MRTI: A showcase for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 on IMS road course

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Perhaps overlooked in the run-up to the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this weekend is that it’s also a showcase event for all three Mazda Road to Indy divisions, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

As in Barber, each series will have a pair of races. But unlike Barber, no series has two races in one day; they’ll all have one Friday and one Saturday race.

In Indy Lights, the field is down to 11 cars with the withdrawal of Italian Vittorio Ghirelli, who had driven the second Team Moore Racing entry. Ghirelli was initially planned to race the full season, but was not present for the series’ open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval this past weekend – Jimmy Simpson, who drove the No. 22 in last year’s Freedom 100, filled in.

Up front the battle again is expected to rage between Zach Veach, points leader on 181, and Gabby Chaves, with 172 markers. The pair of split the four races thus far. Meanwhile it would not be a surprise to see Matthew Brabham or any of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports quartet break through and claim their first win in the series.

Pro Mazda has seen Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing go 4-4 to open the season, although his teammate, Kyle Kaiser and the pair of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove have shown promise as they seek to knock Pigot off the top step of the podium. A 20-car field will take the green flag for the two events; World Speed Motorsports adds a third car while JDC’s fourth, which had been driven by Italian Vicky Piria in the first two weekends, is not entered this one. Tough week for Italians in the ladder series…

With three wins from the first four USF2000 races, including a Saturday two-race sweep in Barber, Winterfest champion RC Enerson is poised to add to that this weekend. He’ll attempt to do so in a 23-car field that has its second significant driver change in as many races. Florian Latorre shifted from Belardi Auto Racing to Cape at Barber in a third car there; Jeroen Slaghekke now moves over to Belardi from Afterburner Autosport this weekend.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.