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.

Craig Breedlove wins 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award

Craig Breedlove (left) and Richard Noble look on during the world land speed record attempt by the Thrust SCC at Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Photo: David Taylor/Allsport
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Land-speed record icon Craig Breedlove has been awarded the 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award, one of the top honors awarded on the West Coast, and in the world of motorsports. Breedlove is the award’s 18th recipient.

The award was presented prior to today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The full release is below:

Craig Breedlove has been selected as the 2017 recipient of the 18th Annual Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. For the 18th year, the Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award recognizes motorsports personalities who have made distinguished contributions to motorsports in California.

Breedlove was selected by a judging panel, which includes national and California motorsports media, to receive the prestigious 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. Ed Justice, Jr. President & CEO of Justice Brothers, Inc. presented the award during the pre-race ceremonies at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Craig Breedlove is the first person in history to reach 500 mph and 600 mph, Craig Breedlove, is a land speed legend. Using several turbojet-powered vehicles, all named Spirit of America; he drove to five world land speed records. The Beach Boys’ song Spirit of America was inspired by Breedlove’s land speed record set in 1963. Breedlove was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of America in 1993 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Giovinazzi impresses as Sauber sub, finishes 12th on F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi continued his impressive last-minute showing in the Australian Grand Prix weekend by finishing 12th for Sauber on his Formula 1 debut.

Ferrari junior and 2015 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber on Saturday to replace Pascal Wehrlein, who withdrew from the race weekend due to an ongoing back injury.

Giovinazzi qualified 16th on Saturday, narrowly missing out on a place in Q2, and then enjoyed a trouble-free race en route to 12th at the checkered flag, two laps down on race winner Sebastian Vettel.

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today,” Giovinazzi said.

“My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve.

“I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was full of praise for Giovinazzi: “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula 1 race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”

Giovinazzi is now set to return to his reserve driver duties at Ferrari, with Wehrlein expected to be back at full-fitness for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.