Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will all feature a pair of races this weekend at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wis., as part of the Kohler Grand Prix.
Each of the three championships are reaching their halfway stage, with Mazda Scholarship prizes and other awards totaling more than $3.6 million ultimately at stake to assist the respective champions move on to the next step on the ladder with the ultimate goal of competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Consistency has been the Key for Kaiser in Indy Lights
Five different drivers have earned victories from the seven Indy Lights races held so far this season. Kyle Kaiser, 21, from Santa Clara, currently leads the points chase by a 14-point margin over Frenchman Nico Jamin. Kaiser, who is in his third year of Indy Lights and will be making his 75th Mazda Road to Indy start on Sunday, has been a consistent front-runner for Juncos Racing, although his streak of top-five grid positions and top-six finishes, including four straight podium results, was broken with a run to ninth in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Both Jamin (Andretti Autosport) and Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing), who lie second and third in the standings with two race wins apiece, also will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing race at Indianapolis. Jamin, who won the 2015 USF2000 championship, finished second in one of the Pro Mazda races last year on his debut at Road America, while Herta, the youngest driver in the field at just 17, will be competing on the historic, 4.048-mile road course for the first time.
Many eyes will be focused upon Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz, who swept both Pro Mazda races last year at Road America en route to the championship title and the right to carry the distinctive Soul Red colors on his Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15.
Uruguayan teammate Santi Urrutia, the 2015 Pro Mazda champion, also will have high expectations after winning one of the two races at Road America last year.
Other contenders include Matheus Leist, a rookie from Brazil who won last year’s BRDC British Formula 3 Champion and claimed a breakthrough victory in the most recent race at Indianapolis, and his Carlin teammates Neil Alberico, who has been a regular front-runner this year, and Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo, who enjoyed a strong weekend at Road America in 2016 with a pair of top-five finishes and a fastest race lap.
Ones to watch also include three drivers who landed top-five finishes at Road America last year – Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), Garth Rickards (Carlin) in USF2000 and Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing) in Pro Mazda as well as Team Pelfrey’s Juan Piedrahita, who will celebrate his 50th Indy Lights start in Saturday’s race.
Of note, Jamin, Leist, DeMelo and Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) each tested an Indy car at Road America last Wednesday.
The Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Allied Building Products will begin on Friday, June 23 with a 45-minute practice session at 9:00 a.m. CDT, followed by a 30-minute qualifying period at 2:30 p.m. Race One will start at 12:00 pm on Saturday. A second qualifying session earlier in the day, at 7:50 a.m., will set the grid for Race Two at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 25, with same-day television coverage on NBCSN at 11:30 am EDT.
Franzoni, Martin to Continue Pro Mazda Battle
The largest contingent of Pro Mazda cars since 2015 will assemble for Rounds Five and Six of the 12-race season. Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) and Australian Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) are separated by just six points in their quest for the champion’s Mazda Scholarship worth over $790,000 to ensure graduation to Indy Lights, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy, in 2018.
Martin, who swept last year’s pair of USF2000 races at Road America en route to the championship title, hit the ground running by winning both of the opening Pro Mazda rounds at St. Petersburg, Fla., only for fellow ex-USF2000 front-runner Franzoni to respond by dominating both of the next two races on the Indianapolis Grand Prix course.
Californian TJ Fischer has finished on the podium in each of the first four events for Team Pelfrey, including a career-high second in the most recent race, where he was joined on the podium by Brazilian rookie teammate Carlos Cunha. Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin will drive a third Team Pelfrey car in search of his first podium result following a string of top-fives.
Opposition will stem from a trio of World Speed Motorsports entries for teenagers Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, plus veteran Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, as well as Milwaukee native Max Hanratty, who will return to the series with local Sheboygan Falls team ArmsUp Motorsports.
Kris Wright, from Pittsburgh, Pa., will step up from USF2000 for the first time with Minnesota-based JDC MotorSports, while a strong National Class contingent, led by regular local racers Kevin Davis, from Alvin, Ill., and Bob Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., will be joined for the first time by the Unfair Advantage Motorsports pair of Dave Zavelson and Kevin Bury, both from Austin, Texas.
After a lone practice session at 1:55 p.m. CDT on Thursday, June 22, the grids for the two races which will make up the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Allied Building Products will be set during a pair of 20-minute qualifying sessions at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday and 8:25 a.m. on Friday. Race One is set for later that same day at 1:35 p.m., and the green flag for Race Two will fly at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday.
Of note, Franzoni and Eberle will both celebrate their 50th Mazda Road to Indy starts on Friday.
Who Can Challenge Askew in USF2000?
USF2000 has been revitalized this season with the introduction of the exciting new carbon fiber monocoque Tatuus USF-17 chassis. Drivers representing 10 different teams and at least eight nations are expected this weekend, and all of them determined to end the dominance of Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., who, despite this being his first full season of car racing following a stellar career in karting, has won the past five races in succession to open up a commanding championship lead.
The list of potential challengers is long. Cape teammate Ricky Donison, from Bangalore, India, and Calvin Ming, from Guyana, South America, who drives for Pabst Racing, based nearby in Oconomowoc, Wis., became the first drivers from their respective nations ever to stand on the podium for a Mazda Road to Indy race during the most recent race weekend in Indianapolis last month. Young Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, also aboard a Pabst Racing Tatuus, has finished on the podium four times, while Team Pelfrey teenagers Robert Megennis, from New York., N.Y., who won the opening race of the season in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., also have been regular contenders.
Series veteran Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, who finished second in the 2016 title-chase and has twice finished on the podium this season, will lead the charge for the new Canadian-based team, Exclusive Autosport, while Kory Enders, from Warwick, N.Y., and Mexican Moises de la Vara have displayed promising form for another new team, DEForce Racing.
More local flavor will be provided by ArmsUp Motorsports, from nearby Sheboygan Falls, which will field a pair of cars for upstate New Yorker Devin Wojcik and young Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli, plus Illinois teenagers Colin Kaminsky (John Cummiskey Racing) and David Malukas (BN Racing). In addition, Florida’s Darren Keane will join Mundelein, Ill.-based Newman Wachs Racing for the first time.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Mazda weekend will commence with 30 minutes of practice on Thursday, June 22. After qualifying at 8:00 a.m. CDT on Friday, Race One will take the green flag later that same morning at 11:45 a.m. Qualifying for Race Two will follow at 4:35 p.m., with the green flag set for 1:10 p.m. on Saturday, June 24.
Coverage of the Mazda Road to Indy can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on the series’ respective websites and indycar.com. In addition to NBCSN, additional Indy Lights coverage is also featured on ESPN International and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network. The new Mazda Road to Indy game for mobile devices is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play.