Alonso won ROTY (29); Jones (19) had a case for it. Photo: IndyCar

DiZinno: Inside the 2017 Indy 500 rookie voting process

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It all started Monday night, fittingly, with a tweet from the driver who in 2014 had an argument to win that year’s Indianapolis 500 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, but didn’t.

Sage Karam won the 2013 Indy Lights championship, and would make his IndyCar debut against a significantly bigger name from a significantly bigger series, who was racing with Andretti Autosport, while he was in a smaller budget team known for out-kicking its coverage and overachieving from a results standpoint, in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

That bigger name was NASCAR star Kurt Busch, running the 2014 Indianapolis 500 in a fifth Andretti Autosport car, and finishing sixth after starting 12th in the first of his planned Indy 500-Coca Cola 600 double.

Karam, meanwhile, had dazzled the crowd for DRR in the pit stop competition on Carb Day, made an epic save in the one-hour practice earlier, then drove from 31st to ninth in the race. All this at 19 years old, having missed his prom.

At that time, I wrote that co-rookies of the year would have been a justifiable outcome, as it would not have been without precedent. Busch excelled in his IndyCar debut, soaking up the atmosphere, learning from his Andretti Autosport teammates and finishing sixth – albeit fourth of the five Andretti cars! Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (first), Marco Andretti (third) and Carlos Munoz (fourth) all finished ahead. Karam, meanwhile, did his performance on a single-car team, albeit one that at the time shared a technical partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

With the local broadcast on WTHR-TV delayed by about an hour from when the media banquet was happening live, Karam revealed Monday night that Ed Jones – the 2016 Indy Lights champion making his Indy 500 debut – had not won this year’s Rookie of the Year honors, and instead had lost to Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula 1 World Champion in his oval debut.

The result was par for the course in a month where Alonso dominated the headlines, soundbites, media attention and race coverage… until it mattered most.

With just over 20 laps to go, Alonso’s Honda engine expired in a sad, almost fitting ending. It was a metaphor, in a way, for the overkill of Alonso coverage to fall short to the rest of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil itself, and the other 32 drivers competing in the race.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

All the while, there was Ed Jones, biding his time, racing like a veteran even as he too was a rookie in this year’s race, and promptly finishing third for Dale Coyne Racing, capping off a month where he brought the team so much joy in a month where the team had so many unexpected incidents pop up.

The outrage on social media followed almost immediately once the news began to spread Alonso, not Jones, had won the year’s rookie of the year award.

It’s at this point we figured, let’s not just express an opinion about the process, but instead let’s find out why the process transpired the way it did.

For that we reached out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway PR staff for a bit of background into how the vote was conducted and why it came to the decision it did – Alonso over Jones.

For full disclosure, I had a vote for the rookie of the year, and selected Jones as my first choice and Alonso as my second.

WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA?

There are four criteria at play for the vote, which awards $50,000 to the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. They are:

  • (a) the driver’s skill
  • (b) sportsmanship
  • (c) accessibility and conduct during the month
  • (d) finishing position

Per IMS, each criteria should be considered the same as any other.

The first three are arguably more subjective categories. It takes time and careful, studious analysis to determine driver skill, and it’s a slippery slope to go on, because if you say one driver is more talented than another, then that driver gets frustrated.

Sportsmanship extends to how well the driver gets on, on track, and with his or her competitors.

The accessibility and conduct during the month was always going to be a massive gap between Alonso and Jones. One was involved in so many media activities and going around the garage at random; the other was staring right across from his garage.

Jones (19) raced hard but fair all month. Photo: IndyCar

There were several times it seemed Jones would have been worthy to bring up to the fourth floor press conference room but he was only in twice; once after Saturday qualifying, where he literally was only asked one question, while Alonso had six formal availabilities on the fourth floor – a special press conference after his one-day test, then five during the two weeks itself. This does not factor in the hour of media availability he had on media day, either.

Finishing position, objectively, goes to Jones. Third to 24th is the widest gap between the two. This also doesn’t factor in Jones’ other on-track performance successes this month – he also had the second fastest lap of the event, fifth quickest lap of the race, qualified 11th after Sebastien Bourdais’ accident in qualifying. Jones never looked a driver outside the top 10 outside of qualifying, and that was down to bad timing more than anything. Had Ed Carpenter Racing’s cars qualified earlier in the day on Saturday, or if Jones qualified later, it could have been a different outcome.

