MRTI: A showcase for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 on IMS road course

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Perhaps overlooked in the run-up to the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this weekend is that it’s also a showcase event for all three Mazda Road to Indy divisions, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

As in Barber, each series will have a pair of races. But unlike Barber, no series has two races in one day; they’ll all have one Friday and one Saturday race.

In Indy Lights, the field is down to 11 cars with the withdrawal of Italian Vittorio Ghirelli, who had driven the second Team Moore Racing entry. Ghirelli was initially planned to race the full season, but was not present for the series’ open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval this past weekend – Jimmy Simpson, who drove the No. 22 in last year’s Freedom 100, filled in.

Up front the battle again is expected to rage between Zach Veach, points leader on 181, and Gabby Chaves, with 172 markers. The pair of split the four races thus far. Meanwhile it would not be a surprise to see Matthew Brabham or any of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports quartet break through and claim their first win in the series.

Pro Mazda has seen Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing go 4-4 to open the season, although his teammate, Kyle Kaiser and the pair of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove have shown promise as they seek to knock Pigot off the top step of the podium. A 20-car field will take the green flag for the two events; World Speed Motorsports adds a third car while JDC’s fourth, which had been driven by Italian Vicky Piria in the first two weekends, is not entered this one. Tough week for Italians in the ladder series…

With three wins from the first four USF2000 races, including a Saturday two-race sweep in Barber, Winterfest champion RC Enerson is poised to add to that this weekend. He’ll attempt to do so in a 23-car field that has its second significant driver change in as many races. Florian Latorre shifted from Belardi Auto Racing to Cape at Barber in a third car there; Jeroen Slaghekke now moves over to Belardi from Afterburner Autosport this weekend.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.