As the series returns to the Beach this weekend, Sato still has fond memories of that great day.
“I remember every single second, right from the beginning of the start,” the ex-Formula One driver said recently. “It was just a beautiful day. Everything came together. We really – how can I say [it]? – controlled the race and controlled ourselves.
“The pit stops were great, and I avoided any risk or involvement that could’ve been an accident or anything. But at the same time, I attacked…This time, it all came together and it was beautiful.”
Still, Sato wasn’t happy about the result, calling it “a disappointing finish.” Such is a sign of how he and the A.J. Foyt Racing camp have raised their expectations after breaking through one year ago in Long Beach.
You can also hear from another former Long Beach winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Josef Newgarden in the IndyCar-produced race preview above.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course serves as the second-to-last weekend for the first two rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and the second-to-last doubleheader weekend for the top one.
In simplest terms, each of the seven races at the 2.258-mile road course will be pivotal for the respective championship chases, and will likely play a key role in who wins the Mazda advancement scholarships for the following year.
Here’s what’s ahead for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championships:
None of the three primary title protagonists – Ed Jones (Carlin), Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport) and Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) – had a banner weekend in Toronto and Stoneman was the one who drew the shortest end of the stick with a mechanical issue sidelining him before the second race even started.
Meanwhile in the second tier of title contenders, Kyle Kaiser reasserted himself as a still-in-the-frame driver after a pair of third place finishes on the streets of Toronto. Finishes of second and 10th (Felix Serralles) and ninth and sixth (Zach Veach) didn’t truly help either of them, although Serralles moved up on the heels of Stoneman’s DNS.
With Felix Rosenqvist not racing this weekend as he’s at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, after dominating the Toronto doubleheader, the win chances are reopened for one of the remaining drivers in the field.
The top six – Jones, Urrutia, Serralles, Kaiser, Stoneman and Veach – are separated by just 47 points with five races remaining, including two this weekend.
These two races last year were the definition of chaotic and controversial with Jones and then-title rival Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson) having their coming together and Spencer Pigot (Juncos) avoiding the controversy and coming out cleaner from a points standpoint. Meanwhile RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson) and Sean Rayhall (8Star Motorsports) won the two races.
Neither Enerson nor Rayhall is back this year but in the “they could they be a first-time winner” file, respective replacement drivers Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson) and Garett Grist (Team Pelfrey). Grist is a past Mid-Ohio winner (Pro Mazda, 2014) and Negrao, who was on the podium again in Toronto, seems closer than ever to his first win this year.
Neil Alberico – who’s had a nightmare season in terms of mechanical failures with Carlin – is also a past Mid-Ohio winner in Pro Mazda along with Urrutia, as the pair split the wins last year. In a year where nothing’s gone right for Alberico, on the heels of a decent Toronto weekend and a recent trip to Carlin’s UK headquarters, this could be the weekend when things come right.
Shelby Blackstock has also podiumed at Mid-Ohio before – he did so last year in Indy Lights and has in Pro Mazda as well – and if Andretti Autosport’s road course setup is better than its street course one he could be a sleeper.
Dalton Kellett and Zachary Claman De Melo, who tested an IndyCar last week at the track, round out the reduced 12-car field, a season-low. Rosenqvist is absent owing to his European commitments while Juan Piedrahita, a several-year Mazda Road to Indy, has withdrawn his entry from Team Pelfrey.
Only once this year has the Pro Mazda weekend featured split wins – the season opener at St. Petersburg when Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz won the pair of races.
Since, O’Ward and Telitz have gone on respective weekend runs of their own. O’Ward did the business at Barber, the Indianapolis road course and the lone oval at Lucas Oil Raceway for five in a row with Telitz now on a four in a row run after sweeps at Road America and Toronto (blog on it here for Team USA Scholarship website).
Fittingly, the Team Pelfrey teammates enter this weekend tied on 297 points, although O’Ward has six wins to Telitz’s five. Simply put, whoever emerges ahead here emerges ahead in the title run in the penultimate weekend of the year.
There’s also a tie for third between Nico Jamin and Will Owen on 207 points, Jamin having finally hit the sweet spot on setup with three straight podium finishes. At a track where he swept all three USF2000 races last year, Jamin could be well poised to win his first Pro Mazda race and break the Pelfrey perfection from the first 11 races.
Owen’s Juncos Racing teammates Jake Parsons and Nico Dapero are then only split by seven points for fifth (177-170). Parsons needs a clean weekend after two accidents in Toronto.
Both Pro Mazda races are Saturday at Mid-Ohio, one in the morning and one to close the day’s activities.
After a few weekends where it appeared his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Anthony Martin (No. 8) held the edge, Parker Thompson (No. 2) regained the momentum on the heels of a third place and then a home country win in Toronto on Sunday, while Martin soldiered on despite a hand injury.
