Mazda Road to Indy 2013 Season Review

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We’ve done some fairly extensive reviews on the three major series, NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar, we cover here on MotorSportsTalk. Over the next couple weeks we’ll hit the rest in brief fashion to put a period on 2013 and look ahead to 2014.

Here’s a brief recap of the three Mazda Road to Indy series, which make up the ladder system leading into the IndyCar Series:

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS

An 18-year-old rookie, Sage Karam, extended Sam Schmidt’s streak of consecutive championships to four in a row after turning a last-minute signing into a title-winning season. Presumptive preseason title favorite and series sophomore Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) won two of the first three races to open the campaign, before he and Karam both got beat at the series’ marquee event in Indianapolis. There, Peter Dempsey passed those two and Gabby Chaves in a four-wide finish that was arguably the best finish of the year in the racing world in 2013 to capture the Firestone Freedom 100.

Karam meanwhile, grabbed his first two series wins on the ovals in Milwaukee and Iowa, before Munoz returned to the top spot at Pocono. When the series returned to road and street courses, Jack Hawksworth re-asserted his authority with wins in Toronto and Baltimore, sandwiching Chaves’ first and only win at Mid-Ohio. Karam took a decisive win on an odd weekend in Houston and coupled with Munoz and Hawksworth losing points, Karam fought Chaves for the title in Fontana. Although Munoz edged Chaves there in the season finale, Karam’s tenacious start to climb from ninth to fourth in the opening laps was enough to secure the crown.

At the moment, the high school student is working to compile the budget needed to advance into IndyCar in 2014. Munoz already has a confirmed IndyCar seat with Andretti, while Hawksworth has tested twice (RLL, Coyne). Off track, the series was purchased from IndyCar by Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, and the organization has already announced a new chassis for 2015 and gained Cooper Tire as both a new tire partner and presenting sponsor. Despite a rough car count in 2013, things are actually looking up for Lights heading into the future.

PRO MAZDA

There were basically two classes in the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013: Matthew “Matty” Brabham, and everyone else. The 2012 USF2000 champion advanced a step on the ladder and put in an authoritative, dominant season in winning a record 13 of 16 races for Andretti Autosport – easily enough to win the title. Brabham will move up to Indy Lights in 2014 with Andretti and already has tested twice.

Series sophomore Diego Ferreira and fellow USF2000 grads Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot, both rookies, grabbed the three other race wins and were more or less fighting for second on a regular basis. Few others stood out.

The Andersen group had taken over operations of Pro Mazda, renamed from Star Mazda, late in the winter with Cooper Tire replacing Goodyear as tire partner and presenting sponsor. Car counts ranged from 10-16 and rose toward the higher end of that number at year’s end, with an eye to going north of 20 in 2014.

USF2000

For another season, the USF2000 National Championship boiled down to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates. Brabham and Pigot had engaged in a fight for the 2012 crown and series sophomores Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico were the 2013 protagonists. Hargrove prevailed despite a 6-4 win deficit to Alberico; the Canadian’s luck was simply better as Alberico had several races where he didn’t survive past the first lap or two. Still, both have already been confirmed to jump to Pro Mazda in 2014 with the same team.

Danilo Estrela and Garett Grist added a win apiece, while French F4 star Alexandre Baron turned up seemingly out of nowhere the last two race weekends and winning two of the four races contested in Monterey and Houston. More than a dozen drivers scored podium finishes in the field that often topped 30 cars. Car counts should remain strong in 2014 for yet another Andersen-run series.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.