Photo: Pro Mazda

MRTI: Pigot claims Pro Mazda, Latorre USF2000 titles Saturday in Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Following a frantic Friday in Sonoma that set up Saturday’s championship showdowns, the drama could not have been higher for the Mazda Road to Indy at Sonoma Raceway. And the races that followed in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, respectively, could not have lived more up to the billing. Indy Lights also set the stage for its three-way title bout on Sunday.

PRO MAZDA (Race 2 Results)

One of the most chaotic, surprise and eventful races in Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires history ended with American Spencer Pigot breaking through for his elusive first championship on the Mazda Road to Indy, driving for Juncos Racing.

Pigot and title rival, and prior points leader Scott Hargrove, started on the front row from Saturday’s final round of the season from Sonoma Raceway. Pigot was contacted by Hargrove’s Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Neil Alberico on the first lap, which was an unfortunate coming together between the two Rising Star Racing-supported drivers.

Nonetheless Pigot kept his head down, stayed focus and was able to recover from being knocked outside the top 15.

“I had a decent start, I was right with Scott going into turn two and I got hit from behind,” Pigot said. “I was sure someone was going to hit me. I’m glad the car stayed together! But you never know what’s going to happen in racing or with the car, so I knew the only thing I could do was pass everyone in front of me as fast as I could. I just put my head down and was able to pick off one or two guys each lap.”

Needing something of a miracle, Hargrove, who’d led from there, suffered a gearbox issue following a restart with four laps to go. Hargrove fell like a stone from the lead until he was just in front of Pigot.

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Photo: Pro Mazda

Exiting Turn 7, Pigot attempted to pass Hargrove at Turn 8, but the two nearly collided at that point. Pigot somehow avoided the stricken Canadian and was able to make it home a surprise P5, and with enough points to claim the championship.

“We’ve had our fair share of disappointing ends of championships, my supporters and my family, and we knew it had to change sometime,” Pigot said. “Today, we had both good and bad luck but luckily the good was at end. I’ve been second twice but I haven’t won a championship since Skip Barber so I’m glad to finally be on top.

“This is going to be my third Mazda scholarship – I definitely wouldn’t be here without the support of Mazda and the support they give to all the young drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy so I’m going to be very happy to take that money off of them and go shopping to drive one of those beautiful new Dallara IL-15s.”

As for the race? Almost overlooked was another of Pigot’s Juncos teammates, Jose Gutierrez, earning his first career win (Kyle Kaiser had done so on Friday). Nicolas Costa continued his strong second half of the season with P2, and Shelby Blackstock secured another podium in third. Gutierrez ran second to Hargrove most of the race, but took the lead once Hargrove hit trouble. Rookies Jack Aitken and Joey Bickers sandwiched Pigot in fourth and sixth, respectively.

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From L to R: Enerson, Latorre, Eidson. Photo: USF2000

USF2000 (Race 2 Results)

Florian Latorre is the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 champion – the Frenchman delivered the title on the strength of a determined drive in the final round of the season Saturday in Sonoma.

Latorre had the pole over title rivals RC Enerson and Jake Eidson, but Enerson moved to the lead off the start. While Enerson held the point for most of the 15-lap race, Latorre made it past on Lap 11 through and exiting Turn 7, and was able to pull away from there to confirm the victory and the championship.

“After Barber I was 32 points back I think? So I had to finish all the races, get some good points and for me the goal was to take very good points,” Latorre said.

He added, “My parents gave everything for me, for my career, and this is a way to repay them. I should take the scholarship to Pro Mazda next year.”

Enerson was second with Eidson third, so the final race of the year finished in championship order. Following Friday’s dramatic second-to-last race of the year, this was a quieter affair.

“We were off on the car setup today, not a lot of front grip in the car. We just didn’t have enough for him today,” Enerson said.

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Photo: Indy Lights

INDY LIGHTS (Race 1 Results)

Jack Harvey continued his permanent road course dominance (he swept Mid-Ohio earlier this month) with a flag-to-flag triumph in the first of two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races. In the process, he more than halved the 23-point gap to prior leader Gabby Chaves, who finished second.

Behind the top two, Harvey’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Luiz Razia was third. Razia missed an opportunity to take more points away from Chaves.

Zach Veach, who entered only seven points behind Chaves, struggled after starting and finishing seventh.

Tony Kanaan woos IMS after positng fastest Carb Day lap

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Tony Kanaan of Brazil, driver of the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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“I think this track will pick the winner,” Tony Kanaan told reporters Friday after Carb Day practice was completed for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“So I’m trying to massage the track a little bit, talk to her nicely, and then see if she will pick me on Sunday.”

Kanaan certainly impressed the 2.5-mile ‘lady’ in practice, by posting a fastest lap of 226.280 mph that would seem to have her shunning all other suitors. Carlos Munoz set the second-fastest speed, but he was nearly a quarter of a second per lap slower with a speed of 224.772 mph.

Speeds were largely dependent on tows in the final tune-up for Sunday’s race.

