzoni held on around the outside, whereupon the two talented young men proceeded to jockey for position, side by side, before Martin emerged onto the back straight still in the lead.
 
Next time around, Franzoni made his move a little bit earlier and was able to clear his rival at the apex of Turn One to grasp the lead for the first time. He never looked back and went on to secure his first Pro Mazda victory by a margin of just over five seconds.
 
Los Angeles-based Russian Lastochkin held third place for the first couple of laps but was already struggling for confidence in his car’s braking capabilities. Fischer was the first to take advantage, slipping through under braking for Turn One. Lastochkin also lost out to Cunha, from Brazil, a couple of laps later, and then teenaged Californian Phillippe Denes, who drove another strong race for World Speed Motorsports.
 
Lastochkin held on for sixth ahead of 14-year-old Sting Ray Robb, from Payatte, Idaho, who enjoyed a race-long battle with World Speed teammate Bobby Eberle.
 
The PFC Award went to the winning team, Juncos Racing, which is based less than a half-mile away from the track in Speedway, Ind., while Martin secured the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award.
 
Bob Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., won the National Class, finishing ninth overall after a protracted duel with the Championship class Juncos Racing entry of fellow Illinois native Jeff Green.
 
Franzoni will start on the pole for tomorrow’s fourth round of the championship, which is due to start at 8:15 a.m. EDT. Live timing and live streaming will be available on the series website, promazda.com, as well as on indycar.com, the Road To Indy TV App and RoadToIndy.TV.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “It’s unbelievable to get my first win in Pro Mazda and my first win at Indianapolis. This track is amazing; everything here is about racing so to win here is totally different than winning anywhere else. Anthony made a better start than me but he didn’t have anywhere to go, so he was pushing me. I’ve raced Anthony for three years now on the Mazda Road to Indy so we respect each other – and we know that if we do something bad for each other, it will be bad for the championship. Of course, if we are still fighting this close as we get to the end of the championship, things will get more difficult. My car is really fast and I am starting on the pole (for Round 4), so I will try to make a better start and win again tomorrow.”
 
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About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com.
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: USF2000 Indianapolis Race No. 1

Starting on pole, Oliver Askew led flag-to-flag en route to scoring his fourth straight Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda victory at Barber Motorsports Park.

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

First Podiums

As Askew celebrated on the podium, he was joined by Kaylen Frederick and Calvin Ming. 

Frederick has been impressive so far this year in his rookie campaign, posting a top-five finish in each round. While Friday at Indianapolis marked his third straight runner-up, he along with Team Pelfrey teammate Robert Megennis failed post-race technical inspection, per Rule 14.28.9.

Therefore while Ming crossed the finish line in third, he was credited with a runner-up result for his first podium of 2017 after posting a previous best finish of seventh-place so far this season. It marks a significant rebound after placing 21st in round two at Barber Motorsports Park after crashing on the opening lap.

Additionally, Ricky Donison now moves from fourth to third. The event marked his fifth career start as he began in the lowest-tier of the Mazda Road to Indy after capturing his third straight JK Tyres Rotax National Championship. If he could put together a solid weekend, it’d be a confidence boost for the Cape Motorsports rookie as Barber Motorsports Park did not go according to plan. He was the first driver to go off track in the first event, before getting involved in an incident in the second race.

Trouble for Thompson

After coming up just short of winning the championship in his second season of competition, a lot of people believed Parker Thompson was one of the favorites entering 2017. Following this weekend, he will have a hole to climb out of to make it happen.

After starting off the season with a pair of thirds and fifths, he finished 21st in race one at Indianapolis after having mechanical issues on the opening lap. His team was able to make quick repairs, allowing him to return only one lap off the leaders, unable to make up much ground.

First Top-Five

Crossing the yard of bricks has worked out well for plenty of drivers so far, including Dakota Dickerson with his first top-five of 2017 after placing fourth. Heading into the weekend, he noted his Newman Wachs Racing needed to find more pace.

“(We) definitely need to step up the pace for the next couple of races,” he said before this weekend. “We know as a team what we need to do moving forward to improve where we’re finishing.”

In his rookie campaign, it took him till the 11th event of the season on the streets of Toronto to post his first top-five. By already finding himself at that level in round five, he could break into the top-five in points this year after finishing ninth last year with Afterburner Motorsports.

Messy Start

While the series has been praised for having great talent and clean racing, today wasn’t one of those cases. A called-off start, as well as cleaning up two cars stuck in turn seven ate up 17 and a half of the 30 minutes allotted for the event. The top-five were spread out comfortably, but being able to run more laps could’ve changed the outcome for the back half of the field as they battled side-by-side.

The delay came as a result of Colin Kaminsky and Cory Enders stopping on course, as Kaminsky lost his rear wing while Enders had substantial right damage. Enders was unable to continue, while Kaminsky replaced the wing to finish 14th.

