Drivers representing no fewer than 14 nations will highlight the international appeal of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires this weekend at the famed Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York.
Mazda Scholarships and year-end awards valued at over $2.6 million will be presented at the traditional awards banquet to be held in Watkins Glen on Monday.
Kaiser Virtually Assured of $1 Million Indy Lights Prize
Third-year Indy Lights racer Kyle Kaiser needs only to begin one of the practice sessions this weekend on the storied 3.37-mile track to achieve his goal of clinching the championship and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee him entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Uruguayan Santi Urrutia, who turns 21 today (August 30), scored a sensational last-gasp victory for Belardi Auto Racing this past Saturday evening in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Gateway Motorsports Park oval to keep his slim championship hopes alive. However, with a commanding 31-point lead and only 33 points available in Sunday’s series finale, Kaiser, 21, from Santa Clara, Calif., requires only last-placed points in his No. 18 Juncos Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15 to ensure an unassailable advantage.
“Heading into the weekend I have a very different feeling from the other weekends this year,” said Kaiser, who finished fourth at Watkins Glen in 2016. “Each weekend this year I’ve always had the championship in the back of my mind, but without that restriction I think I’ll be able to go out there and enjoy racing on such an amazing circuit. This is also likely my last race in the MRTI, so there is plenty of motivation to go out and perform at my best. My approach and preparation for this race weekend won’t be any different but my plan is to show up and go for the race win to end this amazing season on a high note.”
Urrutia’s second win from the last three races moved him clear of a tie for second place in the standings with the youngest driver in the field, 17-year-old Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., who finished third at Gateway for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Eight points currently separate the two.
Carlin teammates Matheus Leist, from Brazil, and Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo currently hold fourth and fifth place in the standings, separated by just one point, while Frenchman Nico Jamin lies just seven points further in arrears for the Andretti Autosport team.
Colombian Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) will be looking to maintain the form which brought him a maiden pole and second-place finish last weekend, while Wisconsin’s Aaron Telitz, the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, has designs on book-ending a challenging rookie Indy Lights season with victories after claiming a spectacular win from the pole on his debut at St. Petersburg., Fla., in March.
The Team Championship is yet to be decided, with Andretti Autosport currently holding an 11-point edge over Belardi Auto Racing, 364-353. Defending champions Carlin, which also secured victory on its first appearance at Watkins Glen in 2016, lurk just eight points adrift after a disappointing day at Gateway. A maximum of 40 points are up for grabs.
The Indy Lights competitors will begin their weekend with a 45-minute practice session at 4:25 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 1 and another 30-minute session at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday. Qualifying will take place later that day at 2:15 p.m., with the race slated for 10:50 a.m. on Sunday, September 3. The race will air on Wednesday, September 6, at 7:00 pm EDT.
Honors All but Even in Pro Mazda Duel
Australian Anthony Martin, the winner of last year’s USF2000 championship, and fellow ex-USF2000 front-runner Victor Franzoni, from Brazil, will go head to head two more times this weekend as they battle for a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 to assist in the graduation to Indy Lights for 2018.
The pair currently have five wins apiece and are separated by just two points with – uniquely among the MRTI series – two races remaining this weekend. Franzoni (Juncos Racing) currently holds the edge after winning last Saturday evening on the Gateway Motorsports park oval, although Martin (Cape Motorsports) has some road course momentum on his side after securing two wins and two poles from July’s triple-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Indeed, Martin had been in position to secure a sweep of all three wins until falling foul of some slower traffic in one of the races.
Team Pelfrey’s trio of TJ Fischer, Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin remain locked in combat for third place in the standings, separated by just 20 points. Rookie Cunha, from Brazil, claimed his first pole position at Mid-Ohio and has every intention of overcoming his current five-point deficit to Fischer, from Los Angeles, Calif., who began his campaign with a streak of four consecutive podium finishes, while California-based Russian Lastochkin will be looking to reclaim the form which brought him a pair of podium results at Road America in June.
Team Pelfrey will field a fourth car this weekend for New York teenager Robert Megennis, who has been a regular front-runner in USF2000 competition and is looking to test the Pro Mazda waters in advance of an intended graduation to the brand-new Tatuus PM-18 chassis in 2018 – which will be on track at Watkins Glen for demo laps at 8:30 am on both Friday and Saturday.
Former SCCA National Champion Matt Machiko, from Pittsburgh, N.Y., is set to make his return to the series with ArmsUp Motorsports.
In the Team Championship, Team Pelfrey will be looking to defend its slender eight-point advantage over Juncos Racing. FatBoy Racing!’s Brendan Puderbach, from the Bronx, N.Y., also will be looking to tie up the National Championship at a track he knows well from his many years of competing in the East Coast-based F2000 Championship Series.
The Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires will kick off with a single 30-minute practice session at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Friday, followed by qualifying at 2:30 p.m. Race One will start at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Qualifying for Race Two will take place a few hours later at 5:30 p.m., with the green flag for a highly anticipated season finale set for 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, September 3.
Askew, VeeKay Square Off For USF2000 Crown
Talented rookies Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay have been locked in combat for this year’s USF2000 championship. Both contenders are taking part in their first full season of car racing after enjoying hugely successful careers in karting. They are chasing a Mazda Scholarship package valued at almost $400,000 to assist in the graduation to the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy, Pro Mazda, in 2018.
Askew, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., currently leads the way – as he has for the majority of the season after a sequence of five consecutive race wins aboard his new Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17 between March and May – but VeeKay, 16, from Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, lies within striking distance, just 13 points adrift with a maximum of 33 available at the series finale. VeeKay is riding a streak of eight straight podium finishes for Pabst Racing. Both will be competing at Watkins Glen for the first time.
“I have been working harder than I ever have to secure this championship,” said Askew, for whom a podium finish would be enough to put the crown beyond VeeKay’s grasp. “I think the same can be said about Cape Motorsports and everyone around me that has helped get to this point. We all want this, and if we keep doing what we have been every race so far this season, I don’t see a reason why it can’t happen. The mindset that I’ve developed throughout this year will be the same in the final race – I will be focusing on the elements within my control and will maximize the opportunity given to me.”
While only Askew and VeeKay are able to claim the title, the “form man” of late has been USF2000 veteran Parker Thompson. It took a little while for the Red Deer, Alb., native’s new Canadian-based team, Exclusive Autosport, to adapt to the series but the combination has proven to be effective, claiming three wins and a second from the last four races.
Other likely contenders will include the Team Pelfrey pair of Kaylen Frederick, 15, from Potomac, Md., and fellow teenager Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., the Pabst Racing duo of Calvin Ming, from Guyana, and fellow South American Lucas Kohl, from Brazil, plus Chicago’s David Malukas, who has impressed during a partial campaign with the new BN Racing team. For the first time, BN will field a second car for F1600 Championship Series race winner Zach Holden, from Greenfield, Ind.
Team BENIK will return after a short hiatus with talented South African Callan O’Keeffe, who impressed at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May, while Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., will return in a third Team Pelfrey Tatuus.
Much interest also will be focused on Ireland’s Niall Murray, who has proven to be a dominant force in British and Irish Formula Ford 1600 circles over the past few years and will be making his USF2000 debut with Newman Wachs Racing.
The Mazda USF2000 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires will start with a pair of practice sessions on Friday, September 1, followed by qualifying at 8:00 a.m. EDT the following morning and then the race at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday.
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. Indy Lights is also featured on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.