Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Toronto Notebook: Sunday

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Sunday’s races for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda were significantly more chaotic than Saturday’s, as big crashes took out several cars in both races and several heavy hitters encountered trouble.

In the end, each series saw a driver survive the carnage to complete a weekend sweep. Reports for both races are below.

 

INDY LIGHTS: KAISER SWEEPS AS TITLE RIVALS FALTER

Kyle Kaiser was atop the podium again in Race 2 at Toronto. Aaron Telitz was second with Zachary Claman de Melo third. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Kaiser had been the model of consistency during the 2017 Indy Lights campaign, but admittedly felt like he needed more race wins to build momentum heading into the season’s home stretch. And that’s exactly what happened, as Kaiser won Race 2 on Sunday to back up his Race 1 victory on Saturday, completing a sweep of the weekend at Toronto.

In Victory Lane, Kaiser revealed that he had high expectations ahead of the weekend, but was still beside himself with sweeping both races. “I knew this would be a good weekend for us because the team has always had a good setup here – Spencer won both races two years ago. But it’s really been a dream weekend – I’ve never had a double win weekend before. Actually, I can’t believe it,” Kaiser quipped afterward.

However, Sunday’s outing was not nearly as straightforward as Saturday’s. Colton Herta led from the pole to start race 2, with Kaiser going three-wide with Santi Urrutia and Nico Jamin entering turn one. Jamin, on the outside, was the odd man out and got pushed into the outside wall on corner exit. Shelby Blackstock then rear-ended Jamin and went up and over the right side of Jamin’s car, resulting in an immediate full course caution. Neil Alberico and Garth Rickards also were collected, with Jamin, Blackstock, and Alberico all falling out.

A lap 7 restart saw Herta lead Kaiser while Urrutia battled Aaron Telitz and Zachary Claman De Melo for third. Urrutia’s day would soon come to an end, though, as his car rolled to a stop on the front straightaway on lap 12 with mechanical issues, forcing a second full course caution.

Herta again kept Kaiser at bay on the restart and seemed poised to claim his third victory of the year. But, a damaged rear suspension that surfaced early in the race came back to bite Herta, as it finally broke as he was venturing through turn 6 on lap 26. He dropped out on the spot and was credited with 10th.

Herta’s problems left Kaiser all alone out front. Kaiser described afterward that he was content riding in second, with the knowledge that he would score good points be in position to capitalize on any mistakes.

“I know it sounds weird, but I was OK with the points for second,” Kaiser revealed. “But I saw Colton getting close to the wall a couple times and I thought if he made a mistake, I would be ready. I’m usually on the bad end of luck but this year I was rewarded. I am definitely more confident and more relaxed heading into Mid-Ohio, having a little bit of a cushion in the championship.”

Behind him, Telitz outdueled Claman de Melo in the battle for second, while Claman de Melo hung on for third, his second podium of the weekend. Juan Piedrahita was fourth while Matheus Leist rebounded from early trouble to finish fifth. Leist, running inside the top ten at the time, gently nosed into the turn 3 tire barrier on lap 10, but was able to quickly rejoin the fight without losing much time.

Kaiser now leads Leist by 51 points leaving Toronto, with Herta still in third. Claman de Melo has climbed all the way up to fourth, while Telitz sits fifth. Coverage of Indy Lights from Toronto airs on NBCSN Monday 7/17 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Full results for Indy Lights Race 2 can be viewed here.

 

USF2000: THOMPSON SWEEPS AS ASKEW GETS COLLECTED IN PILEUP

Parker Thompson flew the Canadian flag again in Victory Lane on Sunday. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Race 2 was a case of “Right place, right time” for Parker Thompson. Running fourth in the early laps, he made it through a big pileup in front of him as Alex Baron, David Malukas, and Oliver Askew all crashed out together while battling for the lead.

Malukas tried an inside pass on Baron in turn 3, but the two made contact and crashed up against the inside wall on corner exit. Points leader Askew, running third at the time after both Baron and Malukas passed him in the opening laps, was left with nowhere to go and piled into the back of them. Malukas and Baron were out on the spot, while Askew managed to drive his wounded Tatuus USF-17 back to the pits, only for the team to find too much damage to continue. Askew was credited with 12th, with Baron and Malukas 13th and 14th.

Up front, Thompson held off Rinus van Kalmthout on the restart, while a big scramble for third place between Robert Megennis, Devin Wojcik, and Kaylen Frederick saw Frederick eventually emerge in third after making a pass on Wojcik in the final laps. Darren Keane came home fourth after a late charge, with Megennis coming home fifth as Wojcik fell back to sixth.

An elated Thompson was beside himself in victory lane after his weekend sweep. “I’m surprised I still have a voice! What a feeling, to get two in ‘TO’ in front of the Canadian fans! I’d say this is unbelievable, but it’s passed that now and into its own new realm,” Thompson quipped.

Thompson detailed that he was confident he had the pace to challenge Baron, Malukas, and Askew, but elected to play it safe early on. “I knew I had the pace so I hung back to let things string out before I attacked,” he explained. “I saw the three of them lock up so I backed off and I had just enough of a gap to squeeze through. And after yesterday, I was really calm on the restart. I had my team owner, Michael Duncalfe, talking to me on the radio keeping me prepared, so I just got a good jump on the restart and worked to keep Rinus behind me the rest of the way.”