Enders’ season has been up and down so far, with a pair of top-10s matching up to a 15th and 17th. Meanwhile, Kaminsky needs a good run as he has yet to post a top-10 in 2017.

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

Perfect Day for USF2000 Championship Leader Askew in Indianapolis

Teenager Frederick Again Impresses with Another Second-Place Finish
 
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.  – Oliver Askew is fast making the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda his own personal playground. The 20-year-old winner of last fall’s inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout today claimed two pole positions (including for tomorrow morning’s race) and another beautifully controlled victory for the Cape Motorsports team. Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., led from flag-to-flag this afternoon at a warm and breezy Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit in the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America.
 
Kaylen Frederick, 14, from Potomac, Md., claimed his third successive second-place finish for Team Pelfrey, while Guyana’s Calvin Ming completed the podium for Pabst Racing.
 
The opening stages of today’s fifth round of the 14-race championship were interrupted by full-course cautions following a succession of incidents around the 2.439-mile road course. Once the race was under way in earnest, however, there was no touching Askew, who made an exemplary restart and controlled the race from the front with a series of consistently fast laps. How consistent and how fast? Well, he stretched his lead to Frederick to almost two seconds with a trio of laps all within a few thousandths of a second of each other, then rammed home his superiority by securing the additional bonus point for the fastest lap of the race at a new record-breaking time of 1:25.4916 for an average speed of 102.705 mph. 
 
Askew’s mark in the new Tatuus USF-17 eclipsed the previous standard, set by Nico Jamin during his championship-winning 2015 campaign, by almost a full second.
 
In Askew’s wake, Frederick saw off an early challenge from Ming to take the checkered flag 3.3461 seconds adrift of the winner and almost two seconds clear of Ming, who thoroughly deserved his first podium finish of the season.
 
Askew’s Cape Motorsports teammate, Ricky Donison, from Bangalore, India, made a huge leap forward by qualifying third and finishing a strong fourth (his previous best was a lowly 13th). Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, Calif., rounded out the top five for Newman Wachs Racing.
 
UK-based South African Callan O’Keeffe also impressed on his debut with Team Benik by finishing sixth among a quality field of 23 cars, fractionally ahead of Dutchman Rinus VeeKay (Pabst Racing) and New Yorker Robert Megennis (Team Pelfrey).
 
Norway’s Ayla Agren (Team Pelfrey) and Mexican Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing), who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 17th, completed the top 10 ahead of another debutant, David Malukas, of Lithuanian descent but based in Chicago, with the new BN Racing team.
 
The PFC Award was secured by the winning team, Cape Motorsports. Ming took home the Staubli Award.
 
Askew’s fourth straight win extended his championship lead to 43 points, 156-113, over Frederick heading into tomorrow’s sixth round which will start at 10:15 a.m. Askew will be joined on the front row by Frederick, with VeeKay and Donison on row two of the grid. Live timing and live streaming will be available on the series website, usf2000.com, as well as on indycar.com, the Road To Indy TV App and RoadToIndy.TV.
 
Oliver Askew (#3 Mazda Motorsports/MC Racing-Cape Motorsports): “I tried not to think about winning here, because I didn’t want to jinx myself. The place has so much history and it’s what INDYCAR is. That’s where I want to be in the future so to win here is really cool. But this whole year hasn’t sunk in yet; I don’t feel as though it’s real. Seven months ago I didn’t think I’d be able to keep racing, so to be here is pretty crazy. I knew I had the pace to pull away. I just had to make sure I got a good jump at the start. Having a yellow start throws everyone off, but you have to regroup and figure out how to restart the race. I had the plan of where to accelerate, how to warm up the tires and where to get the jump by the time the green came out. It was hard work during the yellow, keeping the tires warm – it may look like we’re just cruising but the reality is that it’s really hard work.” 
###
About USF2000: The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda debuted in 2010 and is a continuation of the highly-regarded USF2000 series which ran from 1990 through 2006, launching the careers of many of today’s top drivers. Sanctioned by INDYCAR and managed by Andersen Promotions, the series is the first official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system. The top driver in the Championship class will earn a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires the following year. Additional information can be found at www.usf2000.com.
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Sting Ray Robb: “This is a Good Learning Opportunity”

While his parents were involved with drag racing and autocross, Sting Ray Robb can thank Travis Pastrana for his drive to go racing.

“When I was about five-years-old, I was watching a Nitro Circus TV show and saw Travis Pastrana do a back flip with a go-kart into a foam pit,” he said. “It was super cool, so I asked for a kart for my birthday and it just all went from there.”