Thompson now holds a 20-point lead (270-250) heading into the Mid-Ohio tripleheader, at a place both drivers raced at but didn’t podium last year. All of Telitz, Jamin and Jake Eidson locked out the podium – Jamin winning all three races.
At 42 points back (228), ArmsUp Motorsports’ Victor Franzoni is about the only other driver in with a realistic title shot with five races remaining. But he’d need a Jamin-like Mid-Ohio weekend sweep to realistically account for that deficit, and/or have to hope for both Thompson and Martin to hit trouble. It’s not impossible, but it’s not entirely likely either.
Elsewhere in the 22-car grid, it’ll be interesting to see the respective fortunes at Pabst Racing and John Cummiskey Racing this weekend. Jordan Lloyd made it to second in race one in Toronto in a familiar car – his 2015 JCR chassis – following a deal reached between the two teams to run it after his own crash in his own car in practice.
The situation was made easier by the fact Ayla Agren wasn’t in Toronto, and thus her car was available.
With Agren making a welcome return this weekend though alongside Lucas Kohl, the question becomes which car goes where in a case of musical cars. Lloyd and Garth Rickards both had incidents in Toronto; Rickards, in particular, is owed a trouble-free weekend without issues. Meanwhile Yufeng Luo, the third member of Pabst’s trio, has been steady if unspectacular with fifth to ninth place finishes in six of the last seven races.
Luo is only one point ahead of Robert Megennis, the 16-year-old rookie out of New York who’s been dynamite this year on a one-car Team Pelfrey. Coming from 18th to fifth in Toronto, and keeping the car clean all weekend on the menacing street course, is no small feat. Those two sit behind Luke Gabin, fifth in points, still in search of his first win.
Elsewhere on the grid, Team USA Scholarship winners Dakota Dickerson (Mazda scholarship driver) and Michai Stephens have started to find their form of late – fourth and ninth last time out in Toronto marked both drivers’ best results this year. Jordan Cane is also looking for his first top-five since switching to Cape, and either he or Nikita Lastochkin could essentially knock Franzoni out of the title chase if they get ahead of the lead ArmsUp driver.
The USF2000 field has one race apiece on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
We checked in with NBCSN analyst Anders Krohn, who plays a color role for Red Bull GRC Supercars and GRC Lites races, for his take on how the year has gone thus far:
MST: The Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team has come out even stronger to kick off 2016. How impressive has their start been to witness?
Anders Krohn: “Though they’ve been impressive, it hasn’t come as a surprise considering the pace and consistency they had towards the end of last year. I actually think a lot of people expected them to dominate even more than they have so far. With that said, when they have a trouble free run, nobody can really challenge.”
Tanner Foust and Scott Speed clearly gel as teammates and have a strong relationship. Do you think it will be tested at all if it is super close between them in a battle for the championship down the stretch?
“It’s bound to get intense as the season carries on if they continue being as close as they’ve been all year. Not sure it’ll be a Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton situation, but it should be very interesting to watch the complexity between the pair. All I know is I’ve got my bucket of popcorn ready, because it could be a good one.”
Would you agree Steve Arpin and Chip Ganassi Rallycross have been the pleasant surprises of the season? What has that team done to make the key strides they have thus far this year?
“They have indeed been a pleasant surprise, but a needed one for sure. With a year under their belt in GRC, Chip Ganassi Racing will be expecting the wins to start racking up, and Steve has enough experience by now. Last year he was solid, if a little anonymous. He needs to keep up the aggressive moves early on in the races to stand a chance against the might of the Germans.”
Have the new Hondas been about where you thought they’d be, ahead of where you thought they’d be, or behind at this juncture?
“They started the year way ahead of where I expected them to be, but the development hasn’t been quick enough. They’re still quite a ways too heavy so until they get closer in this area, it could be tough going for them. Their strong suit is how good they are off the line with the long wheelbase and what appears to be a very nice, progressive torque curve. Now they need some less body roll to look more like the VW’s in the twisties.”
Patrik Sandell and Herta’s team got the win in Dallas. But they haven’t had the luck. Do you think they can bounce back?
“For their sake, I hope so. They’re sort of the small team fighting against the big dogs, so it’s always nice (and needed) to see them do well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Patrik is a ridiculously talented driver and given the right machinery, he can win in almost any category with four wheels. Herta’s done a great job with the resources/equipment they have. If only Ford were to step in with a crack factory outfit they’d be tough to beat I reckon.”
What do you make of the other team seasons thus far (Ward/SH Rallycross, Dyne/AD Racing, Millen/Subarus)?
“The Ward/SH Rallycross combo has probably been the letdown thus far. I’m assuming that’s why they’ve elected to put Piquet in the car for this weekend, to see if it’s the driver or the car lacking. Having talked to Sulli several times, they didn’t skimp on resources when it came to rebuilding the car in the off-season, and considering the pace Ward showed in his limited program with CGR, I think everyone (myself included) expected them to be at the sharp end of the field.
