MRTI: Brabham, Hargrove, Owen score Friday Indy wins

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Mixed track conditions made for a barnburner of an afternoon in three Mazda Road to Indy races at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. And for the most part, the drivers in the Cooper Tire-shod Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 series did a good job in their respective races on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Two 2013 MRTI champions – Matthew Brabham (Pro Mazda 2013, Indy Lights 2014) and Scott Hargrove (USF2000 2013, Pro Mazda 2014) – took their first wins on the next rung of the ladder, while rookie Will Owen scored his first USF2000 win as well.

INDY LIGHTS

The 40-minute sprint race, the first of two for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire, saw a wealth of passes and action as drivers fought for grip and traction on a drying track.

From his first career pole, Matthew Brabham finally secured his first Indy Lights win. The Andretti Autosport driver got a great start and headed off challenges from outside pole sitter Gabby Chaves and rookie Luiz Razia throughout the day to take home the triumph.

Behind him it seemed a bit of process of elimination. Chaves retired with an engine failure, points leader Zach Veach had a spin and finished ninth, and Jack Harvey ran off course early but then completed a sterling comeback to return to third.

After the podium finishers, Zack Meyer posted a career-best fourth finish with Alex Baron fifth.

PRO MAZDA

Several accidents peppered the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tire race, which saw Scott Hargrove (pictured) finally take his first win for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

With erstwhile series dominant force Spencer Pigot, 4-for-4 to open the season, involved in a first corner accident and Hargrove’s teammate, Neil Alberico, surviving a clash with Ryan Booth in a battle for the lead, Hargrove made it through to take top honors.

A late-race restart saw Shelby Blackstock shoot himself out of a cannon to nearly take the lead from Hargrove, but he was unable to complete the move and ended second. Alberico ended third.

USF2000

Pabst Racing called in rookie Will Owen to change from wet-weather tires onto dry weather slicks as the IMS road course dried out during the USF2000 race, and it paid major dividends.

Owen turned a major deficit into more than a 15-second victory as the only driver on the slicks, with Jake Eidson second and Aaron Telitz third.

Florian Latorre finished fourth and 14-year-old Colton Herta was fifth, in an impressive rebound from 22nd on the grid after his car had an infraction found during post-qualifying technical inspection.

All three series have their second races of the weekend on Saturday.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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