The Idaho native has progressed up the racing ranks, now in the midst of his rookie season of Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competitors. Robb got involved with the series, after seeing the successful stories of competitors now racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“You can look back and see how many guys have worked their way up through here – like Spencer Pigot,” he said. “He’s in the Verizon IndyCar Series now, but just a few years ago, I was watching him run Pro Mazda. To be able to say ‘that could be me’ is cool. And I’m looking forward to running alongside the IndyCar guys, to be able to watch them and then compete on the same race weekend.”

His debut at St. Petersburg went well in March, scoring a seventh and a fourth in the pair of races.

“It was a good starting point and let us know what to expect at the first weekend,” he said. “But St. Pete exceeded what I wanted to get done. We were mainly trying to set a tone for the weekend and keep improving, session by session, with the hopes of being in the top five – and we were fourth in the second race. It was awesome to do that on a track that most of the other guys have been running on for a few years, especially since I had never raced on a street course in a car.”

This season, the focus for the World Speed Motorsports driver is learning each weekend he’s on track, knowing he’s got plenty of time to work his way up the ladder, and knowing Pro Mazda will move to a new car for 2018.

“In the last year of the old car, it’s going to be all about my driving as a whole and getting comfortable with the team,” he said. “I learn every time I get into the car. We’re playing it by ear, so we’ll use what knowledge we have and decide what to do next year, but the new car could be a huge draw for Pro Mazda.”

While he has been fast so far, it should not be a surprise. Sting Ray Robb was meant to go fast right from day one.

“As far as my name goes, my parents were big Corvette fans, so they named me after the Corvette Stingray,” he said. “It worked out pretty well that I’m a race car driver.”

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: 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

Herta Grasps His Chance to Win Milestone 400th Indy Lights Race

LEEDS, Ala. – The 400th race in the history of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires might not be remembered as a classic but it will likely never be forgotten by Colton Herta. The 17-year-old son of 1993 Indy Lights champion Bryan Herta made the most of an advantageous opportunity as he led from flag-to-flag this afternoon for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing at Barber Motorsports Park.
 
Herta was presented with his milestone trophy in Victory Lane by James Hinchcliffe, who in addition to winning the 300th race since the series’ inception in 1986 – at Long Beach in 2010 – was the most recent Verizon Indy Car Series race winner, coincidentally also at Long Beach just two weeks ago.
 
Fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser finished second for Juncos Racing, while yesterday’s winner, Frenchman Nico Jamin, completed the podium for Andretti Autosport.
 
Qualifying this morning was canceled due to a waterlogged race track following heavy overnight rain, which meant the grid for today’s second leg of the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires was determined according to championship points. Herta, despite a lowly 10th-place finish yesterday, thereby lined up on the pole ahead of Kaiser, Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing) and Jamin.
 
The track was fully dry in time for the noon start, but that didn’t prevent Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) and Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) from making contact in Turn Two. Both returned to the pits but neither was able to continue.
 
After a couple of laps run under caution, Herta took off into the lead, chased by Kaiser and Jamin, who had managed to sneak past Telitz prior to the earlier yellow being displayed.
 
Farther back, Santi Urrutia’s miserable run of luck continued on the following lap when contact with the rear of Belardi teammate Shelby Blackstock’s car in Turn Three forced him into a spin and then a visit to the pits for a replacement nose cone. Urrutia resumed at the back of the pack and showed what might have been by regularly matching the race leader’s pace and even claiming the bonus point for fastest race lap. Sadly, he could salvage a 13th-place finish.
 
Herta, meanwhile, was untroubled at the front as he extended his advantage virtually every lap before taking the checkered flag a commanding 9.1465 seconds clear of Kaiser, who claimed the Staubli Award.
 
Jamin finished another couple of seconds back in third, narrowly ahead of Carlin’s Neil Alberico, who followed up his podium finish yesterday by passing Telitz, then closing down the gap to Jamin and placing the winner of the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda under intense pressure in the closing stages.
 
Telitz clung on to fifth ahead of Argentine rookie Nicolas Dapero, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 10th.
 
Herta’s second win of the new season enabled him to extend his championship lead to 16 points, 101-85, over Kaiser with four of 16 races now in the books. At stake is a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million which will guarantee the winner of the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires an entry for at least three races in next year’s Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500.
 
Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “I’m so happy to have won the 400th race, and to go into the history books of the series. But the first thing that crossed my mind at the checkered flag was relief – it’s such a physical track so when you’re out in front with a sizable gap, it’s a long race. Having the inside going into Turn One on the first lap was huge, because it’s so hard to pass here. Kyle was close to me on the first lap, but after that I was on my own. I do think that the more experience you have out in front, the better you are at staying calm. I think I’m better at that now because I have been up there in championships in Europe and it hasn’t worked out – and the championship is the focus now.”
 
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About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
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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.