All three levels of the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will return to action this week in the fourth annual.
Well over 50 competitors will converge upon the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for double-header rounds.
The level of intensity in all three series – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will be fierce, and each of the six races will have some additional commonality in being presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Oil and held in support of the Lupus Foundation of America during Lupus Awareness Month. Every car will carry a decal as a means of raising awareness for this mysterious autoimmune disease, and the #RaceToEndLupus hashtag will be used throughout the event. A special donation page has been set up at lupus.org/racing.
Mazda “Skakushi” Decals to Debut at Indianapolis
Beginning with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America and retroactive to the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, all race winners in the Mazda Road to Indy will be presented with special “rice spoon” (called a skakushi) decals for their cars from Mazda to acknowledge their accomplishments. The rice spoon is a talisman for good luck, victory, business prosperity and a safe household, and the characters on the spoon read “Certain Victory” and “Must Win.”
“The Mazda brand and our entire motorsports program is based on the idea that we ‘Never Stop Challenging,’” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations. “That determines how we improve our vehicles and how we provide our customers with enjoyment. One way we celebrate Mazda’s heritage is through winning on the race track. Every weekend, our racers come to the track with the hope of achieving ‘certain victory.' These decals for the Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 race winners represent a badge of honor and the virtues of fighting hard for victory.”
Three Winners in Four Indy Lights Races Highlight Ultra-Competitive Grid
Rookie Colton Herta, 17, from Valencia, Calif., is well on the way toward rewriting the Indy Lights record books. The 17-year-old became the youngest ever Indy Lights race winner when he took the checkered flag in Round 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., then most recently at Barber Motorsports Park added another victory for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing – in the 400th Indy Lights race since its inception in 1986. Herta now holds a 16-point lead in his quest to win the championship and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to ensure entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
A pair of podium finishes in Alabama for series veteran Kyle Kaiser moved the 21-year-old Santa Clara, Calif., native into second place in the standings as the field heads to within a few hundred yards of his Juncos Racing team’s home base in Speedway, Ind., for Rounds 5 and 6.
Herta’s Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin, who won both USF2000 races at Indianapolis en route to the championship in 2015, scored a breakthrough maiden Indy Lights victory at Barber, while fellow rookie Aaron Telitz, the 2016 Pro Mazda champion who won the opening race of the season at St. Petersburg, will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing Barber weekend for the Brownsburg, Ind.-based Belardi Auto Racing team.
Other drivers to watch in a deep pool of talent will include Belardi teammates Santi Urrutia, from Uruguay, who has had no luck at all in the opening four races of the season after finishing a close second in the 2016 title-chase, and Shelby Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., who sits sixth in points, plus Californian Neil Alberico, who has rebounded from a challenging rookie season in 2016 to claim three top-four finishes for the Carlin team in the first four races of the new campaign and teammate Matheus Leist who just missed the podium at Barber Motorsports Park.
The event will mark a milestone for Team Pelfrey’s Juan Piedrahita as he will celebrate his 100th race start on the Mazda Road to Indy on Friday. The popular Colombian is among an elite handful of drivers who have recorded top-three finishes in all three levels of the ladder system.
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Supporting Lupus Foundation of America will commence with a pair of test sessions on Thursday, May 11, followed by a 45-minute practice session on Friday morning. The first 30-minute qualifying period at 1:45 p.m. EDT will set the grid for Race 1 at 5:50 p.m., while a second qualifying session at 9:20 a.m. on Saturday will determine the starting positions for Race 2 at 1:15 p.m., immediately prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event.
Australia’s Martin Looks to Extend Pro Mazda Points Lead
After winning last year’s USF2000 championship (and one of the races at Indianapolis), along with a Mazda Scholarship to assist in the graduation to Pro Mazda in 2017, Australian Anthony Martin has hit the ground running. The 22-year-old from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, won both of the opening rounds at St. Petersburg and will look to build upon that momentum with his Cape Motorsports team in this week’s pair of races.
Martin’s primary opposition is likely to stem once again from the locally based Juncos Racing entry of his former USF2000 rival Victor Franzoni. From Sao Paulo, Brazil, Franzoni finished a close second in both St. Petersburg races, while Californian TJ Fischer secured a pair of third-place results for Team Pelfrey which has won the three most recent races on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit.
Fischer’s teammate, Carlos Cunha, also from Brazil, showed impressive form on his North American debut, while young Americans Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, are intent upon continuing to make strong progress with the World Speed Motorsports team alongside veteran Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas.
Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, stepping up from USF2000 in a third Team Pelfrey entry, also ran well in the season openers with a pair of top-five finishes.
Contenders in the National class will include Kevin Davis, from Alvin, Ill., who currently leads the points table, and Sprint car veteran Steven Ford, from Esperance, Australia, who will be making his Pro Mazda debut with World Speed Motorsports.
Two hours of testing on Thursday, May 11, will precede a 30-minute official practice session later in the day. A pair of qualifying sessions on Friday morning will set the grids for each of two races – the first at 3:25 p.m. on Friday and the second at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday.
Cape Motorsports’ Experience Vital for USF2000 Pacesetter Askew
At least nine different nationalities will be represented in the USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Supporting Lupus Foundation of America, but the man to beat will be 20-year-old American rookie Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports). Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., had competed in only five car race weekends prior to this year but, after staking his claim by winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout last fall, has sprung to prominence by winning three of his first four races. Askew already holds a commanding 34-point lead in the championship as he bids to earn another Mazda Scholarship to assist in the graduation to Pro Mazda in 2018. His team, run by brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape, have won four races in succession at Indianapolis.
Fellow rookies Rinus Veekay (Pabst Racing), from the Netherlands, and 14-year-old Kaylen Frederick (Team Pelfrey), from Potomac, Md., also have impressed during the early part of the season.
Series veteran Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, has joined a new Canadian-based team, Exclusive Autosport, for this year and, after securing a pair of podium finishes so far, hopes to repeat his winning form from Indy one year ago. Teammate Luke Gabin, from Perth, Australia, also claimed a podium finish at Indianapolis in 2016.
The Team Pelfrey pair of Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., and Ayla Agren, from Norway, also have shown good pace, along with Dakota Dickerson (Newman Wachs Racing), from San Diego, Calif., plus rookies Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing), from Guyana, and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Warwick, N.Y.
The USF2000 contenders will have two hour-long test sessions on Thursday, May 11, followed by official practice later in the afternoon. A qualifying session at 7:55 a.m. on Friday will set the grid for Race 1 at 2:30 p.m., while a second qualifying session at 11:15 a.m. on Friday will determine the starting order for Race 2 at 10:05 a.m. on Saturday.
Live timing of all Thursday sessions will be available on the respective series websites as well as indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App, with live streaming available on all outlets, including Xbox One, beginning on Friday. Round 6 of Indy Lights competition on Saturday will air on NBCSN at 2:00 am EDT on May 21.