“I think Austin Dyne has been massively hampered by not having a teammate this year. Last year, using Sandell’s data, he progressively got stronger and stronger, but this year has been a big struggle. If they get their second car up and running with an experienced shoe in it, the whole team should be able to push forward.
“Millen is just a wheelman. His chassis is from 2002, engine is from the late 1930’s (kidding, maybe) but he’s still not that far off pace. Just look at practice times when it comes to learning new tracks, he’s always right up there. Maybe we should put together a letter to Hyundai asking to start ponying up with Rhys again.
“Subaru has done tons of test miles, but close to no race mileage so far this year. The program looks to be a lot further ahead compared to last year, but they would have benefitted from being on the grid from the drop of the green in Phoenix.”
With three of the first four weekends planned doubleheader weekends, and the next several weekends intended to be single races, how much easier do you think the single weekends are for teams with only one race focus as opposed to the doubles where there’s often long tear downs and repairs in between races?
“The double-headers are BRUTAL. ALL CAPS. The GRC crew guys work harder on race weekends than any other crews I’ve seen. Every single session the cars are torn up and the double headers makes it really tough if you have a cracked/bent chassis to be ready in a proper manner for the second day of racing. The one-race weekends also makes the climax of that race a little more special in my opinion, so that’s what I prefer.”
What was your favorite race to call this year? I know you weren’t at New River but it was gnarly!
“New River looked absolutely amazing. T-Bell, Toby and Kristen did a heck of a job with that one under the nastiest of circumstances. Outside of that, Dallas was pretty special because we all expected VW to run away with everything this year, and then Sandell/Herta/Ford proved that with right timing, a little luck and perseverance you can make it happen. It opened up the championship and made us realize that there’s more than two horses in the race.
Who are some of the stars you could see emerging out of GRC Lites, in what seems to be a deep field there this year?
“I could write a novel on this, but neither you, TDZ, nor any of the readers would have the patience to read through it! Long story short, GRC Lites has the most competitive field we’ve ever seen and there’s at least a handful, if not more, drivers I can easily see moving up to Supercars and doing well. The Lites action has been fantastic all year long and the championship battle is really heating up.”
Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Formula 1 technical director James Allison has left the team after three years at Maranello.
Allison has held roles in F1 since 1991, including multiple spells at Enstone with Benetton, Renault and Lotus, as well as a first stint with Ferrari from 2000 to 2005.
Allison returned to Ferrari in 2013, tasked with helping to turn around the Scuderia’s fortunes after a difficult spell.
Although Ferrari claimed three victories with Sebastian Vettel in 2015, it has been over 10 months since the last as Mercedes has continued to dominate proceedings.
After weeks of speculation about Allison’s future, Ferrari issued a statement on Wednesday morning confirming his departure in a mutual decision.
“During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it,” Allison said.
“I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”
Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene added: “The team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavors.”
Ferrari confirmed that Mattia Binotto will move into the role of chief technical officer.
Josef Newgarden has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the last two Verizon IndyCar Series races.
The 25-year-old Hendersonville, Tennessee native roared to his first win of the season at Iowa Speedway in dominating fashion (led 282 of 300 laps), only to crash and finish last in the next race on the schedule, at Toronto nearly two weeks ago.
That was a rough pill for Newgarden to swallow, as he wound up dropping from second to fifth in the series standings, as well.
He’s looking for a big rebound in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
In a sense, Mid-Ohio owes Newgarden a turn of good luck. In last year’s race there, Newgarden was on pace and strategy for a likely podium finish.
However, a late caution wrecked that gameplan and Newgarden finished 13th.
In 2014, he started on the front row and was in the lead when he ran over an air hose on the final pit stop, drawing a drive-through penalty and a disappointing 12th place outing.
Now it’s back to Mid-Ohio and payback time for the driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevy Dallara. And if Newgarden does well, he’ll have J.R. Hldebrand to once again thanks for being his lucky charm.
Let’s explain: Hildebrand tested for Newgarden at Road America, and the latter finished eighth.
Hildebrand tested for Newgarden again at Iowa, and the latter wound up winning.
Guess what? Hildebrand once again tested last week for Newgarden at Mid-Ohio with fellow Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Spencer Pigot.
Will that pattern of success continue Sunday? Newgarden certainly hopes so. While he’s fallen to fifth in the standings, he’s only 14 points out of third place.
In the bigger picture, Newgarden is 88 points behind series leader Simon Pagenaud with five races remaining.
“I can’t wait to get back to Mid-Ohio,” Newgarden said in a team media release. “It’s a great road course track, one of the best we have in North America.
“I’m excited to get back in the car and see what we can do points-wise. We’ve had good cars around Mid-Ohio the past couple of years, it’s a really good shot for the team to get a win there. I feel confident that we’ll have a good effort with the whole Fuzzy’s Vodka crew and we should be able to move up the board a little bit after the weekend and see where we’re at in the points heading into Pocono. I’m ready to get back in the car after a weekend off.”