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.

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.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

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As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.