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Iowa Update: Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves fighting for the front

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After taking the lead from Helio Castroneves on Lap 77, Tony Kanaan is your leader at the halfway point of the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway.

Kanaan led Castroneves by 1.1 seconds at halfway, with Ryan Briscoe in third, Will Power in fourth, and Sebastian Saavedra a surprising fifth.

Under threatening skies, the race began around 8:30 p.m. ET with Scott Dixon and Kanaan, both from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, on the front row.

Dixon narrowly held off Kanaan for the lead on the opening lap, but Kanaan went high and cleared Dixon off Turn 2 on the next lap.

He held the point all the way up to Lap 34, when a small shower began to fall on the 7/8-mile bullring. Five laps later, the caution went to a red flag and cars were brought down to pit road.

Luckily, the shower was a short one and after a bit of drying, engines were refired after a 26-minute delay. The pits opened at Lap 41, and in the ensuing wave of stops, Castroneves was able to beat Kanaan out for the lead.

The field was set for a Lap 49 restart but at the rear of the field, rookie Mikhail Aleshin went below the yellow line, lost control and took Takuma Sato into the wall to bring out the yellow again.

Aleshin and Sato had contact with each other during Race 1 of the Houston doubleheader at the end of last month. Sato’s car owner, A.J. Foyt, was frustrated after that Houston incident and he was of the same disposition after this one.

Both Sato and Aleshin were checked, cleared, and released from the infield care center, but Aleshin was spotted holding a bag of ice on one of his wrists. However, the Russian told NBCSN that there was “nothing serious.”

The green returned at Lap 64 with Castroneves holding off Kanaan for a time. But on Lap 77, Castroneves was held up by the lapped cars of Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Huertas.

That gave Kanaan the opportunity to strike, and he pulled to the inside of Castroneves on the front stretch before completing the pass in Turn 1.

While Kanaan took control of the race, Pocono winner Juan Pablo Montoya had the left rear wing endplate come off of his car. The endplate landed on the inside of Turn 3, and on Lap 89, the caution came out for the debris.

The leaders pitted again in this yellow, and this time, Kanaan was able to beat Castroneves out and retain the point. But Montoya had a slow stop, causing the Colombian to gesture noticeably from his cockpit before he finally left his pit box.

After two waved-off starts on Lap 98 and 99 (Lap 98 for a slowing Sebastien Bourdais, Lap 99 for a bad single-file formation), the field went racing again at Lap 100.

Kanaan quickly pulled away from Castroneves, who had to stave off a good challenge from Power for second. Briscoe was eventually able to drop Power for third, and a few laps before halfway, Sebastian Saavedra was beginning to put pressure on the Australian for fourth.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway