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.

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”