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MRTI: Pelfrey teen Kaylen Frederick’s surprise star start in USF2000

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When going through the 17 drivers to watch in this year’s Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, we noted several drivers from Team Pelfrey in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. In USF2000, it was expected that series veterans Robert Megennis and Ayla Agren would lead the team’s charge.

What was not expected was that it’d be the third member of that team who’s actually had the best start of all of them, in 14-year-old Baltimore native Kaylen Frederick.

Yes, you read that correctly. He’s 14. And so far, his finishes this season – 4, 5, 2 and 2 – are only one digit less (13) than his youthful age.

Frederick’s No. 81 Pilot One Tatuus USF-17 Mazda has undoubtedly provided the best surprise start to the year but has spoken to a quick adaptation in learning the tracks, the car and the series. And in a weird twist, the fact he didn’t have past USF2000 experience – save for his debut at last year’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale at September – may have played to his benefit in that he did not need to re-learn how to drive a USF2000 car, whereas Megennis and Agren have after running in the previous generation Van Diemen chassis.

Frederick’s toe-in-the-water debut in Monterey last year at least provided a starting point, but knowing the new car was coming made it easier to step up now. He’d had four days of testing prior to his race debut, and stepped up to USF2000 from Pelfrey’s F1600 program.

He’s not the first driver to do so; Agren did the same after winning the 2014 F1600 title.

“That was pretty much the goal that weekend was to see what everything was like,” Frederick told NBC Sports. “I knew I’d race USF2000 this year. And I wanted to get acclimated to how the series is, how the racing is. It wasn’t the best results. I tried to get used to the track, and that was a very difficult race in that car. I felt a bit more power, but to be fair the 1600 doesn’t have much! So there wasn’t too big of a change.

“But another reason why we moved into USF when we did is we knew the teams would be equal the first year. We thought it would be a great opportunity, and a level field.”

Frederick of course has still gone through the inevitable learning process. His first race in the new car, like everyone’s, came on the streets of St. Petersburg. A crash provided a bit of damage and a minor setback to him, but it also helped teach him where the limit was on his first ever street course race.

“At St. Pete everything felt a bit weird,” Frederick admitted. “It was the first practice session and having a crash, and my first street course ever, it was a lot more to get used to. I wasn’t too comfortable and made small mistakes. But at Barber I felt a lot more comfortable with the car; I felt more at one with it, and pushed a lot harder.”

Nonetheless, Frederick still got out of St. Pete with fourth and fifth place finishes in the two races, and so could afford to look at Barber with a fresh approach.

Frederick and Team Pelfrey teammate Ayla Agren. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

What followed was a stunning display. Oliver Askew is rated as one of the best prospects the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires has had in years, if not ever, so to see Frederick pushing him as hard as he was last time out in Barber was as cool as it was surprising.

Frederick set the fastest race lap in both races, but was unable to pass the Floridian for the lead. A pair of runner-up results though did the trick nicely.

“The thing that seems to be happening is that the rears seem to wear faster than fronts,” Frederick said. “Our races are only half hour long. Oliver and I were similar at beginning. Towards the end, I was on him the whole time. He was loose in a lot of corners. But I couldn’t make a move. Still, it showed our preseason testing paid off.”

He praised his more experienced teammates who have still helped him through the process this year.

“Since they’ve been to most tracks they have the experience. The first session or before, they give some feedback and answer some questions on the track walk. They’ve been good to compare everything with,” he said.

Frederick enters this weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course second in points, albeit 34 points behind Askew.

So he’s done super strongly to start the season. This is made even more impressive when you consider his karting background came only after foregoing his other love – competitive skiing – and his parents’ background is in motorcycle racing. Frederick explained the backstory from here.

“Before I was born, my parents raced motorcycles. When I was 3 or 4, we started going dirt biking, but one time it rained and we didn’t go. We went indoor karting instead and that was it, I got hooked,” Frederick laughed.

“I got a license for the indoor karting – and I started practicing. Did some WKA events. I actually got first in my first event. We then said let’s continue… and it kind of went from there. We did the bigger SKUSA and ROTAX events, and then into cars.

