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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.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Jamin Claims Dramatic Indy Lights Victory at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Frenchman Nico Jamin claimed a hard-earned victory for Andretti Autosport in today’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda. The 21-year-old Frenchman fended off a determined challenge from yesterday’s winner, Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing), to become the fifth different Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires winner in the last six races.
A delighted Shelby Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., finished third – his first podium appearance since the corresponding event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2015.
 
Entering the weekend, Jamin and Urrutia were the “form men” at the undulating 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Jamin had won all three USF2000 races at the venue in 2015 on his way to the championship – and claimed a double one year ago in Pro Mazda – while Urrutia had won one Pro Mazda race in 2015 en route to the championship, then swept both Indy Lights races from the pole in 2016. So it was perhaps fitting that they should share the spoils this weekend.
 
Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., the youngest driver in the field at 17, seemed set to claim a slice of the action when he qualified on pole, then snatched back the advantage for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing despite being passed in opportunistic style on the opening lap by teammate Jamin, who had started third. But one lap after redressing the balance, Herta lost control at the tricky Turn Nine and spun to the back of the field.
 
Jamin regained the point and was never again headed during the 38-lap race, although he was made to work hard by Urrutia. The Uruguayan trailed by as much as 2.7 seconds at the mid-point of the race, before laying down a series of quick laps to gradually reduce the deficit. By the time he posted the fastest lap of the race on Lap 30, Urrutia had closed to within just a few car lengths, but Jamin upped his pace in response and was able to maintain a slender advantage to the finish line to secure his third win of the season and his first since the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course in May.
 
Blackstock, who started fifth, made a good start to depose Zachary Claman DeMelo (Carlin), then moved up to third following Herta’s uncharacteristic mistake. DeMelo remained hot on his heels throughout, but Blackstock made not the hint of a mistake.
 
Argentinean rookie Nicolas Dapero ran fifth during the early stages for Juncos Racing before making a mistake and falling behind Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing). Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 12th and looked secure in fifth until the final laps when Herta closed in after a tremendous drive back through the field from 12th following his early error.
 
Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), from Aurora, Ohio, fell from sixth on the grid to ninth in the opening laps before righting the ship and then passing Dapero for seventh on the final lap.
 
Garth Rickards (Carlin), from Mechanicsburg, Pa., retired early but gained some consolation in the form of the Staubli Award.
 
Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), from Santa Clara, Calif., lost a golden opportunity to put the championship virtually out of reach of his rivals when an attempt to pass Colombian Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) at Turn Five went awry on Lap 13. Kaiser eventually finished a lap down in 12th, although he still holds a healthy 42-point advantage over Herta and Urrutia, who are now tied for second. Matheus Leist (Carlin), who finished 10th, DeMelo and Jamin also are within 13 points of second place heading into the final two races at Gateway Motorsports Park (August 26) and Watkins Glen International (September 3).
 
In the Team Championship, Andretti Autosport has slipped into the lead by 343 points to the 335 of defending champion and erstwhile leader Carlin, with Belardi Auto Racing also firmly in contention on 327.
 
Nico Jamin (#27 DuraMAX Powered by RelaDyne Mazda-Andretti Autosport ): “I screamed on the radio (because) I was so happy. The whole 27 team has been struggling so to be first and third this weekend and coming back a bit in the championship feels really good. The track was extremely slippery so my car was all over the place for the first two or three laps, but it was the same for everyone. I knew I had to make it happen at the start so my plan was to be in the lead after Turn Four. I made a great start, right on Colton’s gearbox, and was able to get by. He used his push-to-pass to get back by on the next lap and I thought ‘this is going to be a fun race’ because I thought we’d be going after each other all race long. He made a mistake and I took the lead, but I knew it would be a long race with Santi pushing me like crazy. We raced hard but clean so congrats to them.”
 
Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing w/SPM): “Starting on the outside is difficult and Nico got around me. My car was pretty loose but got better and better as the race went on. I used my push-to-pass on the last few laps and got around him on the back straight but he defended really well. The Belardi team has been working so hard and this was the first weekend we put everything together with me, Shelby and Aaron doing really well. It was a good weekend in the championship for us, with the win yesterday and second today and Kaiser down in the standings. The championship is difficult but all we can do is win so we’ll go to the next race with that plan. If we win the last two races, then we wait for the result.”
 
Shelby Blackstock (#51 Starstruck-Belardi Auto Racing): “I like this place. It’s a driver’s track – very technical and fast. I’ve always done well here, always been top-five unless we had an ‘uh-oh’ kind of day. We came off the truck in good shape this weekend and it was great for the entire team for Santi and me to be on the podium and with Aaron just behind. I had a good start but was pressured the entire time by Zach, which made for a tough day.”
###
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.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI OBSERVATIONS: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto

TORONTO, Ontario — In the tight confines of the streets of Toronto, Kyle Kaiser showcased why he is the current series points leader, as he won both Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix’s of Toronto. As for his competitors, some of them left with smiles while others were frustrated.

Here are some observations from the weekend.

Kool Kaiser

Entering his third season of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition, Kyle Kaiser is coming into his own as a racecar driver. He has been solid on a weekly basis, scoring only one finish outside of the top-six in the first 10 races heading into Toronto.

This past weekend at Exhibition Place, he accomplished something he has not done in his career to date – sweeping a weekend.

In the first race, he led all 35 laps after starting from the pole, followed by running second throughout the second event after a daring three-wide move on Lap 1. until Colton Herta experienced a mechanical problem on Lap 25, handing the lead over to Kaiser. From there on, he drove away from the field en route to the checkered flag.

“This has been a dream weekend,” he said. “I’ve never had a double win weekend before, so I didn’t come into the (second) race – obviously I always try to win, but I was accepting the realistic facts. We were starting third, two really good guys ahead of us, so I was coming in just set to finish the race, and keep it clean.”

The success for Kaiser is no surprise, though, as he entered the weekend with three third-place finishes and a ninth in four previous races.

“We’ve always had a good set-up here,” he said. “Spencer (Pigot) won here two times in 2015 and last year, we had good pace but got caught out in the first qualifier towards the back but raced up to third. I think we’ve always had a good street course set-up, besides St. Pete. We did what we had to do. We attacked and gave everything that we had, and it paid off.”

Now with his third victory of the year, he currently leads the standings, 51 markers ahead of Matheus Leist. If he can remain solid throughout the rest of the season, he could walk away with the championship, and an opportunity to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“I think there are places that I could have done better,” he told POPULAR SPEED on Saturday. “I mean, there’s always room to improve every season. But, we’re leading the championship, and this was a really good day for the points, so I’m very happy. I can’t get too critical of myself.”

Hometown Struggles for Kellett

After scoring a third at Iowa Speedway, Dalton Kellet entered the Honda Indy Toronto weekend hopeful for a successful showing in front of the hometown fans. However, the event did not go as the Stouffville, Ontario native planned.

Going into the event, he was aware of the challenge at hand, telling POPULAR SPEED on Friday that the bumpy track conditions were going to present “a challenge for us to set the car up so we can be competitive.”

On Saturday, he would go off the track on three different occasions, before parking the No. 28 Andretti Autosport entry for a 12th-place finish. Then on Sunday, he ran up in the top-five for the first half of the race, before getting into the tire barrier on Lap 30. He was able to keep going, though crossed the finish line in ninth.

The finishes go along with the way his season has played out so far, running up front but not posting the warranted results with two top-fives and eight top-10’s in 12 races.

“We’ve been really strong on the ovals, and we’ve been quick on the road and street courses, but have not been able to put the results together,” he said.

Kellett will hope to turn things around at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he posted a ninth-place finish in 2016.

One Happy Canadian

Although Dalton Kellett was left frustrated, another Canadian driver gave the fans a reason to smile. Montreal’s Zachary Claman DeMelo ran up front in both events, posting a runner-up and third place finish.

“It’s a really good feeling to get two podiums in a row in Toronto,” he said. “It’s almost like my second home; I’ve kart raced here since I was eight years old, so it’s a nice city. It’s a shame that we didn’t have the car to win, but I’m really happy with the amount of points we gained.”

