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

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”