MRTI: Indy Lights, USF2000 set for Toronto rounds

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Two of the three rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder will be in action at Toronto this weekend. Here’s a quick state of where the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda sit heading into the streets around Exhibition Place.

Indy Lights’ single race runs at 10:45 a.m. ET on Sunday; the USF2000 races are 6:15 p.m. ET Saturday night and 9:05 a.m. ET Sunday morning.

INDY LIGHTS (Entry List)

Gabby Chaves took a pivotal victory last time out at Pocono to break the deadlock in points between he and Zach Veach. Entering Toronto this weekend, Chaves (No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing) leads Veach (No. 26 Andretti Autosport) by 11 points, 316-305. A year ago, Chaves finished third and Veach seventh on the streets of Toronto, the latter driving a backup car leased from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports following a qualifying crash.

SPM’s current pair of rookies, Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia, make their Toronto debuts this weekend. Harvey, winless but consistent thus far in the No. 42 car, sits third on points on 272 with Razia fifth on 258 in the No. 7. Sandwiched in-between them is Matthew Brabham, who won both Pro Mazda races at Toronto a year ago; the young American sits fourth on 262 points in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport entry.

A pair of Canadians return to action this weekend with Zack Meyer in the No. 2 Team Moore car after missing Pocono; Matthew Di Leo makes his first start of 2014 in the No. 56 MDL Racing entry. Alex Baron (No. 4 Belardi) also returns after missing Pocono and American Ryan Phinny makes his first series start since 2011, driving the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport entry. Those four plus the eight who raced at Pocono will mean Toronto will see the biggest field of the season at 12 cars (these nine plus Juan Pablo Garcia and Juan Piedrahita of SPM, and Scott Anderson of Fan Force United).

USF2000 (Entry List)

It’s been a nearly two-month long break for USF2000 competitors since their last race at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval the Night Before the 500, won by Aaron Telitz of ArmsUp Motorsports.

In seven 2014 races, there have been five different winners. Points leader RC Enerson is the only multiple race winner, but his triumphs came from Round 2 at St. Petersburg through Round 4 at Barber. The other four winners are Telitz, Adrian Starrantino, Will Owen and Victor Franzoni.

Florian Latorre and Jake Eidson, who rank second and third in points, are poised to join the list of first-time winners, and either Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver would be a good pick for the weekend. Franzoni, Telitz and Starrantino sit fourth through sixth and need a big weekend to gain in the title chase.

Of note in the 23-car field, Nico Jamin switches from Belardi Auto Racing to Pabst Racing, which leaves Belardi down to just two USF2000 cars (Daniel Burkett, Jeroen Slaghekke) after running as many as four last year. Burkett, the returning James Dayson (ArmsUp) and Nathan Blok (John Cummiskey Racing) fly the flag for Canada this weekend.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)