Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Saturday Notebook: IMS Road Course

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Indy Lights: Kyle Kaiser Rolls to Victory in Race 2, Takes Points Lead

Kyle Kaiser took his first victory of the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season. Kaiser led every lap on his way to victory, leading second-place Santi Urrutia by more than six seconds.”It was unreal. I started getting emotional when the team told me there were five laps to go, thinking about the podium. I had to really keep myself in check until the checkered flag, and then I was just euphoric,” said a jubilant Kaiser afterward.

Despite leading every lap, he explained that the win had its share of challenges, especially at the start. “It is super hard to start from the pole here,” he explained. “I had to get a good jump and try to keep Colton behind me going into Turn One – especially because we were so close in the points. From then on, it was a matter of keeping Santi behind me, which was hard because he had a really good car.”

Matheus Leist rounded out the podium after a fierce battle with teammate Neil Alberico in the final laps. Alberico came out of the battle wounded after contact between the two damaged his front wing with two laps remaining. He nursed the car home to finish sixth.

Meanwhile, Colton Herta endured more troubles n Race 2 after electrical issues surfaced about halfway through. He and the Andretti-Steinbrenner team were eventually able to fix the issues after the team advised Herta to recycle the system, however the damage was already done. He soldiered home in tenth.

Results are below. The Indy Lights race will air on NBCSN at 5/21 at 2:00 a.m. ET.

 

Pro Mazda: Franzoni the New Points Leader After a Weekend Sweep

Pro Mazda Race 2 podium. Victor Franzoni (middle), TJ Fischer (left), and Carlos Cunha (right)

Victor Franzoni completed a weekend sweep of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires after he ran away with Race 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. The Brazilian driver rocketed away after starting on pole and was never challenged, eventually winning by more than 12 seconds over second place TJ Fischer.

Fischer, to his credit, completed a strong weekend where he finished on the podium in both races (third in Race 1, and second in Race 2). Carlos Cunha rounded out the Race 2 podium.

“It was a perfect weekend,” said an elated Franzoni. “I knew the Juncos team would have a really good setup here so it was important for us to be ready – and it was the best car ever. It was a machine; it was so easy to drive. All I had to do was focus and drive fast.”

The last time Franzoni swept a weekend like this came last year in his USF2000 campaign last year. “This happened at the end of last year in USF2000 where I had a perfect weekend, and now to get it here means so much,” Franzoni added. “I so appreciate the opportunity Juncos has given me, and the car they gave me today. I hope we can keep this going.”

Franzoni now leads Anthony Martin by six points. Race 2 results are below.

 

USF2000: Five in a Row for Askew

Oliver Askew continued his dominant run by winning Race 2, his fifth win in succession in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. It is his second consecutive weekend sweep (he won both races at Barber Motorsports Park), and Askew ran unchallenged at the head of the field.

“Our pace here is fantastic; the Cape team gave me a great car,” Askew said of the team’s performance. “I tried not to look in my mirrors, especially at the start – I just went to Turn One as deep as I could and tried not to get hit from behind, because that’s the only way that I could get passed. But like I said yesterday, it’s surreal. I’m just living in the present and doing my job the best that I can, and that’s working out

Oliver Askew had his second weekend sweep in a row. Photo: IndyCar

Behind Askew, however, chaos reigned. The initial start saw a pileup that collected Dev Gore, Colin Kaminsky, Ricky Donison, Calvin Ming, and Bruna Tomaselli (Gore and Kaminsky dropped out after suffering too much damage to continue). Their incident brought out a full course caution barely two turns into the race.

When racing resumed, Rinus Van Kalmthout fended off a challenge from Kaylen Frederick for second (Van Kalmthout had passed Frederick during the brief green flag period before the early caution). Frederick endured a difficult race that saw him fall back as far as seventh before he was able to work his way back forward.

The finish took a surprising turn when Callan O’Keefe stalled in turn seven in the final minutes, forcing a second full-course caution.

The race restarted for one final green flag lap, and while Askew and Van Kalmthout scooted away, Dakota Dickerson and Robert Megennis tangled in a battle for third and went off course exiting turn two. That allowed Frederick, running fifth at the time, back up to third. He hung on from there to claim the final spot on the podium behind Askew and Van Kalmthout.

Results are below.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.