The Mazda Road to Indy is set to provide some thrilling action this weekend as all three steps on the open-wheel development ladder will hold a pair of races on the demanding Exhibition Place street circuit in downtown Toronto, Ont., Canada in support of the Honda Indy Toronto.
The unique Mazda Road to Indy initiative provides Mazda scholarships at every level to assist aspiring professionals in graduating from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Ontario’s Grist to Take on Established Indy Lights Front-Runners
Just a few days after competing on the dauntingly fast, high-banked Iowa Speedway oval, the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto, comprising Rounds 12 and 13 of an 18-race season, will present an entirely different challenge on the tight and unforgiving 1.755-mile, 11-turn street circuit.
Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones, fellow Briton Dean Stoneman, Uruguayan Santiago “Santi” Urrutia and Puerto Rican Felix Serralles currently lead the point standings after 11 races, each with two victories already to their names.
Jones, driving for the British Carlin team, finished fifth and third in Toronto during his rookie campaign in 2015, while Urrutia, representing seven-time championship-winning team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, garnered a seventh and a fourth en route to winning last year’s Pro Mazda championship and a Mazda Scholarship to assist in his graduation this year to Indy Lights. Fellow Indy Lights rookie Stoneman is taking part in his first season of racing outside Europe but has proven to be a quick study, and last year earned a second-place finish on his maiden appearance at Monaco in the Formula Renault 3.5 World Series. Serralles (Carlin) won last weekend’s race at Iowa to add to his victory earlier this year on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Among their opposition this weekend will be local driver Garett Grist, from Grimsby, Ont., who will be taking part in just his second weekend of Indy Lights competition with Team Pelfrey after stepping up from Pro Mazda. Grist, 21, is a veteran of the Exhibition Place street circuit, having finished sixth in a USF2000 race in 2013 and then dominated last year’s second Pro Mazda race as he led from pole position to the checkered flag. The weekend will mark Grist’s 100th race.
“I am really looking forward to this weekend,” said Grist. “It's always great to come home for your home race, and it's great that my friends and family are able to come out and watch. Winning last year was massive. This year I hope to do the same. It will be my second weekend in Indy Lights so I'm still new, but the pace we showed at Road America in my first weekend was great especially with myself and the team having never been there before. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to run at the front this weekend.”
Other top contenders will include Zach Veach, who took his first victory for Belardi Auto Racing last month at Road America; returning teammate Felix Rosenqvist, from Sweden, last year’s FIA European Formula 3 champion who also took a win at St. Petersburg but was forced to skip the two most recent weekends due to his European commitments; Toronto’s Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), who claimed his first podium finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May; and fellow rookie Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing), from Montreal, Que., who has displayed prodigious pace in several recent races.
After a pair of practice sessions on Friday and qualifying on Saturday morning, Race One will take place at 12:25 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, July 16. Race Two will follow the IndyCar warmup at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, July 17. Live timing and streaming video of all sessions will be available at indylights.com, indycar.com and on the Road To Indy TV App. The race will air on NBCSN on July 19 at 11:00 pm EDT.
Teammates O’Ward, Telitz to Continue Battle for Pro Mazda Supremacy
Teenaged Mexican Patricio “Pato” O’Ward and Wisconsin-born-and-bred Pro Mazda rookie Aaron Telitz have proven to be a dominant force this year, combining to win all nine races for Florida-based Team Pelfrey. O’Ward holds the edge in points after winning six of the first seven races (just one shy of the best ever start to a Pro Mazda campaign in 2013, when Matthew Brabham romped to the title), but Telitz, who won Round Two at St. Petersburg, Fla., bounced back with a vengeance last month at his home track, Road America, to claim two more victories from the pole. The pair are currently separated by 28 points with seven races remaining. At stake is a substantial Mazda scholarship to assist in the progression to Indy Lights in 2017.
Rival teams Juncos Racing and Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing are anxious to derail the Team Pelfrey freight train and have been working hard to reduce the deficit.
Frenchman Nico Jamin, who scored a win and a second last year in Toronto on his way to winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title and a Mazda scholarship to progress into Pro Mazda, posted the fastest lap in Race One at Road America before finishing second in Race Two for the Cape brothers’ team.
The Juncos trio of Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., Jake Parsons, from Melbourne, Australia, and Nicolas Dapero, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, have all recorded podium finishes this season, while Parsons, in particular, is looking to maintain his form from Road America, where he ran with the leaders in both races before encountering a variety of misfortunes.
California’s TJ Fischer will drive a third yellow-and-black car for Team Pelfrey this weekend, while Mexico City’s Jorge Cevallos will rejoin the series aboard a second Cape Motorsports entry.
The Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Toronto will comprise a pair of practice sessions on Friday, qualifying on Saturday morning, then Race One later in the afternoon at 5:20 p.m. and Race Two at 9:25 a.m. on Sunday, July 17. Live timing and streaming shows of all sessions will be available on the Road To Indy TV App and at promazda.com and indycar.com.
Canada’s Thompson and Australia’s Martin Tied for USF2000 Points Lead
The battle for another Mazda scholarship to move from USF2000 to Pro Mazda in 2017 couldn’t be more finely poised with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, and Anthony Martin, from Perth, Australia, currently tied for the points lead with seven races remaining.
Martin has won four races to the three of Thompson and perhaps has a slight edge after claiming a third and a fourth in Toronto one year ago.
“This isn't just any race coming up,” affirms Thompson. “This is my favorite race of the entire calendar, and not just because it's my home Grand Prix. Toronto is one of the most difficult street circuits in the world. I really look forward to representing the Canadian fans at the event, along with all of my partners I have attending my home race. Sharing the championship lead thus far in the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 standings will just make me push that much harder to be on top this weekend!”
Two more talented young Australians, Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing) and Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports), along with Brazilian Victor Franzoni (ArmsUp Motorsports) have proven to be regular podium challengers, while Yufeng Luo (Pabst Racing) in March became the first Chinese driver to win a race on the Mazda Road to Indy.
Other likely contenders among a quality 23-car field representing no fewer than eight different nationalities will include Jordan Cane, from Bognor Regis, England, who will drive a third Cape Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda; fellow teenager Robert Megennis (Team Pelfrey), from New York, N.Y.; Norway’s Ayla Agren (John Cummiskey Racing), who finished fourth most recently at Road America; Garth Rickards (Pabst Racing), from Mechanicsburg, Pa.; and Californian Dakota Dickerson, who has displayed steadily improving form with Afterburner Autosport after gaining his opportunity to move into USF2000 via a Mazda scholarship after winning last year’s Skip Barber Racing Championship Shootout.
The Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Toronto will commence with a pair of practice sessions on Friday, July 15, followed by qualifying on Saturday morning, Race One at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday and then Race Two at 8:25 a.m. on Sunday. Live timing and streaming shows of all sessions will be available on the Road To Indy TV App and at usf2000.com and indycar.com.