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IndyCar Open Wheel

Claman DeMelo Ready for IndyCar Debut at Sonoma Raceway

After two full-time Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires seasons, Zachary Claman DeMelo is set for the next step of his open-wheel career. He will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut at Sonoma Raceway on September 17 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 

“I’m very excited and very thankful to Paysafe for making the opportunity possible,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m looking to seeing what else it leads to.”

Going into the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Canadian admits there’s no particular result that he is aiming for, but rather seeing how he can progress from practice to the race. 

“Obviously, it’d be nice to be quick and jell well with Graham (Rahal), my teammate,” he said. “I’m just going to do the best that I can, and keep learning throughout the weekend in making gains towards next year.”

Like many Indy Lights competitors, Claman DeMelo has tested an IndyCar previously, with his opportunity coming earlier this year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Despite his time on the track being cut short, his laps were equal to those run by the team’s full-time competitors.

 

“I think I adjusted it to it quick,” he said. “It’s not per say really different than the Indy Lights car, just a bit quicker. But overall, it wasn’t too bad.”

Driving for Carlin Racing this past season, Claman DeMelo put together a solid Indy Lights campaign, placing fifth in points after closing out the year with eight straight top-six finishes following his victory at Road America.

“It went very well,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, we didn’t get the results we should have due to some problems and some bad luck, but at the end of the season, it went really well. We showed that if we were like that the whole year, we would’ve been competing for the championship.”

Compared to 2016 where he failed to score a podium, Claman DeMelo said experience made the difference, as prior to competing in Indy Lights full-time in 2016, he only had a half season under his belt racing cars.

As of right, Claman DeMelo does not have any plans set in stone for 2018, but the 2017 season finale may serve as a preview for those.

 

“It depends on sponsorship and opportunities, but the goal is to be in IndyCar full-time next year,” he said.

 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI OBSERVATIONS: 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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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Claman DeMelo Maintains Carlin’s Indy Lights Streak with Emphatic First Win

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Trevor Carlin’s team is on a roll. One day after Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist followed up his maiden victory at Indianapolis with a dominating drive at Road America, teammate Zachary Claman DeMelo, 19, from Montreal, Que., Canada claimed a slice of the action by producing a similarly crushing performance to claim his first series’ win. He became the sixth different Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race winner this season.
 
Californian Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) strengthened his championship lead with a hard-fought second-place finish following a lengthy battle with polesitter Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing).
 
The ever-changing face of Indy Lights was amply demonstrated by the grid for today’s race, which was set during a dedicated qualifying session yesterday morning in crisp, cool conditions. No fewer than 12 of the 14 contenders circulated faster than the existing qualifying record of 1:52.9410, set last year by Zach Veach, with Herta, who finished a distant 12th yesterday afternoon, posting a new benchmark of 1:52.0034 (129.018 mph).
 
Herta made a good start to lead the opening four laps, but behind him a tremendous battle was brewing between Leist, who started second, Kaiser, Claman DeMelo and Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing), who made another of his trademark starts to rise briefly as high as second on the opening lap.
 
But it soon became apparent that Claman DeMelo was the man to beat in the cool, sunny, breezy conditions that greeted the field for this morning’s early (8:55 a.m.) start in advance of the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event. The Canadian, who set a new record fastest lap of 1:54.6326 (126.058 mph) last year at Road America, bettered that standard comfortably as early as Lap Two as he vaulted past Kaiser into second place and closed rapidly onto the tail of race leader Herta. He wasn’t nearly done.
 
Herta gamely resisted Claman DeMelo’s challenge for a couple more laps but it was apparent he was on borrowed time. Sure enough, on Lap Five, Claman DeMelo took advantage of the draft on the long front straight, then used his Mazda engine’s push-to-pass feature to draw alongside Herta before sweeping past to take the lead. He proceeded to post comfortably the fastest lap of the race, a new record 1:53.0138 (127.864 mph), as he quickly pulled away in the lead.
 
