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.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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