MRTI: Jam-packed weekend for all three ladder series on tap at Mid-Ohio

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This weekend’s Mazda Road to Indy action at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will prove pivotal for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

In all, there’s a total of seven races for the three series. Championships might not be won but they could well be lost with bad results.


Gabby Chaves rides into Mid-Ohio riding a wave of momentum following his win at Pocono and runner-up finish to Belardi Auto Racing teammate Alex Baron at Toronto. Chaves won this race last year for his inaugural Indy Lights win, and carries a 21-point lead into the doubleheader weekend over Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport.

Chaves will have a new teammate this weekend, with Starting Grid, Inc.-backed driver Axcil Jefferies of Zimbabwe replacing Baron this weekend. Jefferies made a pair of Indy Lights starts in 2013, including at Mid-Ohio.

Third-placed Jack Harvey of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports remains in title contention, 48 back heading into the weekend, while still seeking his first win. Matthew Brabham and Luiz Razia, Veach and Harvey’s respective teammates, could play spoilers.


Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove spent their off weekend from their main championship splitting the Porsche GT3 Canada wins in Toronto two weeks ago. But now the Pro Mazda title protagonists are set to duke it out in the pair of open-wheel races this weekend. Pigot leads Hargrove by 17 points.

A logjam exists behind them for third, with Neil Alberico, Shelby Blackstock and Kyle Kaiser separated by only eight points. But with Alberico 71 back of Pigot heading into the weekend, it’s doubtful he or any of the remaining drivers in the field will be able to close the gap to the title leaders.


A tripleheader is on tap for the USF2000 kids this weekend. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s pair of Jake Eidson and Florian Latorre split the Toronto wins, with Latorre moving into the championship lead on 199 points and Eidson now second on 184. RC Enerson, who has several wins this season, ranks third on 177 with Aaron Telitz and Victor Franzoni – also race winners this year – rounding out the top five.

The USF2000 weekend at Mid-Ohio last year was plagued by one of its races being run nearly entirely behind the safety car due to wet conditions, and its Sunday race featuring a nearly dozen-car pileup at the start. No doubt they’ll seek a better race this time around.

The 11-car Indy Lights races are set for 3:25 p.m. Saturday and 11:45 a.m. Sunday; the 18-car Pro Mazda races are set for 5:35 p.m. Saturday and 10:45 a.m. Sunday; and the 21-car USF2000 races are set for 4 p.m. Friday, 1:05 p.m. Saturday and 9:05 a.m. Sunday.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish

The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.

The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.

A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.

Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.

After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.