In his wake, Kaiser and Herta continued their protracted duel for second, exchanging places several times before Kaiser made the position his own with a bold outside-line maneuver at Turn Five. Herta tried several times to redress the balance in similar style but was never quite able to make it stick, so he had to settle for third.
 
Leist remained in contention with this pair until slipping back a little over the final few laps, when he was chased by Belardi’s local favorite Aaron Telitz, who won both Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at Road America last year en route to the championship and a coveted Mazda Scholarship.
 
Tennessean Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), who claimed the Staubli Award, also impressed in the closing stages by climbing from 10th to sixth ahead of Andretti teammate Ryan Norman, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, Carlin’s Neil Alberico and Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport). Their progress was made easier by the fact Urrutia, a winner at Road America in 2016, sustained a tire puncture on the final lap, falling to a disappointing 11th-place finish.
 
Kaiser’s second-place finish leaves him with a 27-point advantage, 199-172, over Leist in the quest for the championship and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million which will ensure entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500. The next Indy Lights action will see a return to oval competition at Iowa Speedway on July 9.
 
Zachary Claman DeMelo (#13 Paysafe/ZCD Montreal/Zoological Wildlife Foundation-Carlin): “It’s such a great feeling, I’m just really at a loss for words. I can’t thank the people who helped get me here enough. It was such a great turnaround from Race One. Getting the win – and by such a big margin – shows that I am here to win races and fight for the championship. I was pushing every single lap to make the lead bigger, while trying not to make any mistakes that would let the guys behind me get close. The only stressful point was when Colton was behind me. I worked with the push-to-pass to get a gap and that was really all I had to think about the whole race. It’s such a great group at Carlin: from the team to the other drivers, we all push each other so hard. I’m learning from everyone on the team and I can’t thank my engineer, Matt Greasley, enough. He’s helped me develop as a driver to be in front like I was today.”
 
Kyle Kaiser (#18 Juncos Racing): “It was pretty hectic out there. My goal was to get through Turn One cleanly and though I didn’t get the jump I was looking for, I was able to get by Matheus when I needed to. I tried to keep up with Colton but he started on sticker tires, had a ton of pace right out of the gate and got a real big gap. I had pressure from Zach right away: he was on fire. I knew he would be aggressive, so after he got by me and started battling with Colton, I just waited for an opportunity. But the goal is to increase the championship lead every weekend, and we did that.”
 
Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “We found some pace and started on pole, which was great after a rough Friday. We really needed a comeback to get back on the podium so hopefully we can keep up this consistency. We held the lead early but made a little bit of a mistake that let Zachary get by. After that it was a battle with Kaiser all race long to keep P2. It’s tough to find the balance between going for wins and making sure we get as many points as possible, but I’m still young so if we don’t make it this year, we have a few more years to get there.”
 
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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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News Open Wheel

Claman DeMelo Joins Rickards and Leist at Carlin

Carlin Racing’s Indy Lights program for this season continues to come together as the organization announced Zachary Claman DeMelo would be the third driver for the organization in 2017, joining Garth Rickards and Matheus Leist.

It’ll mark Claman DeMelo’s second year in the series, after running the full schedule last year with Juncos Racing. In 18 events, the Canadian was able to score nine top-10 finishes, with a season-best finish of fourth at Road America, en route to finishing ninth in the series standings.

Claman DeMelo said, “I am proud to announce my seat with Carlin for the 2017 Indy Lights Series!  Carlin to me, represent one of the most professional teams that strive for only the best and I’ve no doubt that 2017 will be a great experience.”

Prior to Indy Lights, he spent time in Europe, racing in Formula Renault 2.0, NEC and ALPS Championships throughout 2015. Notably, that time included a stunt with Carlin Racing, running for them in the F3 Cup.

Trevor Carlin added, “We are very happy to have Zach join the team for 2017.  We’ve worked very successfully with Zach before and I think together we’ll get some great results this year.  It will be a tough field I think this season in Indy Lights, with some very strong/returning drivers and some quick rookies, but we’re putting together a strong package and are looking forward to getting on track at St Pete.”

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.