WHO VOTES?

Per IMS PR, it’s “a group of current and past members of the media alongside a group of IndyCar/IMS officials. It’s a moderate sized group of individuals who are close to the sport year round. What’s more important is that everyone on the list has the background/qualifications to make their choice. There are more media members on the list than IndyCar/IMS officials.”

While that doesn’t provide an exact number of voters, it does provide enough background to determine that the voting bloc is one of people that pay attention to the sport close enough to where they can make educated decisions.

HOW DOES THE VOTE HAPPEN? 

Again, per IMS PR: “Those who vote receive an email with instructions. The email outlines the criteria for selection. They then supply a first and second selection. We add up the votes.

“We ask the voters to weigh the four criteria equally. Ultimately, it’s their decision who they select as first and second and whether a certain factor weighs more heavily in their decision. We simply monitor the tally of votes supplied.”

LET’S USE HISTORY AS A GUIDELINE

P24 hasn’t looked so impressive at Indy since 1996. Photo: IndyCar

That’s the process outlined. It’s at this point we now look back through history and see where Alonso who again, starred all month, fits in compared to others who were not the highest-finishing rookie, but was awarded rookie of the year honors. Here’s a few examples:

  • The last time this happened was in 2010. Mario Romancini of Conquest Racing finished 13th, Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing finished 14th. Essentially a wash, either would have been a deserving candidate and de Silvestro was justifiably awarded the spot.
  • In 1996, Richie Hearn finished third in the first 500 run as part of the Indy Racing League, still under USAC sanction, while Tony Stewart finished 24th with a blown engine, and Stewart won top rookie. Hearn drove for a smaller team (Della Penna Motorsports) and finished third, while Stewart’s Team Menard team was widely considered one with the most resources at that time.
  • In 1983, Teo Fabi was the polesitter and went out with a fuel gasket issue early, ending 26th. Al Unser Jr., a then unheralded-son of a several-time Indianapolis 500 champion, was top rookie finisher in 10th. Fabi was rookie of the year.
  • The infamous 1981 race, which took months to officially decide between Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti, saw Josele Garza (finished 23rd with a crash) win rookie of the year while the top rookie finisher was Kevin Cogan in fourth.
  • In 1966, Jackie Stewart finished sixth and won rookie of the year while Graham Hill, also a rookie, won the race.

So while it’s not unprecedented that a driver who’s finished worse has been awarded rookie of the year, it’s not something that happens frequently.

In terms of co-rookies-of-the-year, that’s happened in 1961 (Parnelli Jones, Bobby Marshman), 1978 (Larry Rice, Rick Mears), 1984 (Roberto Guerrero, Michael Andretti), 1989 (Bernard Jourdain, Scott Pruett) and 2002 (Alex Barron, Tomas Scheckter).

The last time the rookie of the year finished outside the top 20 was in 2007, when Phil Giebler was 29th. The only other rookie in that year’s field was the less heralded Milka Duno, who was 31st.

SO WHY DOES IT MATTER, AND WHY DID I CAST MY VOTE FOR JONES?

Jones (left), Zach Veach (center) and Jack Harvey (right) were the three “traditional” rookies in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

Using the four criteria as a guideline, and also considering the respective situations the two drivers who could realistically deserve the award, I selected Jones for the following reasons:

  • Skill: Jones, too, we must remember, was also making his first big oval start in an IndyCar, although his runs over two years in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires gave him a bit of a head start over Alonso. The Coyne team made engineering changes this year and it paid dividends; Jones’ 11th place start is the team’s best in its history and in the last two years with the Honda aero kit, the Coyne cars qualified 21st, 24th, 25th and 28th (2016) and 18th, 21st and 28th (2015), and in 2015 two of them moved to the back row with in-week driver changes. After a strong week of practice, Jones never looked like qualifying worse than 12th and as noted, was disappointed not to be higher. In the race, Jones sustained rear wing damage from the Scott Dixon/Jay Howard crash. He’d also had his nose of his car punctured by debris, which cut a hole in it. His race craft in traffic was mature beyond his years.
  • Sportsmanship: Jones was unafraid to tell it like it is while also noting how thankful he was to be part of the Coyne team. As a driver who was unafraid to admit he was annoyed by the amount of Alonso coverage, Jones pressed on regardless. Several drivers, notably Helio Castroneves, hailed Jones’ efforts: “I have to say he did a very good job. When we ran side-by-side, he was very smart. I have to say that you drove not like a rookie, to be honest, so congrats.”
  • Accessibility and conduct during the month: As noted earlier, a bit of an unfair fight: Alonso was everywhere, Jones not so much. But Jones poked fun at himself after having to milk a cow following the rookie luncheon on Tuesday – that was funny.
  • Finishing position: Three is better than 24. Also, even if Alonso’s engine didn’t blow, there was a case to be made he might have only finished sixth or seventh, so Jones could have legitimately beat him on track anyway – and was all set to in the final stint.
Jones actually milked a cow. Photo: IndyCar

