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.

INDY LIGHTS (ENTRY LIST

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.

PRO MAZDA (ENTRY LIST)

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.

USF2000 (ENTRY LIST)

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.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.