Four-wide finish in Freedom 100 goes to Peter Dempsey (VIDEO)

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A four-wide drag race to the checkered flag in today’s Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was won by Peter Dempsey, who nipped Gabby Chaves to the yard of bricks by .0026 of a second in a wild final lap. The top four were separated by just 0.0443 of a second, and the margin of victory is the closest in the history of IMS. Also, the win is the first in Firestone Indy Lights competition for both Dempsey and team owner Brian Belardi, of Belardi Auto Racing.

On the white flag, Carlos Munoz (who will start second in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500) was leading by a slim margin over Sage Karam, with Chaves close behind. Munoz and Karam had been nose-to-tail for a good portion of the race, but with victory at Indianapolis on the line, Chaves joined in and the trio of drivers went three-wide through Turn 3 and 4.

But then Dempsey joined in and as the quartet of drivers headed for home, he tucked in briefly behind Chaves before going all the way toward the outside wall on the front stretch. With himself, Chaves, Karam and Munoz blanketing the entire width of the racetrack, the thrilling finish went to Dempsey.

“Hats off to the other three guys,” said Dempsey. “Fortunately (Chaves) left just enough room to squeeze by. This is exactly what this series needs. You’re not gonna get it better than four-wide across the line.”

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Chaves, like his Schmidt Peterson teammate Karam, might not sleep well in the nights to come.

“A couple of feet more, and this would have been my race,” he said. “I did everything I could up until then. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep for a couple of nights before I can let it go. I was just sitting there waiting for my moment.”

Karam ran second behind Munoz the whole race, but ended third just ahead of the Colombian.

“The whole race I just put myself into position to win it,” he said. “I was going to make a move in Turn 3 to win it. I was on his attenuator the whole race. I popped high and just couldn’t hold it. I just couldn’t get the momentum. Great race, great finish. It was such a strategic race.”

Munoz’s teammate for Andretti Autosport, Zach Veach, completed the top five. The two other Schmidt entries – Jack Hawksworth and series debutante Kyle O’Gara – crashed out of the 40-lap race.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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