Resources are not factored directly into the vote, but they are worth noting.

As Busch did in 2014, Alonso walked into a team with outstanding resources and a significant financial edge at Andretti. He had the combination of teammates in past winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, two near-winners (and now one new one) in Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti. And with Jack Harvey there in a sixth car, Andretti had double the amount of cars.

While Coyne has made massive strides, it’s not got the winning pedigree Andretti does. Andretti has five Indianapolis 500 victories; Coyne has five total wins in its history, and only one on an oval (Justin Wilson at Texas, 2012). Setting aside the rookie angle for a second, how Jones stepped up as an overall rookie in the full series for a team in need of a leader with Bourdais sidelined was incredible to witness.

Lastly, there’s the question of what does this do for the series or the race going forward.

Alonso ended P24. Photo: IndyCar

Forever, in history, Fernando Alonso will be able to say – and IMS will be able to declare – he is the 2017 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year. But the award coming 11 years after he won the second of his two Formula 1 World Championships is never going to be the first thing mentioned when Alonso’s career is put into context.

Jones? We don’t know how his career will progress, but at only age 22, the Dubai-based Brit has more of his career ahead of him than behind him at this stage. Saying he was Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year for Dale Coyne Racing, a year after winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship (yes, some would argue in controversial fashion), would be a springboard for him and for Coyne’s team – which has been an IndyCar stalwart for more than 30 years. Consider also that Coyne’s team has incurred more than half a million dollars in damaged race cars the last month, and that that extra $50,000 might have helped.

In many ways, the debut of Alonso and return of McLaren was about hailing the past glory of F1 stars at Indianapolis, and in that regard, both driver and brand lived up to the hype, and the expectations.

But for an award that should go to a driver who plans to make his or her future in IndyCar full-time, it was a swing-and-miss.

Jones was P3, but not rookie of the year. Photo: IndyCar

Another day, another photo finish in MX-5 Cup at Road America

Photo: Global MX-5 Cup
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The first of three sports car races held Saturday at Road America featured a familiar ending in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires: a photo finish.

For the third time in four races, a margin of victory of less than a tenth of a second was all that decided the race. This time it was defending series champion Nathanial Sparks of Sick Sideways Racing, edging Atlanta Speedwerks’ Todd Lamb by 0.0468 of a second, for the victory.

Sparks’ win slots in second in the three photo finishes. Friday’s race one saw Patrick Gallagher beat Bryan Ortiz by 0.0263 of a second. At Indianapolis last weekend, Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 of a second.

Sparks, also known as “Sparky,” explained how he made the move for the win.

“I fell back a little and I put my head down and really drove hard and I found myself back up at the front,” said Sparks. “Ortiz, Gallagher, and all those guys were driving so hard and there was battling for position and jockeying and moving around. I had a good run coming up out of the last corner and I managed to make my Mazda motor just power me up and just drove it home. It was super excited bringing it home for my Sick Sideways team today.”

Lamb, who came up short, offered his take: “That was a lot of fun. It’s my first podium of the season. We’re starting to get these cars figured out and starting to figure out who is going to work with us and who’s not. It’s been a lot of fun and a good learning experience this weekend, I’m looking forward to more!”

Gallagher led the standings by 39 points over Sparks heading into the weekend and extended the lead with his win on Friday.

“It was definitely more chaotic today, nobody wanted to work together like they did yesterday,” said Gallagher. “Everyone thought they had to be in second, but they didn’t realize they needed to be there until the last lap. Everybody was trying to get to second place from lap one, people were leaning on me and I just had to be careful. I got shoved around a little bit, but it’s a long season, and the championship points we got here this weekend are most important.”

The McCumbee McAleer Racing driver finished third today, his season worst result (hardly a bad thing for the Thornville, Ohio native) and still leads the points as the series heads next to the streets of Toronto, July 14-16, for Rounds 7 and 8. That is also part of a Verizon IndyCar Series weekend.

