MRTI: St. Petersburg weekend roundup

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of Sunday’s first race of the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. NBCSN will broadcast the race on Friday, April 4 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda races will air Saturday, May 24 at 1:30 a.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

The Mazda Road to Indy ladder officially got its 2014 season kicked off this weekend with three rungs of the ladder in action at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend. Indy Lights put together a single race with Pro Mazda and USF2000 both having double-headers. Here’s the quick recap.

INDY LIGHTS

Qualifying was canceled due the torrential rain, high winds and standing water that halted track activity on Saturday, which left Gabby Chaves on pole in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry due to his fast practice times.

But Zach Veach, in the No. 26 Replay-XD Andretti Autosport entry made a move for the lead on the opening lap from P2 on the grid. It was a key move with a heavy accident incurred by series debutante Scott Anderson, in the No. 24 Fan Force United entry, as he tattooed the wall exiting Turn 3 and made heavy left-side impact. A tire came loose and nearly hit Lloyd Read, in the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport/Jeffrey Mark Motorsport entry, but the Welsh driver made it through.

From the restart, Veach was able to control the race from there with conservative tire saving and a measured pace to hold off the Colombian en route to his first series victory. Jack Harvey finished third in the No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry in his series debut.

“This winter I spent a lot of time trying to get more physically strong because I felt that was my weakness, and spent a lot of time doing mental things and came into the season with a whole new attitude. I think it paid off for us,” said Veach, the 19-year-old Stockdale, Ohio native.

PRO MAZDA

Presumptive preseason title favorite Spencer Pigot had his most dominant weekend yet in the No. 7 Juncos Racing entry, with a weekend sweep of two poles and two race victories in the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Saturday’s race was delayed due to the weather and was the last track activity; no matter as Pigot powered through to his second career series win on a drying track. Pigot’s Juncos teammate Kyle Kaiser was second with 2013 USF2000 champion Scott Hargrove third.

On Sunday, things were even more straightforward with Pigot and Kaiser 1-2 again, and Pipo Derani third.

“It has been a perfect weekend. We topped every session and won both races so you can’t do anything more than that,” Pigot said.

USF2000

Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport, Saturday) and RC Enerson (Team E Racing, Sunday) captured the two USF2000 race wins.

On Saturday, Franzoni led home Enerson and Nico Jamin. On Sunday, the top two was reversed with Jake Eidson third. However, after the race Franzoni was disqualified when his car failed post-technical inspection. Eidson was bumped up to second with Florian Latorre promoted to third.

FULL RESULTS

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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