Long Beach already a pressure point for much of Indy field

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The field is so incredibly close in IndyCar this year that mere tenths of seconds cost dozens of positions. The top 24 of 26 drivers at Barber Motorsports Park in practice were separated by barely more than eight tenths of a second.

With such a small margin for error, there are several drivers and teams needing to find that extra couple tenths for improved qualifying performances, or have that bit of luck that sees their results improve.

DARIO FRANCHITTI

Franchitti started from pole at Long Beach a year ago but niggling electrical issues dropped him to an unrepresentative 15th by the flag.

Two DNFs to start 2013 – a crash in St. Pete and an exhaust issue at Barber (pictured) – have Franchitti stone last, 26th in points, already 69 points behind leader Helio Castroneves.  Eventual champion Ryan Hunter-Reay trailed Will Power by as many as 59 last year.

Franchitti’s certainly not dead to rights from title standards after just two of 19 races but he needs a result – any result – for both himself and the team going forward.

GRAHAM RAHAL

Young Rahal’s homecoming at RLL Racing hasn’t quite gone to plan through two races. The car was better than its result of 13th at St. Pete and Graham ran out of fuel the last lap in Barber, ending 21st. Rahal is coming to grips with the team and engineer Gerry Hughes, he certainly wants to outqualify regular teammate James Jakes, and he’ll have the extra pressure of Mike Conway’s presence in a third car this weekend. It’s time to deliver.

PANTHER/DRR

Considering both JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia are regarded as road and street racing standouts, they’ve not been able to extract the maximum on their road and street course setups with the joint Panther Racing and Panther DRR operations this season.

Hildebrand’s started 24th in both races, with Servia 12th and 18th, and combined neither has a finish better than 15th. Servia, a veteran of 11 prior Long Beach races since 2000, has four top-10 finishes including a runner-up result in 2007. Hildebrand was fifth a year ago.

DRAGON RACING

Dragon Racing has yet to live up to expectations this year. Sebastien Bourdais has underachieved in qualifying, while Sebastian Saavedra has played his cards right to qualify ninth in both races. Problem is, Bourdais has had too much work to do on race day and Saavedra’s fallen back from his grid spots due to contact or poor pit stops. Bourdais is a three-time winner at Long Beach and no doubt seeks a performance leap this weekend.

MRTI: Lucas Oil Raceway Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Friday marked Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, but there was also plenty of activity over in Brownsburg, Indiana at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Friday night’s Carb Night Classic featured the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in their first oval events of the year: the Freedom 75 (USF2000) and the Freedom 90 (Pro Mazda).

Both races saw the points leaders in their respective series dominate, further asserting their championship prowess, and taking their first oval victories in the process.

Recaps of both races are below.

Pro Mazda: Thompson Holds Off Cunha for First Oval Win

The Freedom 90 saw Parker Thompson appear to be almost on cruise control for much of the race, as the Exclusive Autosport driver immediately jumped into the lead off the initial start and he began rocketing away from the field.

Behind him, a pair of Juncos Racing cars emerged in second and third, with Carlos Cunha ahead of Robert Megennis in that battle.

However, Thompson’s initial lead was wiped out following a Lap 46 crash involving David Malukas and Harrison Scott. The pair had been engaged in an intense battle for fourth, but came together in Turn 4, sending Scott spinning into the outside wall while Malukas eventually came to a stop alongside the front straightaway wall.

Thompson again pulled away when racing resumed on Lap 55, while Cunha immediately gave chase, passing the lapped car of Lodovico Laurini as he tried to keep Thompson in his sights.

Lapped traffic continued to play a key role in the closing stages, with Thompson getting briefly held up behind Nikita Lastochkin and Oliver Askew, allowing Cunha to close onto his gearbox in the final laps.

However, Thompson kept Cunha at bay to take the win, his third of the Pro Mazda season. Megennis drove a solid race to finish third, while Rinus VeeKay put three Juncos cars in the top five by finishing fourth. Team Pelfrey’s Sting Ray Robb finished fifth.

Thompson’s win sees him extend his points lead over VeeKay to 36, with Cunha only two points further back in third.

USF2000: Kirkwood Rolls to Victory in Oval Debut

Kyle Kirkwood was untouchable at Lucas Oil Raceway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

If his first career oval proved a challenge for Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood, he certainly did not show it. Starting on the pole, Kirkwood rocketed away into the lead and was never challenged.

Behind him, however, his closest title rival faltered. Alex Baron, who charged from eighth to third on Lap 1, crashed out while working his way around the lapped car of Russ McDonough. Baron was visibly upset and frustrated while walking along the pit lane after climbing out of the No. 29 Swan-RJB Motorsports Tatuus USF-17.

Racing only briefly returned to green on Lap 40 before Zach Holden rode up and over the back of Julian van der Watt, with both cars coming to a stop on the back straightaway.

A restart on Lap 50 again saw Kirkwood pull away, while Kaylen Frederick worked his way up to second around Rasmus Lindh and Lucas Kohl.

The race came to a close only eight laps later – the cautions brought a 30-minute time limit into play, preventing them from completing the originally planned 75-lap race.

In the end, no one got close to Kirkwood, who took a win on his oval debut, his third win of the 2018 season. Frederick came home second for his first podium of the year, and his first with Pabst Racing Services, while Rasmus Lindh rounded out the podium in third. Kohl and Jose Sierra completed the top five in fourth and fifth.

Kirkwood’s win combined with Baron’s crash to give Kirkwood a championship lead of 44 points. Sierra remains third, one point ahead of Igor Fraga.

Both series are back in action for double-headers at Road America on June 23-24.

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