Fong (Bentley), James (Panoz) score Saturday PWC Road America wins

Photos: PWC
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Pirelli World Challenge has returned to full Sprint race action at Road America today with its GT class, while the GTS class was joined by a handful of invitational entries in the TC class for a pair of races at the 4.014-mile circuit.

GT

Adderly Fong, the Hong Kong-based driver, has captured his first career PWC victory in the No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3.

It’s Bentley’s first PWC victory since 2015, when Chris Dyson won here at the same circuit. The win came after Fong scored the pole, his second straight and Bentley’s third straight at the track. It also comes on the same day as Bentley won the Paul Ricard 1000km in the Blancpain Endurance Series, with Fong’s SprintX co-driver Vincent Abril co-driving for Bentley Team M-Sport with Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet (below).

Fong had a pair of podiums here last year and with the Bentley expected to do well at this circuit, the pressure was on to deliver.

“My team manager told me if I didn’t win, I didn’t get to have dinner,” Fong joked in the post-race press conference. “I guess I can eat tonight!”

The race-winning performance in the 50-minute race was delivered after Fong collided with Johnny O’Connell on the opening lap, Fong on the inside pitching O’Connell on the outside into a spin exiting Turn 5. Fong apologized for the contact, but was not penalized by PWC race officials.

From there, Fong controlled the pace over Patrick Long, in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, with both drivers managing their Pirelli tires from there.

Long got close, but never close enough to make a passing attempt of Fong for the win. Nonetheless, after finishes of third, first and second in the first three races, Long’s fourth straight Sprint podium brought him forth the Sprint points lead.

Michael Cooper completed the podium in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R, continuing his consistent season in pursuit of an overall PWC championship combining both the Sprint and SprintX components of the calendar. Cooper and Jordan Taylor won the lone SprintX race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this year while Cooper posted his first Sprint podium of the season.

Daniel Mancinelli had a rare but welcome trouble-free race in his No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 to finish fourth, with the first of the RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3s, Peter Kox’s No. 93 car, scoring a top-five finish on RealTime’s home soil near its Saukville, Wis. base.

O’Connell rebounded to eighth overall after his first lap spin in his No. 3 Cadillac.

In 13th, James Sofronas won the GTA class in his No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. Yuki Harata won the GT Cup class in a Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2.

GTS

Elkhart Lake, WI – Jun 23, 2017: The Pirelli World Challenge racers take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix at Road America presented by VP Racing Fuels at the Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.

Ian James has scored the Panoz Avezzano GT’s maiden victory, as the new car took the win in Saturday’s combined GTS and TC race.

It comes after a series of close calls, a near win at Lime Rock Park before engine failure and its first podium there as well. The Tom Milner-led team has a series of holdovers who have worked on Don Panoz’s most recent creation, the DeltaWing, and have transitioned over to a more normal looking sports car.

James dominated the 50-minute race while the battle was more behind him for second place, featuring Jeff Courtney’s No. 99 JCR Motorsports Maserati GT4 in his home race and Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.

Aschenbach, the championship leader, drove smart to get another podium finish with Courtney just behind despite several attempts.

They held off a late charge from Austin Versteeg, PWC debutante, in the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4. The talented teenager out of Sandy, Utah has shifted to racing Lamborghinis this year after racing prototypes but was now in Alain Nadal’s entry this weekend.

Cody Ellsworth, in his No. 111 RacerInk Porsche Cayman, won the TC class.

MRTI: Franzoni, Martin Pro Mazda title tilt heats up at Road America

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – For the first time in the 2017 Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires season, the gloves are officially off between two title combatants, after an intense, high-pressure weekend split in Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

For Victor Franzoni, a win and a second place served as a disappointing weekend for Juncos Racing, because even despite starting last in Saturday’s race two, he very nearly could have won.

Quite by contrast, second and first for Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin was even better than he might have hoped for, with a clear pace deficit to Franzoni this weekend but able to doggedly hold him off in race two.

Franzoni dominated Friday’s race one, which was pretty straightforward. Still though, after red flags caught Franzoni out before qualifying race two, he wasn’t as happy as he usually is.

“The quali was unlucky. We tried a strategy and it didn’t work!” Franzoni told NBC Sports. “But the whole team and I were like, ‘Let’s forget the quali. Let’s focus on what we can do today after quali one.’

