Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Saturday notebook: Mid-Ohio

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The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw all three series hold races on Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires conducted their second races of the weekend (Pro Mazda has its third race on Sunday), with Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires running its first race of the weekend on Saturday.

And all three races saw championship shakeups, with one even experiencing its fair share of controversy. Reports on all three races are below.

INDY LIGHTS: URRUTIA BREAKS THROUGH AS HERTA GAINS ON KAISER, LEIST

Santi Urrutia celebrates his first win of 2017. Photo: Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santi Urrutia started from pole, led every lap, and scored the victory in Indy Lights Race 1. However, that barely scratches the surface on what was a dramatic 30-lap outing.

Two starts were waved off as front row starters Urrutia and Colton Herta approached the start/finish line too slowly on the first two attempts. The third time was the charm, however, as the green flag finally waved on what was officially the third lap of the race.

Urrutia shot off into the lead while Herta battled with teammate Nico Jamin for second, with Jamin initially getting the better of Herta. However, Herta quickly regrouped and passed Jamin back on lap 4, using an aggressive move on the outside ahead of turn 4.

Herta then turned his attention toward Urrutia, and quickly closed in and began to mount an attack. But, Herta’s charge came at the expense of his push-to-pass, which he had completely used up early in the second half of the race.

The lack of push-to-pass hampered Herta’a efforts drastically, allowing Urrutia to withstand Herta’s advances more easily.

Although their battle saw Jamin, Shelby Blackstock, and Zachary Claman de Melo close in, with the top five separated by three seconds at one point, Urrutia kept everyone at bay to secure his first win of 2017.

Further, it is also the fourth Mid-Ohio win in a in five races for the driver of the No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing with SPM. Urrutia won in 2015 for Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, finished third in race 2 that year, and swept the Indy Lights weekend last year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“For sure, it’s a track that I like. I won in Pro Mazda, I won last year in Indy Lights and I won here again (today), and tomorrow I have a chance to win again because I’m going to start on the front row again,” Urrutia said of his Mid-Ohio success.

He added that Tim Neff, his engineer from Schmidt Peterson, followed him to Belardi, so his setup for this year was very similar to one he used last year, though he admitted tire wear was an issue near the end. “I have the same engineer from last year, so basically the car was pretty much the same. I think with the tire change, it was slightly different, but to be honest it was pretty much the same. The only problem was that we didn’t save the tires to the end. So, I think if we do a mechanical change, that’s going to help for Race 2 and then we’ll go for the win again,” Urrutia finished.

Behind the lead group, Race 1 was somewhat of a disaster for championship leaders Kyle Kaiser and Matheus Leist. Both struggled from the outset, with Kaiser falling to ninth on the opening lap after starting sixth. Kaiser continued to plummet as the race went on, eventually falling as low as 13th.

Kaiser moved back up to 12th after his Juncos Racing teammate Nicolas Dapero slowed with mechanical trouble, but Kaiser could do no better than 12th at race’s end, his first finish outside the top ten this year.

Still, Kaiser didn’t lose much ground to title rival Leist, who endured an equally troublesome day. Leist started outside the top ten in 12th and never ran in the top ten at any point during the 30-lap race. He managed to finish ahead of Kaiser, but only by one position as he came home 11th.

As a result of their struggles, Herta moves to second in the championship, 49 points behind Kaiser. Leist is now third, 50 points out of the lead. Urrutia’s win puts him in fourth, 59 markers behind, while Claman de Melo completes the top five in fifth, 64 points back.

Race 1 results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 1:20 p.m. ET on Sunday, with Colton Herta on pole and Santi Urrutia joining him on the front row.

PRO MAZDA: CONTROVERSIAL FINISH GIVES FRANZONI VICTORY

Anthony Martin appeared to be on his way to victory, but an attempt to lap Victory Franzoni’s teammate Jeff Green saw Franzoni sneak by. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Anthony Martin dominated Race 2 in Pro Mazda, but it was Victor Franzoni who emerged victorious after a controversial finish.

Franzoni was all over Martin’s gearbox the entire race, rarely being farther back than half a second, and often he often tried to mount a challenge as the two worked through lapped traffic. Martin, however, held him off every time, until they encountered Franzoni’s teammate Jeff Green with four minutes remaining.