Claman DeMelo ran solidly in the runner-up spot in both events, though faded after the Lap 12 restart in the second race to third.

“The track was a bit slick,” he said. “We made some changes to the car, and it felt good at the beginning to challenge Kyle for quite awhile. After the restart, I just didn’t have the pace that he had. I just didn’t get a good restart so Aaron got by me and I tried to pressure him, but couldn’t so I had to settle for third today.”

While his season did not start out as warranted with two finishes outside of the top-10 in the first six races, he has turned it around with a top-10 in each of those that have followed, including a victory at Road America.

“I started off rough, but made a big push through the middle of the season,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I went to the gym a lot, went and worked with the team a lot, and it’s starting to show as the last two races have been really strong for me. Qualified on the front row at Iowa – the race didn’t go quite how I wanted, and then the win at Road America. So things are going well, and hopefully, we can carry this strong momentum.”

Currently sitting fourth in points, he is only 21 markers behind Matheus Leist for second heading to Mid-Ohio, where he placed seventh in both events last year.

“We just need to stay consistent every race and try to get as many points as we can,” he said. “I think we can challenge for a win at Mid-Ohio there, as well.”

Rough Start to Race 2

Although the first event of the weekend went cleanly, the second race did not start off smoothly with a big wreck on the opening lap, taking out several key contenders.

Going into the first corner, Kyle Kaiser dived left underneath Santiago Urrutia for the second position, while Nico Jamin went to the right. Now three-wide in one of the tightest corners of the circuit, Jamin made slight contact with the outside wall, bottling up the field behind them. As a result, Shelby Blackstock was left nowhere to go as he drove over Jamin’s rear tire, followed by Neil Alberico catching a good piece of the action.

“That was pretty wild,” eventual race runner-up Aaron Telitz said. “Three cars tried to go three-wide all the way around the corner, which obviously didn’t end up going well for them. It bottled up and my teammate Shelby (Blackstock) went up and over Nico (Jamin), and I could see the bottom of Shelby’s car, so I thought it’d be a full course yellow, and sure enough it came out.”

Kaiser would go on to win the race, but Jamin, Blackstock, and Alberico all were done for the event. Urrutia was also able to continue but eventually came to a stop on the front stretch on Lap 12 en route to finishing 11th.

The incident just added to the frustrations of the weekend for Jamin and Blackstock, who both failed to post a top-10 finish in the first race of the weekend. Jamin was running up in the top-five but got front end damage when he ran into Matheus Leist after he spun on Lap 5. Meanwhile, Blackstock began the race with a mechanical issue, going seven laps down before joining the action.

While both drivers were expected to be part of the championship conversation, they have now fallen outside of the top-five in points with Jamin seventh and Blackstock 12th. The pair could use a good run at Mid-Ohio as Jamin has only one top-10 in the last four races, while Blackstock has failed to post a top-10 in the last three.

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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EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Advancement On The Line?

Remember the original edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Now recall when meek Charlie Bucket realizes he has found the last golden ticket.

Yours truly is not going to sing and dance a-la Charlie and Grandpa Joe, yet a lot is on the table for whoever takes the checkered flag first in Friday’s Freedom 100. The pinnacle event on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has often opened the window of opportunity to a future shot at the Indianapolis 500.

Nowhere was this proven more so than in the inaugural running of the support race in 2003. Starting from pole position, Indianapolis’s own Ed Carpenter led all but one of the event’s forty laps to take the historic triumph. Duesenberg Brothers Racing’s Jeff Simmons charged late to finish second, while Panther Racing’s Mark Taylor came home in third

Although no one could have predicted it at the time, but all three podium drivers would take three of the 33 spots in the 2004 Indy 500. A collision between Carpenter and Taylor at the 200-mile mark ultimately allowed Simmons to earn the best result of the trio in that edition, placing 11th.

In fact, each of the first five winners of the sprint race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway eventually qualified for the big dance, with the most notable being Wade Cunningham, the only competitor to date to win the Freedom 100 more than once.

