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.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.