Martin tried to pass Green around the outside through the Carousel, but Green pushed out wide, forcing Martin to take an even wider line through the corner. That allowed Franzoni to go through on the inside to take the lead, with Green actually spinning on corner exit.

Green’s spin brought out a full-course caution, and racing resumed for one green-flag lap before the finish. Though Martin tried to mount a challenge, he was never close enough to Franzoni to try a pass. That left Franzoni to take his fourth win of the 2017 season, matching Martin after his win on Friday, with Martin finishing second.

“I had a better car and I was faster in the middle of the race but it was another day that I was just stuck and I couldn’t do anything. I had some good luck, which is what we need to win the championship. But to have the luck, you have to be in position so I’m really happy we did what we had to do,” Franzoni said of his victory.

Martin, who set the fastest lap of the race, was gracious in defeat, but was also vocal about his frustrations with losing the lead the way he did. “The race went well – I can’t thank Mazda and Cooper Tires enough, they give us everything we need to go out there and race, and the Cape guys gave me a great car as always. To set the fast time is always a good achievement. As far as what happened at the end of the race, getting put out by Victor’s teammate was not the way I wanted it to happen. It’s bad when lapped cars affect a championship,” he lamented.

Behind them, the Team Pelfrey trio of Nikita Lastochkin, TJ Fischer, and Carlos Cunha engaged in a very intense battle for third, with the three drivers in a pack together the entire race. The final-lap restart saw Cunha and Lastochkin make contact, forcing Lastochkin off the track. That allowed Cunha to come home third ahead of Fischer in fourth. Lastochkin was able to regroup, however, and finished fifth.

The Pro Mazda title remains an extremely close affair, with Franzoni only leading Martin by four points heading into Race 3 at Mid-Ohio.

Results are below. Race 3 rolls off Sunday at 10:20 a.m. ET, with Martin on pole and Franzoni starting from third.

USF2000: THOMPSON DOMINATES RACE 2, VEEKAY KEEPS TITLE HOPES ALIVE

Parker Thompson salutes his Exclusive Autosport team as he takes the checkered flag in USF2000 Race 2 at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Parker Thompson continued his hot streak in USF2000 with a win in Race 2 on Saturday, his third win in the last four races. Thompson led straight off the start and withstood a restart with four minutes remaining to secure the victory.

“That was amazing. In maybe two percent of my career can I say I had a perfect car but today, I had a perfect race car. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point that it almost looked easy – and it almost was easy. It was almost unreal when I got to the podium,” a euphoric Thompson said about his victory.

Behind him, Rinus VeeKay managed to keep his championship hopes alive by finishing ahead of title rival Oliver Askew. VeeKay slotted into second when the race began, while Askew dropped from third to fourth, with Lucas Kohl getting by.

Askew lost another spot on lap four, as a charging Kaylen Frederick, who started seventh, passed him for fourth. Askew then settled in behind Frederick and followed the 15-year-old back around Kohl for fourth, with Frederick moving up to third.

The race settled into a rhythm from there, but a lap 16 caution for Darren Keane and Corey Enders, who came together in the esses and locked wheels briefly, neutralized the field and erased all gaps between the drivers. Both Keane and Enders rejoined the race, but Enders lost two laps after his car stalled on top of the curbing and needed to be moved.

The restart with four minutes remaining saw Thompson rocket away from the field, with VeeKay holding a challenge from Frederick to keep second. Frederick was able to finish third, though, with Askew fourth and Calvin Ming coming through a fierce battle from fifth on back to finish fifth.

VeeKay described afterward that he was thinking “big picture” the entire time in order to gain points on Askew to extend the championship to the season finale at Watkins Glen International.

“My plan going in was just to drive smart and gain as many points on Oliver as I could,” VeeKay described. “I saw Lucas and Kaylen pass him but I had to keep going. Parker had a good start and I was not so good so I had to defend from Oliver. I kept him behind so that was good. I was pushing pretty hard in the middle of the race so I didn’t have as much grip at the end. I had a good gap so I was not happy to see the yellow flag. I had a good restart and was able to keep Kaylen behind me, so this is a good result.”

Askew’s lead over VeeKay now sits at 13 points (325-312), while Thompson clinched third-place in the championship, as he sits 43 points ahead of Kaylen Frederick (264-221)

Results for USF2000 Race 2 are below. USF2000 hosts its final race of the 2017 season at Watkins Glen on September 2.

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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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