MRTI: St. Petersburg weekend roundup

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of Sunday’s first race of the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. NBCSN will broadcast the race on Friday, April 4 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda races will air Saturday, May 24 at 1:30 a.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

The Mazda Road to Indy ladder officially got its 2014 season kicked off this weekend with three rungs of the ladder in action at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend. Indy Lights put together a single race with Pro Mazda and USF2000 both having double-headers. Here’s the quick recap.

INDY LIGHTS

Qualifying was canceled due the torrential rain, high winds and standing water that halted track activity on Saturday, which left Gabby Chaves on pole in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry due to his fast practice times.

But Zach Veach, in the No. 26 Replay-XD Andretti Autosport entry made a move for the lead on the opening lap from P2 on the grid. It was a key move with a heavy accident incurred by series debutante Scott Anderson, in the No. 24 Fan Force United entry, as he tattooed the wall exiting Turn 3 and made heavy left-side impact. A tire came loose and nearly hit Lloyd Read, in the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport/Jeffrey Mark Motorsport entry, but the Welsh driver made it through.

From the restart, Veach was able to control the race from there with conservative tire saving and a measured pace to hold off the Colombian en route to his first series victory. Jack Harvey finished third in the No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry in his series debut.

“This winter I spent a lot of time trying to get more physically strong because I felt that was my weakness, and spent a lot of time doing mental things and came into the season with a whole new attitude. I think it paid off for us,” said Veach, the 19-year-old Stockdale, Ohio native.

PRO MAZDA

Presumptive preseason title favorite Spencer Pigot had his most dominant weekend yet in the No. 7 Juncos Racing entry, with a weekend sweep of two poles and two race victories in the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Saturday’s race was delayed due to the weather and was the last track activity; no matter as Pigot powered through to his second career series win on a drying track. Pigot’s Juncos teammate Kyle Kaiser was second with 2013 USF2000 champion Scott Hargrove third.

On Sunday, things were even more straightforward with Pigot and Kaiser 1-2 again, and Pipo Derani third.

“It has been a perfect weekend. We topped every session and won both races so you can’t do anything more than that,” Pigot said.

USF2000

Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport, Saturday) and RC Enerson (Team E Racing, Sunday) captured the two USF2000 race wins.

On Saturday, Franzoni led home Enerson and Nico Jamin. On Sunday, the top two was reversed with Jake Eidson third. However, after the race Franzoni was disqualified when his car failed post-technical inspection. Eidson was bumped up to second with Florian Latorre promoted to third.

FULL RESULTS

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.