Askew (center) won Mid-Ohio but got docked points post-race. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Friday notebook: Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The first two of seven races for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires are in the books on Friday afternoon, one race apiece for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

There were several other sessions: USF2000 first qualifying, Indy Lights practice, Pro Mazda first qualifying, and Indy Lights first qualifying. All told, a busy day of action for the MRTI.

USF2000: ASKEW WINS, BUT PENALIZED POST-RACE

After a tough Toronto weekend where he didn’t win either race on the streets, and got collected in the Alex Baron/David Malukas Turn 3 crash as they battled for the lead, Oliver Askew rebounded with his seventh win of the season, after winning pole in the morning, and closed in on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season championship.

The win also extended Cape Motorsports’ Mid-Ohio win streak to nine in a row, after Anthony Martin (all three 2016), Nico Jamin (all three 2015), Florian Latorre (Race 3, 2014) and Jake Eidson (Race 2, 2014). RC Enerson for Team E Racing was the last non-Cape winner in USF2000 here at Mid-Ohio.

However, Askew’s would-have-been 29-point lead after winning was reduced to 19 over Rinus VeeKay after confirmation of the official results. Askew was assessed a 10-point penalty for jumping the start.

The 10-point penalty for jumping the start on Lap 1 was different from one assessed to three other drivers post-race – Jacob Abel, Robert Megennis and Phillippe Denes – a 17-second time penalty on Lap 21 following the restart. Had a similar time penalty been assessed, no doubt Askew would have finished lower and had the win taken away.

Further information about the penalty assessment process will no doubt come later.

Askew got off to a sizable lead over Lucas Kohl and Parker Thompson earlier in the race, VeeKay having been hamstrung by a two-spot grid penalty for blowing the checkered flag earlier in the morning.

Askew built his lead several seconds for the rest of the 30-minute race, looking like he’d never be headed, while by Lap 3 Thompson got Kohl for second, and a few laps later VeeKay was by for third.

The only thing that looked set to knock Askew off his perch was a caution with just over seven minutes remaining when Moises de la Vara ran off course in his DE Force Racing entry.

That set up a final restart with just under four minutes remaining but as he has most of the year, Askew excelled and pulled away to a final margin of victory of 1.3282 seconds.

Thompson was second with VeeKay third.

Askew entered with only an 18-point lead, 283-265, but provisionally built that gap to 29 points following the race.

The potential exists he could clinch the championship tomorrow if he builds the gap to 34 points or more, as there are only two races remaining and the maximum one can score in a race is 33 points.

For Askew, the mindset is surreal as this weekend is the site of the annual Team USA Scholarship competition, where the 10 candidates are named. Last year he said he didn’t know anyone and thought racing here was a long shot; now, he stands on the precipice of winning a championship nearly one year to the day.

“There was a ton of pressure going into this weekend and that pressure is still there,” Askew said afterward. “Cape Motorsports has dominated here the past few years, winning every race, so I know I’ll have a fast car again tomorrow and can go for the pole and the win again.”

Thompson, now eliminated from title contention in his third year in the series, ran old tires today so it leaves him a fresh set of sticker Cooper Tires tomorrow. That may aid him in qualifying.

PRO MAZDA: MARTIN EDGES FRANZONI IN FIRST RACE OF TRIPLEHEADER

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

It seems weird that while USF2000 only has two races left in its season after Friday’s racing, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires opened Friday with still half its season – six of 12 races – remaining. But with three of them taking place at Mid-Ohio this weekend, this was and is a most critical weekend for the title tilt.

Anthony Martin took the first step towards the title with a launch into the lead off the start in his Cape Motorsports entry, after getting usurped in qualifying by Carlos Cunha, who’d scored the pole for Team Pelfrey.

Martin then held off a sustained challenge from his title combatant Victor Franzoni of Juncos Racing to win the race, continuing both Martin’s and Cape’s respective win streaks at Mid-Ohio. This also sees Martin close several points on Franzoni in the championship battle.

“It was a perfect day – we just have to do that two more times this weekend!” quipped an elated Martin. “It’s a “one down” type feeling today, since we’re only halfway through our season. I have to focus forward and get as many points as I can.”

The win is Martin’s fourth straight at the track after winning all three for Cape last year in USF2000. Cape, meanwhile, won the last two with Nico Jamin last year in Pro Mazda, and the second race in 2015 with Neil Alberico. It’s been since Santiago Urrutia, who won race one in 2015 with Team Pelfrey, that someone outside of Cape has won in Pro Mazda at Mid-Ohio.

TJ Fischer rebounded to third and his first podium since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for Team Pelfrey after Cunha was assessed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. Cunha dropped to fourth, and the third member of Pelfrey’s triumvirate, Nikita Lastochkin, was fifth.

Pro Mazda has two more races this weekend ,with race two on Saturday and race three on Sunday.

INDY LIGHTS: URRUTIA ON ANOTHER PLANET FOR POLE

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santiago Urrutia isn’t in the championship fight, realistically, for this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. But that doesn’t mean the Uruguayan can’t play spoiler.

The driver of the No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing with SPM scored his first pole of the season and by a significant margin – a best time of 1:11.3694 was 0.6589 clear of second place.

Urrutia swept last year’s pair of races and enters with what should be a significant advantage in terms of pace this weekend.

SPM won six of the last seven races for Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio dating to 2013, with Gabby Chaves (2013), Jack Harvey (twice in 2014), RC Enerson (2015, Race 1) and Urrutia (twice in 2016). The only exception was Sean Rayhall (2015, Race 2) for 8Star Motorsports.

That presents an interesting scenario heading into Saturday’s first race whereby none of the existing five teams has won at Mid-Ohio with the current Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced in 2015. It’s been since Martin Plowman in 2010, with Andretti Autosport, that someone other than SPM or 8Star has won at Mid-Ohio.

Beyond Urrutia, Colton Herta was second in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing entry and as previously noted, nearly seven tenths behind.

Nico Jamin, who has his own winning streak on the line with five straight wins between three in USF2000 and two in Pro Mazda the last two years, rolls off third ahead of Shelby Blackstock and Zachary Claman De Melo.

Points leader Kyle Kaiser will start only sixth ahead of fellow American Aaron Telitz, while Kaiser’s closest championship contender Matheus Leist will only start 12th in the 14-car field.

Urrutia also led practice at 1:11.9455, with Jamin at 1:12.4462 and Claman De Melo at 1:12.5052.

Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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