Mid-Ohio Set To Host Mazda Road To Indy Extravaganza
Just five races remain in the quest for a trio of Mazda scholarships and season-ending awards worth more than $2.3 million as competitors convene this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
The scenic and challenging 2.258-mile road course will host two races apiece for Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, as well as a triple-header for USF2000 as the 2016 season reaches toward its climax.
Indy Lights Sextet Separated by Just 47 Points
Indy Lights is currently in the midst of one of the most intriguing and hard-fought contests in its 30-year history, dating back to its roots when the American Racing Series was formed in 1986. At stake is a Mazda scholarship valued at $1M which will guarantee the series’ champion an entry in a minimum of three races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500.
The top six contenders – Ed Jones from Dubai; Santiago “Santi” Urrutia from Uruguay; Felix Serralles from Puerto Rico; Kyle Kaiser from California; Dean Stoneman from the United Kingdom; and Zach Veach from Stockdale, Ohio – are currently separated by just 47 points. A total of 66 points is available during this weekend’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio double-header which will comprise Rounds 14 and 15 out of 18.
Jones, 21, driving for the British Carlin team, has led the way since April, even though the most recent of his two victories came way back in May during Round Six at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix course.
“It’s good to be back on a road course with Mid-Ohio,” said Jones. “We tested there early in the year so we have an idea what to expect. I look forward to the challenge of the changing conditions that are always promised there. With the summer break after the race, it’s important to come out with a strong weekend and put us in great shape for the final few rounds.”
Urrutia, 19, who won one of the two Pro Mazda races at Mid-Ohio in 2015 on his way to the championship crown, has designs on following in the footsteps of Spencer Pigot, who won back-to-back titles in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights in 2014 and 2015. Urrutia, who drives for seven-time champion team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, lies 24 points adrift of Jones, 268-244.
Serralles (Carlin), 24, lies just eight points further behind on 236 points, followed by 20-year-old Kaiser (Juncos Racing) on 233, Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), who celebrated his 26th birthday on July 24, on 230, and Veach, 21, (Belardi Auto Racing) at 221. Stoneman, a cancer survivor, will be looking to rebound from a major disappointment at Toronto, where a mechanical problem prevented him from even starting Race Two in Toronto, dropping him from second in the point standings to fifth.
Other contenders will include Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), who claimed his first career Indy Lights podium at Mid-Ohio last year, and teammate Dalton Kellett; Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), who made his second visit to the podium in the last round at Toronto; Canadian Garett Grist (Team Pelfrey), who qualified on pole for both Pro Mazda races at Mid-Ohio in 2015; Neil Alberico (Carlin), who is a Mid-Ohio race winner in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda competition; and Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing), who recently tested in Indy car at the circuit with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Race One is slated for 3:30 pm EDT on Saturday, with Race Two at 12:20 pm on Sunday, immediately before the headline IndyCar event. Live timing and live streaming video will be available at indylights.com, indycar.com and on the Road To Indy TV App. The race will air on Wednesday, August 3 EDT at 1:00 am EDT on NBCSN.
A Second Double for Telitz Ties Up Pro Mazda Points Chase
Not so long ago, teenaged Mexican Patricio “Pato” O’Ward was looking like an odds-on favorite for this year’s Pro Mazda championship and a substantial Mazda scholarship to assist in the graduation to Indy Lights, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2017. But how quickly things can change.
Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz, 24, from Birchwood, Wis., turned the tables by winning both races at his home track, Road America, last month. Then, two weeks ago on the streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada, Telitz claimed another emphatic double victory to bring the pair equal on points with just five races remaining – two this weekend at Mid-Ohio and three more at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca finale in September.
“I’m really excited for Mid-Ohio this weekend and continuing my charge back to the front of the championship standings,” said Telitz. “I plan to keep approaching races with the same confidence and aggressiveness that has brought me four wins in a row. There's still lots of work to be done before this championship is settled so I need to keep pressing the issue and go for more wins.”
