MRTI: Championships to be decided in trio of Sonoma doubleheaders

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For the first time in several years, the Mazda Road to Indy makes the trip out west to Sonoma Raceway. While Indy Lights and Formula Mazda cars have run at Sonoma in the past, this marks a rare occasion for all three of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to be on the same weekend, with all three titles to be determined.

INDY LIGHTS (Entry List)

Although Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach have been the dominant forces in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, they’re not the only two with a shot at this year’s title.

Chaves leads Veach by seven points, 466-459, with Jack Harvey within shouting range at only 23 back (443). The Englishman swept the pair of Mid-Ohio races two weekends ago; Veach enters this weekend on the strength of a crucial win at Milwaukee last Sunday. Chaves has a series-leading four wins in 2014, with Veach three and Harvey two.

The Lights title follows the IndyCar points system, with 10 points in-between first and second (50 to 40). Heading into Sunday’s second race, we’ll have a better idea of where things stand.

A Chaves title would deliver Brian Belardi his first series title. Veach looks for Andretti Autosport’s first title since JR Hildebrand’s in 2009. Meanwhile if Harvey can steal it, he’d extend Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ run of consecutive championships to five in a row since 2010 (JK Vernay, Josef Newgarden, Tristan Vautier, Sage Karam).

A field of 10 cars will say farewell to the current Indy Lights chassis, in use since the series’ reincarnation in 2002.

PRO MAZDA (Entry List

It’s Spencer Pigot vs. Scott Hargrove for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. While Pigot seeks an elusive first title on the Mazda Road to Indy after two near misses in USF2000 (particularly in 2012) and a rough first Pro Mazda season, Hargrove looks to go back-to-back after taking the USF2000 title a year ago.

Pigot leads Hargrove by 19 points, 290-271. With anywhere from four to eight points the margin between first and second, depending on bonus points, it will likely take Hargrove winning with Pigot running into issues to be able to overtake him.

Neil Alberico, Hargrove’s teammate, looks to lock down third in the championship. Meanwhile Shelby Blackstock has his eyes on third place on the strength of three podium finishes from the last four races. Alberico has 205 points to Blackstock’s 196.

USF2000 (Entry List)

With a 30-point lead and a propensity for powering to pole position (eight poles in the last 10 races), Frenchman Florian Latorre is poised to capture the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda championship for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Latorre would follow Hargrove, Matthew Brabham and Petri Suvanto as USF2000 champions for Cape since 2011.

If Latorre doesn’t pull it off, Cape teammate Jake Eidson could capitalize from P2, or RC Enerson for his family’s Team E Racing squad could. But they’ll need help in order to pull it off.

USF2000 and Pro Mazda each race Friday and Saturday; Indy Lights races Saturday and Sunday.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.