“Juncos Racing gave me the great car. It was a big fight. After I got by Anthony, I could go away. It was good. Everything was fine. This was my first win in Road America. Tomorrow is gonna be fun, but I’m really confident. I think we can fight for the win tomorrow.”

Martin put up a valiant fight early in the race but was unable to hold onto it.

“I thought if I’d do anything it’d be the first few laps. as I gave that a red hot shot,” Martin told NBC Sports. “We battled quite hard. I knew he had a better and quicker car than me. I consolidated that I would be in second, looked after my tires. It’ll hurt your tires. I jumped into second and looked after the tires.”

Saturday’s race two, meanwhile, was a barnburner. The second 30-minute race of the weekend saw three yellow flags but Franzoni on a charge from 15th up to second.

Franzoni made it to third by Lap 4 of the eventual 11-lap race. But while the first yellow aided his charge and brought him just two car lengths away from Martin on the first restart, the next two yellows interrupted that process because he’d need to catch up Martin and attempt to pass him again.

“All the unlucky came together,” Franzoni said Saturday. “The race being 40 versus 30. Starting last. Three yellow flags! Everything came down to this not being my race.”

The Brazilian said he still could have hunted down Martin from last on the grid even without the aid of a yellow flag.

“I think with green the whole race, it was possible to do. The car was really really fast. When the first yellow came it was OK, and I thought, ‘Now it’s easier,’ but not the other ones!”

But it was after the restarts that Franzoni thought Martin drove over-aggressively, making his car wider to keep the faster Franzoni behind him.

At Turn 5 in particular, the two drivers had one moment where they both went in deep, overshot the corner entry, and Martin and Franzoni both ran wide on exit. There was another moment exiting Turn 5 where Franzoni got a run up the hill to the inside while Martin moved across to defend there.

The two drivers explained their respective vantage points.

Martin (8) and Franzoni (23) had an intense battle today. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I was almost four wheels in the grass. He didn’t give me space,” Franzoni alleged. “There were two times in Turn 5, and I tried outside. He threw the car on me. It was not so nice.”

Martin said, “Knowing that Race Control and everyone is watching, you don’t want to get caught out and make a mistake. So I tried to make it difficult for him to get past me. We both went extremely deep into Turn 5, and we both overshot it.

“We’ve raced each other a few years (in the Mazda Road to Indy). We’re not gonna do anything stupid to each other. I tried to keep him behind me. Things happen. But nothing happened that catastrophic. It was a tough race for both of us. It worked out well for both of us.”

Martin, who led the entirety of the second race, had to exert some key mental training to stay focused for the restarts. With caution laps being so long at the 4.014-mile circuit, Martin knew he had to keep his head in the game.

“It felt long. All the safety car laps take so long! I looked at the dash and thought, ‘It’s a 5-minute lap, we at Spa or something?’ It was pretty crazy the whole race. Mentally very difficult, but we were able to keep him behind.”

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course comes next the end of July for Pro Mazda after another month break in this season’s condensed schedule.

And it’ll be an important weekend. With three races and Franzoni only seven points clear of Martin, 174-167, it will be imperative to maximize the mark.

Martin enters high on confidence having completed a triple-race sweep in USF2000 with Cape there last year, and with Cape having also delivered a weekend double in Pro Mazda with Nico Jamin driving.

“We know we have a great car at Mid-Ohio but Juncos does as well,” Martin said. “He’s had a half a championship of experience in Pro Mazda – this half – but the team are pushing me to my limit. They’ll implement the correct driving style.

“Mid-Ohio really suits me. I love that track. It suits my style a lot more than these last two tracks.”

Juncos, though, always fields a strong car at Mid-Ohio too and Franzoni will be hoping his car will be just as strong there.

“I had such good equipment. I could have won this race,” Franzoni said. “It’s OK. We’re still leading the championship. I’m disappointed because we had a really big gap and really good car.

“I thought we could use this weekend better to get all the points. It wasn’t so difficult. We’re in good shape but I’m sad because we didn’t win.”

MRTI Road America Notebook: Saturday

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Saturday was a busy day for the all three series in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, with each contesting races in the early afternoon. The day saw three dominating victories, along with an epic drive from one of the championship leaders.

