MRTI: Rayhall’s Saturday win caps off Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 seven-race weekend at IMS

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We’ll have further breakouts to come later this week on MotorSportsTalk digesting the weekend’s Mazda Road to Indy races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but here are quick recaps from all seven events:

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires (RESULTS)

Sean Rayhall emerged as a first-time winner in the second of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, in what was a popular triumph for both the young American and Enzo Potolicchio’s 8Star Motorsports team.

Rayhall got the lead at the start and emerged ahead of a first corner mess that sent Carlin’s Ed Jones into a spin after contact with fellow championship contender Jack Harvey.

Jones eventually rebounded to fourth after falling to last place and ended ahead of Harvey, whose car went into “limp mode” on the final lap while running second. Harvey fell to fifth. Spencer Pigot, the third member of the championship battle, endured a nightmare weekend and was first out Saturday after contact with another driver left him with a broken left suspension, beached in a gravel trap.

Behind Rayhall, RC Enerson finished second, posting a career-best, while Max Chilton added another podium finish in third.

The Indy Lights races, with Friday’s Round 6 won by Jack Harvey shown in highlights and the full Round 7 the featured race, will air this Thursday, May 14, at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN. Kevin Lee and Anders Krohn will host, with Katie Hargitt in pit lane.

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Urrutia celebrates. Photo: IMS Photography, LLC

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires (RESULTS)

Andretti Autosport’s Weiron Tan (Thursday), Juncos Racing’s Timothe Buret (Friday) and Team Pelfrey’s Santiago Urrutia (Saturday) won the three races of Pro Mazda’s lone scheduled triple header this year. Tan and Urrutia took their second wins of the season while Buret was a first-time winner in-between.

Tan won the postponed race from NOLA Motorsports Park in April, which gridded based on NOLA’s qualifying order. Buret led home Florian Latorre in Friday’s race; Latorre rebounded after a scary, but slow-ish, rollover accident in Thursday’s race that meant his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing crew needed to work through the night to get the car prepared.

Urrutia seized momentum on Saturday and rounded out the trio of wins; the Uruguayan driver leads the points standings.

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Jamin up front. Photo: IMS Photography, LLC

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda (RESULTS)

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver Nico Jamin took an authoritative step in the USF2000 championship battle with a double race win at IMS, albeit in two contrasting ways.

In Friday’s Round 7, Jamin started first, briefly fell back to fifth, then recovered to the lead courtesy of a last-lap pass on fellow title rival Jake Eidson. Jamin’s teammate Aaron Telitz led most of the race but was caught out by a mid-race restart, where he was one of several drivers to go in too deep into Turn 1 and lost several positions; alas, he rebounded to third at the finish.

Saturday’s Round 8 saw Eidson in trouble early, needing a front wing change after contact in the Turns 1/2 complex. Telitz felt a car hit him up the back, only realizing post-race it was Eidson. Jamin led a more straightforward Cape 1-2 up front, with Australia’s Anthony Martin coming home P3. Eidson finished 12th, which was three or four spots better than it looked like he would after some last lap drama for three other cars. Keep that in mind if it comes down to a three or four-point margin around title time in September.

NEXT UP

Indy Lights races its biggest race of the year, the Freedom 100, on Friday, May 22 (coverage will be on NBCSN as part of Carb Day coverage). Meanwhile both Pro Mazda and USF2000 will be racing at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis on Saturday, May 23.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.