O’Ward, 17, from Monterrey, Mexico, was unfortunate in Race One at Toronto, crashing out on the first lap, but he bounced back well in Race Two to finish second and maintain a share of the points lead. Indeed, on a tie-breaker, O’Ward still holds a narrow edge by virtue of having won six races to the five of Telitz.
TJ Fischer, from Vacaville, Calif., will drive a third Team Pelfrey car, while opposition will stem from last year’s USF2000 champion, Nico Jamin, from Rouen, France, who is riding a streak of three podium finishes for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and Juncos Racing teammates Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., Jake Parsons, from Melbourne. Australia, and fellow rookie Nicolas Dapero, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who have enjoyed some intense battles in recent races.
Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, will be looking to cement his position atop the season-long quest for National Class honors, although will face some stout opposition from JDC MotorSports teammate Kevin Davis, from Alvin, Ill., and Bob Kaminsky (Kaminsky Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., both of whom have plenty of experience at Mid-Ohio.
The Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will commence with a trio of test sessions on Thursday, July 28, then continue with practice and qualifying on Friday and a pair of races on Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. EDT. Live timing and live streaming shows will be available on the Road To Indy TV App and at promazda.com and indycar.com.
Advantage Thompson in Quest for USF2000 Championship
Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, broke a points tie with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Anthony Martin, from Perth, Australia, during the double-header event on the streets of Toronto two weeks ago and is now intent upon extending his 20-point advantage during this weekend’s crucial triple-header Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
"Mid-Ohio has been one of my best tracks on the Mazda Road to Indy and I'll be looking to maximize that this weekend with some good finishes for the championship," said Thompson. "I'll approach this weekend like any other round thus far, shooting for poles and wins. After a solid weekend in Toronto, I am riding the confidence coming into the weekend and I will be looking to use that to my advantage."
Chief rival Martin will be seeking to bounce back from a difficult weekend in Canada when he crashed out of second place in Race One, then fought through the intense pain of an injured wrist to finish second the following day. Both Thompson and Martin have won four races this year.
The Florida-based Cape team has been a dominant force in USF2000, winning five consecutive championships and nine in all dating back to 2000, but a pair of Wisconsin-based teams, ArmsUp Motorsports and Pabst Racing, have both tasted the fruits of victory this season.
Victor Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, won for ArmsUp in Toronto and has finished on the podium in seven of the last nine races, while both Jordan Lloyd, from Toowoomba, Australia (the same home town as Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Will Power) and China’s Yufeng Luo have won races for Augie Pabst’s team during an intensely competitive season.
Yet another young Australian, Luke Gabin, has displayed an excellent turn of speed for JAY Motorsports, while last year’s Skip Barber Championship Scholarship winner Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, enjoyed a breakthrough weekend in Toronto for Afterburner Autosport with a fourth-place finish. Robert Megennis, 16, from New York, also posted two impressive performances in Toronto bouncing back from an electrical failure in qualifying, which forced him to start at the back, to claim a pair of fifth-place finishes for Team Pelfrey.
Jordan Cane, the youngest driver in the field at 15, from England, aboard another Cape Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda, will hope to build on his experience of Mid-Ohio from 2015, when he won an F1600 Championship race, while Norway’s Ayla Agren (John Cummiskey Racing) also can boast prior success at the venue, winning the corresponding F1600 race in 2014 en route to her championship crown.
Eric Filgueiras (Spencer Racing), from Cape Canaveral, Fla., will seek to extend his National Class points lead.
The Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will kick off with three 40-minute test sessions plus the first official practice on Thursday, July 28, then continue with qualifying on Friday morning and then one race apiece on Friday (1:00 p.m.), Saturday (also 1:00 p.m.) and Sunday (9:15 a.m.). All times are Eastern. Live timing and live streaming shows will be available on the Road To Indy TV App and at usf2000.com and indycar.com.