MRTI: Grist, Telitz take first Pro Mazda, USF2000 wins at Night Before the 500

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The kids in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, who one day seek to race in the Indianapolis 500, had their annual Night Before the 500 run at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind. Saturday night.

The USF2000 75-lapper kicked it off and ArmsUp Motorsports’ Aaron Telitz, of Eau Claire, Wis., took his No. 5 from sixth place to the lead within the first 25 laps, and promptly stormed away from there for his first career series victory. It was quite a drive considering it’s beyond difficult to pass on LOR’s low line – most drivers run near the wall on the 0.686-mile oval – and Telitz had his car working low and high both.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s son Austin posted a career-best second place, assisted by Pabst Racing’s spotter in 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice. Afterburner Autosport’s Victor Franzoni completed the podium; Telitz’s teammate Peter Portante was also thrilling to watch as he sliced and diced his way up to seventh from 13th using the high line, low line, and lapped traffic as a pick. Portante finished on the podium here last year but this was as good a result as he could have achieved given the mid-pack starting position.

Meanwhile the 90-lap Pro Mazda night cap saw Garett Grist, a one-time winner in USF2000 last year and in the Pro Mazda Winterfest this year, take his inaugural Pro Mazda regular season win for Andretti Autosport, from pole.

The two prior season winners – Scott Hargrove (both Indianapolis road races) and Spencer Pigot (the first four races) rounded out the podium.

The race also saw a last-minute return for Anders Krohn, our NBCSN Indy Lights analyst, who was drafted into Team Pelfrey’s entry for the second straight year after another driver became unavailable. Trackside Online’s Joe Berkemeier had the line of the night when referring to Krohn as “Pro Mazda’s version of Brett Favre.” Krohn started fourth, lost traction on the inside line and fell to seventh, but recovered to fifth at the flag.

Both Grist and Telitz will be honored, along with Indy Lights Freedom 100 winner Gabby Chaves, during Sunday pre-race festivities at IMS.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.