Including Carpenter, three other P1 catchers will be on the main straightaway waiting for Mari Hulman George’s command to start engines. Josef Newgarden comes into Sunday’s race after earning third-place in 2016. Gabby Chaves used his 2014 100-mile race success, to snag Rookie of the Race honors in the Indy 500 two years ago. And after winning the Indy Lights’ big race in 2015, Jack Harvey makes his debut in the Memorial Day battle on May 28th.

So who could join these graduates in 2017? While defending champion Dean Stoneman was unsuccessful in taking a ride for the Indy 500 this month, there is another driver who was also in the running for a spot that could be the favorite to win the 2017 Freedom 100.

Following the announcement of Juncos Racing’s participation in this year’s race, it was believed that their Indy Lights regular Kyle Kaiser would be one of the chauffeurs. The 21-year old from California placed third on last year’s points table with two wins. 2017 has continued the wave of momentum for the prospect; he enters Friday’s event as the championship leader and is the most recent winner taking the second leg of the Liberty Challenge on the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. With Ricardo Juncos attempting to promote his team to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2018, the Freedom 100 could be the boost required to earn the title and the bump up funding a ride next season.

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta are also possibilities from the Andretti Autosport junior squad. Both enter Friday on the heels of Kaiser with each taking a pair of victories in 2017. The French-based Jamin  has been a winning machine, earning successes in IMSA Prototype Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge action this year as well. Herta would join a long line of sons following their fathers into the Indy 500. Colton’s dad Bryan scored two top-fives at the Brickyard, and has won the big one twice as an owner.

Regardless of who joins the victory list on Friday, the chances are good that someone could fire it up against the big guys in the future.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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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Andretti Autosport Returns to Championship Form

Even though Andretti Autosport had things going their way in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Ryan Hunter-Reay contending for victories the past couple season, their Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program was faltering. Now with six rounds in the books, it appears the program is back on track.

“We have four talented drivers,” Michael Andretti said on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We have two that are getting us wins. They’re going to be duking it out the rest of the year, so far.”

The organization came close to winning the championship in 2014, placing Zach Veach and Mathew Brabham third and fourth in the standings. Veach led the points through the first seven rounds boasting a pair of victories, though with only one win in season’s second half saw him drop two positions. Meanwhile, Brabham climbed his way back up after sitting ninth following the season-opener at St. Petersburg, with his season highlighted by a victory in the Indianapolis Road Course Race 1.

It was expected they would contend once again in 2015, but that didn’t happen, with the 2016 season also going down the pipes.

They fielded only one entry full-time in 2015 with Shelby Blackstock behind the wheel, placing 10th in the standings with a best finish of third at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A year later, Blackstock failed to post a podium en route to finishing eighth in points. Dalton Kellett and Dean Stoneman also ran full-time, and although Stoneman won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, success was few and far between with Stoneman placing sixth in points and Kellett in 10th.

Now so far this season, they have two drivers currently in the top-three in points, with Nico Jamin second and Colton Herta third.

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. He 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. Indianapolis went well for him, as well, with a victory in round one followed by a fourth in race two.

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

He enters the top series on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires after placing third in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last season.

Herta came out of the gate fast right off the bat, with two wins and a runner-up in the first four races to enter Indianapolis with a 16-point lead. However, problems in both races for a pair of finishes outside the top-nine slipped him back to third. Even though success has come quickly, it’s mindful to remember Herta is a series rookie, and original intentions were to go with a two-year program by setting the ground work this year to win a title next season.

“To be honest, it was unexpected,” Herta said following Barber. “We were just going in there hoping just to get some top-five finishes, start the season off right, and get some points.”

Last year, Andretti Autosport won the Freedom 100 – but that was the only highlight of the campaign.

With success coming already, another victory on the first oval of 2017 would solidify their stance of being contenders all year-long.

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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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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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.”
 