Van Kalmthout, meanwhile, was enveloped in a battle for second that prevented him from mounting a challenge on Thompson. However, he was happy to end the day with a strong points haul.

“Once we went green, I had a good restart and I wanted to pass Parker for the points, but Robert (Megennis) had a great restart and he was right on my gearbox,” detailed the 16-year-old Dutchman. “I had to defend, and there was some wheel-banging, and that let Parker get away. I had the speed, getting the quick lap late in the race, but I got the most points I could and that’s what’s important.”

Leaving Toronto, Askew’s once insurmountable points lead is down to 18 over van Kalmthout, while Thompson now sits third, ahead of Kaylen Frederick and Calvin Ming.

Full results for USF2000 Race 2 can be viewed here.

Indy Lights and USF2000, along with the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, are back in action at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 28-30.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Bruni, Snow win GT poles for IMSA at Lime Rock

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A pair of first-time polesitters have the top spot for this weekend’s GT-only IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park. Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole for Porsche while Madison Snow has his first pole of the season.

GT LE MANS

Just 0.535 of a second covered the four manufacturers and eight cars in GT Le Mans in qualifying, but up front, Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole as a Porsche factory driver.

The Italian, in only his third weekend as a factory GT driver and second ever at Lime Rock and sharing the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Laurens Vanthoor, posted the ultimate pole time of 50.404 seconds around the 1.53-mile circuit.

“I’m very happy to do my first pole with Porsche, first qualifying. This team has taught me good things and gets the most out of it,” Bruni told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after the checkered flag. He’s the 23rd different GTLM polesitter in IMSA since the 2014 merger, this surprisingly his first pole in the series.

Richard Westbrook took the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into second at 50.540 in the car he shares with Ryan Briscoe.

The No. 911 Porsche and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM are third and fourth, with the pair of Corvettes next.

The No. 4 Corvette C7.R is back in action this week following its accident at the end of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Per Corvette Racing, repairs to the car included: the entire front-right corner (components, bodywork), steering rack, diffuser, wing and changed a chassis tube due to a crease. There were no other cracks or damage to the frame. That car qualified fifth in the hands of Tommy Milner, who shares the car with Oliver Gavin. The pair won Corvette Racing’s 100th race as a team this race last year.

GT DAYTONA

After a run of seven manufacturers scoring pole positions in the first seven races in GTD, the streak was broken Friday at Lime Rock Park.

Not too far from its New Jersey base, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was the first car to score a second pole this year, this time in the hands of Madison Snow. Snow joins Bryan Sellers (Long Beach) as polesitters for this car this season, and this at least keeps the streak of different drivers alive.

The Nos. 54 CORE autosport and No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the hands of Colin Braun and Patrick Long were next. Snow’s 52.508 best lap edged Braun’s 52.699 and Long’s 52.836, with Jack Hawksworth best of the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 brigade in fourth and Jens Klingmann taking the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 into fifth.

The top 15 of the 17 cars in GTD were separated by only 0.992 of a second around the 1.53-mile bullring.

The two-hour, 40-minute race runs late Saturday afternoon, from 3:05 to 5:45 p.m. ET.

Mid-Ohio, Honda Racing go galactic for 2017 at-track camping theme

Photo: IndyCar
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Honda Racing will channel a galactic theme for this year’s camping festivities at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a popular camping venue on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

This marks the third year of a contest for best campground site, with various Honda Indy 200 gifts on offer. The theme name this year is “May the G-Forces Be With You,” and the hashtag is #CampingWithHonda.  Last year’s was a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with Santa Claus. The full release from the track is linked here.

As this year’s event alludes to a very popular galactic film series in all but name, it will see a number of participants in the weekend festivities by to judge the campsites at the track – potentially in character!

Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in IndyCar, will visit the sites Saturday after qualifying to choose the winners. He did so last year as well.

Photo: PWC

Others, such as last year’s Mid-Ohio race winner Simon Pagenaud and RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 factory driver in Pirelli World Challenge, Ryan Eversley (right), are expected to attend as well – though whether as themselves or potentially in a special character remains to be seen.

“It’s always a thrill and a special part of the Mid-Ohio weekend to take part in Honda Racing fun festivities like ‘May the G-Forces Be With You,'” Eversley told NBC Sports; the Atlanta native finished second in the second PWC GT race here last year in the previous generation TLX-GT, in one of his best drives of the season. “These guys always know how to cook up some fun activities and so if there’s an opportunity to dress up, have fun and play along with it, I’m down!”

Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud, who was a longtime member of the Honda and Acura family before his move to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered, IndyCar program (right), added, “For me, as a fan, this film series is just the best. I love the battle between the light and dark side of the force, because I feel like we can all identify with that. I try to channel the force when I’m in my race car, so this will be a really fun weekend in Mid-Ohio.

“I plan to bring something to show my pride at the track, but I won’t ruin the surprise for you guys in advance!”

Expect similar characters to be present on site on Saturday evening. There’s also going to be a bonfire, live band (Columbus group MidLife Crisis) and s’mores, plus branded lighted batons which should display well at the bonfire on Saturday.

And for James Hinchcliffe, another Honda driver who is no stranger to having fun, he’s also part of the buildup to this event, as evidenced by the event teaser below.

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”