Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will converge this weekend on Iowa Speedway in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Both feeder categories are now beyond the halfway mark in their seasons as drivers vie for prestigious and financially crucial Mazda Scholarships to assist in their progression toward the elite level of open-wheel racing in North America.
This year will mark the 10th appearance of Indy Lights, the top rung of the highly acclaimed MRTI ladder, at the super-fast 0.894-mile oval for the second of three oval track races in 2017, while USF2000 makes its return after visiting rural Newton, Iowa only once previously, in 2010, for its lone oval race of the season.
Kaiser Seeks to Extend his Indy Lights Championship Advantage
Kyle Kaiser has won only one of the nine Indy Lights races so far this year for Juncos Racing, but a tally of six podium finishes from the seven most recent races has enabled the 21-year-old from Santa Clara, Calif., to open up a substantial 27-point advantage over his rivals. At stake is a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million which will guarantee entry into at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Kaiser has finished fourth and sixth in his two previous outings on “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet.”
Others with prior Indy Lights experience at the track include Belardi Auto Racing teammates Santi Urrutia and Shelby Blackstock, the Carlin pair of Zachary Claman DeMelo, who secured an emphatic maiden victory two weeks ago at Road America, and Neil Alberico, plus Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) and Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport).
Nevertheless the driver with the most competitive mileage at Iowa – albeit in stock cars – is Chad Boat, who will be making his Indy Lights debut aboard another Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda. Boat, 25, from Phoenix, Ariz., has previously earned a pair of third-place finishes and a fourth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA at Iowa Speedway. Boat’s father, Billy, contested 11 Indy Lights races in 1986 and 1987 with a best finish of third at his home track of Phoenix.
Other favorites for top honors this weekend will include Carlin’s Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist, last year’s British Formula 3 champion who has won two of the three most recent races, including the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and the youngest driver in the field, Colton Herta, who displayed prodigious pace for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing during a pre-season oval test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Herta, 17, from Valencia, Calif., and Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin, from France, have won two races apiece this season and currently lie third and fourth in the championship table, separated by just two points.
Aaron Telitz, last year’s winner of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, also has visited Victory Lane this season for Belardi Auto Racing.
The 100-lap Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires will mark the 10th out of 16 Indy Lights races this season. After a pair of practice sessions on Saturday, July 8, and single-car qualifying at 11:15 a.m. EDT on Sunday morning, the green flag is set to fly at 3:00 p.m., as the scene-setter for the weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 Verizon IndyCar Series headline event. Same-day television coverage is set for 4:00 pm EDT on NBCSN.
Pabst Racing Seeks to Build Upon Home-Track Success
Up until the most recent race weekend, Cape Motorsports seemed set for another comfortable romp toward the USF2000 championship title. Despite the adoption of a brand-new Tatuus USF-17 chassis this season, the Florida-based team, which has guided its drivers to no fewer than 10 championships since the turn of the century, including six in a row, had maintained its dominant form through the talents of rookie driver Oliver Askew. However, the Jupiter, Fla., native’s five-race win streak was halted at Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s historic Road America circuit by equally highly rated Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay, who finally broke through with a pair of finely judged victories for locally based Pabst Racing.
VeeKay’s banner weekend enabled him to whittle Askew’s championship lead from a whopping 60 points to a more manageable 24 heading into Sunday’s Mazda Iowa 60 Presented by Cooper Tires, after which just five races will remain to settle the outcome in the 14-round championship chase. Up for grabs is a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $400,000 which will assist the series champion in graduating to the next step of the Mazda Road to Indy in 2018.
Pabst Racing also will field entries for South Americans Calvin Ming, from Guyana, who added a second-place finish at Road America to the similar result he also achieved on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course in May, and Brazilian Lucas Kohl, who garnered a career-best third-place finish in Wisconsin.
In addition to Askew, who is chasing a second Mazda Scholarship after winning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout prize last fall, Cape Motorsports will field a second car for Ricky Donison, from Bangalore, India, who at Indianapolis in May became the first driver from the Asian sub-continent to finish on the podium since the advent of the MRTI in 2010.
Other primary contenders will include Team Pelfrey teenagers Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., and Jacob Loomis, from Corinth, Texas, plus another trio of cars from the Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team for Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., who finished second in the 2016 USF2000 title-chase, Dev Gore, from Atlanta, Ga., and Prince Albert, Sas., native Jayson Clunie. In addition, DEForce Racing, which counts Mexican former IndyCar racer David Martinez among its ownership group, will field a pair of cars for Kory Enders, from Warwick, N.Y., and Moises de la Vara from Guadalajara, Mexico, while ArmsUp Motorsports will enter Syracuse, N.Y. native Devin Wojcik.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda contenders will begin their weekend with a three-hour test session on Friday, July 7, followed by 30 minutes of practice on Saturday afternoon and then qualifying at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday. The 60-lap race is scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m. All times are EDT.
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.