###
 
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: 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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Jamin Scores at Barber to Become Third Different Indy Lights Winner

LEEDS, Ala. – Nico Jamin made a textbook pass for the lead in the early stages of this afternoon’s opening leg of the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, then edged away to become the third different winner in as many races this year in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
 
The 21-year-old Frenchman, driving for Andretti Autosport, who also won at Barber in 2015 en route to winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, became the 132nd different winner in the 31-year history of Indy Lights, which tomorrow will celebrate its milestone 400th race. With the win, Jamin joins Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham and Aaron Telitz as drivers to win on all three rungs.
 
Californians Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Neil Alberico (Carlin) completed the podium.
 
Kaiser had claimed the pole position this morning, with series leader Colton Herta lining up second for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing. But there was drama even before the green flag as Aaron Telitz, who started a lowly 13th after experiencing a mechanical problem in qualifying, inadvertently clipped the rear of Belardi Auto Racing teammate Shelby Blackstock.
 
The start was immediately waved off, only for Herta to then clip the rear of Kaiser’s car as the leaders, who were already anticipating the green flag, began to slow for Turn One. A little farther back in the pack, pre-season title favorite Santi Urrutia’s misfortune continued when his Belardi car was assaulted from behind by Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) in Turn One. Both made pit stops for repairs, along with Herta and Telitz.
 
After three laps behind the pace car, the race was green-flagged properly with Kaiser still leading from Jamin, who had qualified third, then Alberico and his Carlin teammates Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman de Melo, who had qualified seventh and ninth, respectively.
 
But Kaiser held the lead only as far as Turn Five, where Jamin made an incisive move to the inside, then left his braking until the last possible moment before scything into the lead.
 
Jamin quickly established himself out front, posting the fastest lap of the race as early as the sixth lap as he left Kaiser to hold off the attentions of Alberico.
 
Jamin gradually extended his advantage to more than three seconds before easing off on the final lap to take the checkered flag 2.6525 seconds head of Kaiser, who remained under pressure throughout from Alberico.
 
Leist, from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, and Tilton Hard Charger Award winner De Melo, from Montreal, Que., Canada, also were closely matched in fourth and fifth, with another Canadian, Dalton Kellett, claiming a relatively lonely sixth for Andretti Autosport.
Blackstock finished seventh, narrowly ahead of O’Ward, who had found a way past his own teammate, Juan Piedrahita, midway through the race but was unable to usurp the Tennessean.
 
Jamin, who jumped from 11th in the points table to fourth following his maiden Indy Lights win, also earned the Staubli Award. Herta still leads the points by a 10-point margin over Kaiser, 70-60, prior to tomorrow’s 400th Indy Lights race, for which the green flag will wave at 12:00 noon CDT, following another qualifying session at 8:00 am.
 
Live timing and live streaming will be available on indylights.com, as well as on indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App. The race will air on NBCSN at 12:00 am on April 26.
 
Nico Jamin (#27 Andretti Autosport Mazda): “It was just incredible – when I got to Victory Lane and everyone wanted to talk to me, I didn’t know what to say! I was so emotional. It was a good thing I had good reflexes and put on the brakes in time to not break the front wing like my teammate did. Here, you can start on pole and get away or you have to get it done early, so I was in attack mode right away. I went on push-to-pass, broke late and made the pass stick. The Cooper Tires were very consistent through the whole race so that made it easy. So I’ll go cool down now, have a little celebration tonight, and try to put it on pole tomorrow morning. We had room for that this morning, but I got caught in traffic. Everyone wants to win the 400th Indy Lights race.”
 
Kyle Kaiser (#18 Juncos Racing): “I saw the start was waved off so I slowed up and I felt a little nudge from behind. I feel bad for Colton but these things happen. I know it’s tough to run close behind someone here because of the aero wash, so when Nico got by me I thought I would settle in and hope he would make a mistake or something would go wrong. With the field this tight, it’s very difficult to pass here once things settle in. But overall, I ran a pretty decent race except for the beginning. So until qualifying tomorrow morning, we’ll keep an eye on the forecast. We’re expecting it to be wet in the morning so we’ll put on rain tires and hope to be quick again.”
 
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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.