Mazda Road to Indy midseason review

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The IZOD IndyCar Series is past its official halfway point (13 of 19 races, 11 of 16 weekends now complete). The three rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder though, are about at the halfway mark. Here’s a quick recap of their seasons thus far:

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS SERIES

To its credit, the actual competition level in Firestone Indy Lights hasn’t been bad in 2013. Through eight races, no one driver is dominating. Carlos Munoz (three), Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth (two) and Peter Dempsey (one) have all visited victory lane in 2013. Dempsey’s pass to go four-wide to win at Indianapolis is in contention for the best racing finish of 2013. Points-wise, Munoz leads Karam 317-309 with Gabby Chaves (281) and Hawksworth (274) still in with a remote chance at the title.

But unfortunately for Indy Lights, the highlights have been all too rare and the focus more on the promotion and level of content – or lack thereof – within the championship. Only at Long Beach (10) and Indianapolis (11) have there been double-digit entries. A new car slated for 2014 was delayed. And just this weekend in Toronto, it was announced Dan Andersen, who’s needed to perform similar miracles to keep USF2000 and Pro Mazda afloat, will need to do likewise to turn Lights around.

Andretti Autosport’s Munoz already has starred in his two IndyCar starts this year and would be a natural to advance, even if he doesn’t win the title. But the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports trio behind him will push him as best they can the remaining four races. Meanwhile off-track, Andersen and staff will have to spend the rest of 2013 formulating a plan to get Lights back to the level it needs to be at as IndyCar’s top level on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.

PRO MAZDA

Two words best sum up the year in Pro Mazda: Matty Brabham (pictured). The son of ex-IndyCar and sports car star Geoff has cut through the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013 like a knife through butter. He didn’t win his debut race at Circuit of the Americas, but he’s won the next seven in a row after that for Andretti Autosport.

He can tie the record for most wins in a season, set last year by Jack Hawksworth, if he wins his eighth this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Mosport. There’s still eight races to go.

Diego Ferreira is in a class of his own for second, while Shelby Blackstock, Spencer Pigot, Scott Anderson and Kyle Kaiser are all locked in a battle for third the rest of 2013.

USF2000

Much like a year ago, a pair of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates is dominating the USF2000 National Championship and a midseason surge by a Belardi Auto Racing driver threatens to interrupt their title bout with seven races complete, and seven to go.

Last year the Cape twins battling were Brabham and Pigot, who have moved up a rung. This year it’s Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico – who combined won the first six races for Cape. Alberico, though, lost 94 points to Hargrove in the first two weekends of the season but has since clawed back the gap to just 56 (173-117).

Sandwiched in the middle is Danilo Estrela, the Belardi rookie compared to the Cape sophomores. Estrela took his first win at Toronto this weekend and is second in points with 136. Last year it was Anderson interrupting the Cape win streak for Belardi.

Florian Latorre, Garrett Grist, Wyatt Gooden, and Jesse Lazarre have also starred at times this year. Poor luck has sabotaged the efforts of Edmonton’s Stefan Rzadzinski, while others such as Peter Portante, Jason Wolfe and Felipe Donato have shown flashes of potential.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.