All 33 drivers who qualified for the 100th running of the Indy 500 tried their dead-level best to impress the track. They raced side-by-side through the corners and filled the course with cars. For most of the session, a majority of the drivers were on course at the same time, and that surprised many.

“You should have asked me, I would have told you different,” Kanaan said.

“This is the closest we get to the race, two days, and after being here for almost a month, the engineers come up with different plans every day,” Kanaan added. “The more time you give them, the more they come up with stuff. And we had almost five days without being on track, so they go back to the shop and do simulations. So we had to test.”

Race conditions will be markedly different than what everyone faced in qualification and that is another reason so many cars were on track. It is also one reason Kanaan was so pleased with his time.

If a full field had not practiced, no one would truly know what they would face on Sunday. “Everybody is eager to feel how the car behaves in traffic. So it was a race out there today.”

Kanaan was pleased with the response he got from Indy.

“I’m happy with my car,” Kanaan said. “Obviously I have to pass 17 people before I get really happy with my car. But, you know, after the struggle in qualifying, we really focused on the race.”

Kanaan will start 18th, alongside Juan Pablo Montoya and close behind some other top-ranked drivers.

“One thing that eases my mind a little bit being back there, there are a lot of good guys back there with me,” Kanaan added. “You know, if you look around Montoya, Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, they’re very experienced guys back there, which sometimes it’s not the case.”

“So I really don’t have a plan. My plan is to start the race. If there is a gap, I’m going to go for it.”

Indy occasionally rewards spontaneity, so Kanaan’s fastest speed in final practice may be a strong indication of his odds of winning his second Indy 500. His first victory came in 2013.

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When Townsend Bell and Mario Andretti made pizza (VIDEO)

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Before the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil kicks off on Sunday, Townsend Bell and Mario Andretti tossed around a couple pizzas.

Bell, the NBCSN IndyCar analyst who starts fourth in the No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda, has easily his best shot to win the Indy 500 in his 10th attempt.

He’s part of the five-car Andretti Autosport armada along with Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi.

Stoneman edges Jones in closest finish ever at IMS in Freedom 100 (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – No words other than “wow” to summarize the immediate aftermath of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At a race that had two incredible photo finishes in 2013 and 2014, another one occurred Friday with Dean Stoneman edging Ed Jones by just 0.0024 of a second.

“As you can see on the screen now it was bloody close,” Stoneman said from Victory Lane after driving the No. 27 Stellrecht Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti Autosport.

It’s the closest finish in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history with Stoneman having led the field to the green on the last lap, but lost the lead at Turn 1 when Jones around the outside, before Stoneman got past him through Turn 3 and stayed ahead.

The Andretti Autosport driver then edged the Carlin driver at the line, fist in the air for his second win at IMS in three weeks, after also winning on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“It’s great. I was in a hospital bed five years ago dreaming to be racing here and winning now,” Stoneman added.

“First [win] ever here for this race,” said Michael Andretti, car owner. “We’re so excited. We’ve been trying so many years to win this and Dean finally brought it to us.”

“It’s so frustrating to lose the race like that,” said second-place finisher Jones. “We were back and forth throughout the race and all the time I was waiting behind Dean for those last few laps. He held up everyone really slowly on that restart and caught quite a few incidents.”

“I got the lead in turn one and I thought I had the good run and I was pulling away but he had the draft down the back straight and I made the decision to stay on the inside,” Jones added, “He got the momentum on the outside and he just beat me to the line. It was so close and the team did a fantastic job of giving me the car to win the race.”

“That minor mistake just cost me everything.”

Previous closest finishes were 0.0026 of 2013 when Peter Dempsey won, and 0.005 of a second when Gabby Chaves won.

In third place, Dalton Kellett scored a career-best result in the No. 28 K-LINE car for Andretti Autosport, with Shelby Blackstock and Scott Hargrove completing the top five finishers.

F1 still Maldonado’s ‘Plan A’ as he chases race comeback

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 18:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 18, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Pastor Maldonado remains hopeful of returning to a Formula 1 race seat in the future, but is open to other series if his “Plan A” fails to come to fruition.

Maldonado lost his drive with Renault over the winter when his backing from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA fell through.

Since then, the one-time grand prix winner has completed some private testing for tire supplier Pirelli, but is keen to make a racing return next season if possible.

“We will try again and try to be back in a good team, to give me the chance to be competitive,” Maldonado told Reuters in Monaco.

“Plan A is Formula 1. Then of course if it doesn’t come, we need to look around.”

Despite the financial and social problems facing Venezuela right now, Maldonado hopes that PDVSA can find the funding to resume his F1 career.

“PDVSA is a big company, supporting a lot of sport programmes in Venezuela,” Maldonado said.

“They still seem to maintain all the programmes. Hopefully it will be no problem to have them back.

“I am the only Venezuelan who is racing at this level. I have been supported since many, many years. The relationships are very good. Hopefully we can be together for more years.

“Of course the oil price is still a bit low, and when the oil is down, the country is down. For sure it’s painful at the moment.”