 

Indy Lights: Leist Dominates Race 1

The momentum Matheus Leist had built in the month of May carried over into the month of June, as he led every lap from pole to dominate Race 1 at Road America for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. He fended off challenges from Neil Alberico and Ryan Norman in turn 1 after the start and slowly began to pull away from the field, eventually winning by over six seconds.

“The car today was perfect,” said an elated Leist, who will start second in Race 2. “The moment was very good. I’m very happy for this team working so hard. The car is fast in qualifying and fast in the race as well. Really looking for tomorrow.”

Santi Urrutia emerged in second after a tough fight with Ryan Norman and Kyle Kaiser in the early laps, with Kaiser rounding out the podium in third, ahead of Norman in fourth.

Urrutia, despite the strong finish, was very frustrated afterward, citing a simple lack of pace that kept him from challenging for the win. “I’m struggling as I don’t have the speed,” he lamented. “That’s the only thing. Long day to improve the car. Definitely we’re not quick. We want to keep gaining some speed and developing for the championship.”

Kaiser, meanwhile, continued the consistency that has vaulted him into the championship lead. But, as he explained afterward, Kaiser is not playing prevent. “I think it’s important to finish races but I’m not trying to be careful,” he asserted. “When you’re too defensive and careful you get wrecked. I showed that this weekend. We made a lot of good passes. I was aggressive to the very last lap. That’s the plan the rest of the year.”

Of note: Neil Alberico was shuffled nearly outside the top ten after running wide at Turn 1 on the opening lap, but eventually rebounded to finish seventh. Colton Herta and Aaron Telitz, meanwhile, endured very difficult races that saw neither in contention at any time, and both finished outside of the top ten. Telitz was 11th and Herta 12th at the checkered flag, with Herta even spinning late in the going.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off Sunday at 9:45 a.m. (8:45 local time) and will air on NBCSN at 11:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying report for Race 2 can be found here.

 

Pro Mazda: Martin Withstands Franzoni Charge for Race 2 Win

Anthony Martin needed to fend off a hungry Victory Franzoni for the Race 2 win in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victory Franzoni may have had the drive of the year in Race 2 for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, but it was Anthony Martin who went to victory lane. Martin led every lap from the pole, while Franzoni ripped through the field after starting 15th to finish second.

Franzoni was up to third in the early laps when a caution for a spinning Brendan Puderbach allowed him to close the gap to Martin. He then moved to second on the subsequent restart and immediately began pressuring Martin for the lead.

Martin had to endure two more restarts, one coming on the final lap, to hold off the fast-moving Franzoni, but he was able to consistently thwart all challenges to take his third win of the 2017 season. Nikita Lastochkin rounded out the podium in third.

Martin explained afterward that he kept Franzoni behind him by focusing forward. “I got a really good start and I kept that gap for a good while until the safety car came out and bunched everyone up. And at that point, I saw the standard white and purple car in third place and thought ‘OK, he’s definitely got pace.’ I just had to put my head down and my bum up and really focus on the road ahead of me and not behind me,” said the Australian.

Franzoni, despite the strong run, lamented losing points to Martin in the championship. “I’m sad not to win, but other people would say it’s good that I came back to finish second. But we lost points today, even though I came from last to second. I had to be really smart and really aggressive. I couldn’t lose time but I couldn’t crash,” he said.

Results are below. Franzoni now leads Martin by a scant seven points, with Pro Mazda’s next event coming at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 28-29.

 

USF2000: Rinus Veekay Sweeps the Weekend

Rinus Veekay won both USF2000 races at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay (full surname of Van Kalmthout) had the broom out in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda as he swept the weekend at Road America. The 16-year-old Dutchman outlasted challenges from David Malukas, Calvin Ming, and Oliver Askew to dominate Race 2. It is also the third consecutive race weekend in which a driver won both races, with Oliver Askew doing so at the previous rounds at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

“It’s great. I won a lot of points for the championship standings, and I’m happy with that. I’m happy I could show the speed. My first two wins in one weekend, it’s great!” said a jubilant Veekay.

Ming managed to get ahead of Askew for second, while Askew rebounded from Friday’s  17th-place finish to end up third. They moved up at the expense of Malukas, who had been running second, but spun off into the gravel at turn 14 on the final lap.

Results are below (note: Ming finished second, with Malukas credited with 12th). Veekay’s victories, coupled with Askew’s struggles, bring Veekay to within 23 points of the championship lead. The next race for USF2000 is July 9 at Iowa Speedway, the only oval on their 2017 calendar.

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