Frederick (left) on Barber podium with Askew (center) and Parker Thompson (right). Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I kind of stopped karting after ROTAX events. I had about a year off between. When I hopped in the car, and I wasn’t used to cars in any sort of way, it didn’t feel odd. It was something to get used to. I did pretty well at Skip Barber in Pittsburgh and after that I tested with some 1600 teams. The teams thought I was ready to race.”

The dirt biking background also led to Frederick’s nickname of “K-Rex” being born. It’s a simple combination of Kaylen and his middle name Rex, but invariably, it stuck.

“Some friends and I just made the nickname, and we stuck with it because we put the name out there. It’d be a shame to get rid of it,” he said.

As for the skiing part of Frederick’s background?

“My parents love skiing. They took me to closest hill to ski and I joined the ski team. It’s about an hour away,” Frederick explained. “We started doing some races, but I can’t race as much anymore with missing practice and racing. The people I compete against excel a bit more!

“When I started skiing, it was more for fun, the same as karts. But I liked car racing a bit more, and I really wanted to get into it a bit more. It’s always secondary for me. I never wanted to become an Olympic athlete because I got big into motorsports. The Olympics, I can still watch on TV.”

Of course, we have to come back to the 14-year-old point. Other 14-year-olds – notably Colton Herta in 2014 and Austin Cindric the year before – have raced in USF2000 before. It takes a reminder Frederick is still a student and a teenager still growing up and in school.

“So when I’m gone for weeks at a time, it’s hard to keep with school,” said the high school freshman. “When you’re at the track, you don’t want to worry about school too much. So I get done what I can on trips to the track and put time into school going to the track.

“And in school, no one understands too much about racing, anyway.”

A quick learner though, Frederick will look to continue his rapid start to the USF2000 season this weekend.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below:

Brown wants to see F1 back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown would like to see Formula 1 return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the future, saying it would “make sense” for the sport.

The United States Grand Prix was held on the old IMS road course between 2000 and 2007 before dropping off the calendar, with a low point being hit in 2005 when just six cars started the race over tire safety concerns.

IMS re-designed its road course in order to host MotoGP and, from 2014, an IndyCar road course race as a prelude to the Indianapolis 500.

F1 is known to be looking to expand its footprint in the United States following Liberty Media’s takeover of the series, with additional races to the current USGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas being sought after.

Southern California has also been a talking point; Long Beach’s future has been discussed in the press more so than has Indianapolis, as a consulting firm has been brought in to examine what would be the best case scenario for the city.

Brown has spent a significant amount time this last month in Indianapolis as part of two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 entry, and feels the sport would be wise to push for a return to the Brickyard in the near future.

“I am of the opinion that Formula 1 at IMS works. I think they’ve changed the configuration of the track a little bit,” Brown said during a teleconference on Wednesday.

“I think it makes sense for Formula 1 to be at the world’s greatest racetrack. I think the city of Indianapolis is well catered to take care of Formula 1, just like it did in the past, and the Super Bowl.

“I think the drivers like it. I think Indianapolis is easy to get to geographically. I realize it may not have the glamour of some of the other markets that are being spoken about, but it’s here, it’s ready to go.

“I think economically, given that Liberty is taking a different view on some of their future partnerships, I think there is an opportunity there. Personally I’d like to see it happen.”

J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President, told a group of reporters on site that no talks had been held with Liberty as of yet, and while the circuit would be open to negotiations, it would have to be financially viable.

“I have not had any talks directly with the folks with Liberty or with Formula 1. We’d certainly entertain a conversation,” Boles said.

“We’d have to figure out the economics. That’s why it wasn’t here after 2007; in order for it to come back here, the economics would have to make sense.

“At some level that conversation, Mark Miles [CEO of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR/IMS parent company] and Zak have a really good relationship, I think we’d ultimately lead it through Mark.

“When we redid the road course between 2013 and 2014, one of the things that was important to us was to make sure our road course remained FIA Grade 1, so if that there ever was a point in time where we had the opportunity to host an F1 race, we wouldn’t have to go through a complete renovation of our road course again.

“There’s two tracks in the U.S. that are that. COTA’s one, and we’re the other. So theoretically they could run here.”