MRTI: Crucial final oval weekend ahead for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda at Iowa

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The Mazda Road to Indy schedule was fast and furious through the month of May, but has settled down over the summer in June and July.

This weekend though will prove crucial for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires championships in their final oval events of the season at Iowa Speedway, which will both be held on Saturday. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda returns to action at Mid-Ohio next month.

INDY LIGHTS

The Milwaukee podium of Felix Serralles, RC Enerson and Juan Piedrahita played spoiler to the three championship contenders, Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones. Harvey, Pigot and Jones were only fourth, seventh and eighth at Milwaukee. At Indianapolis, Harvey won while Pigot was ninth and Jones 10th.

Even though Harvey admitted he had a tough weekend in Milwaukee, he’s still gained nearly enough points on both drivers on ovals thus far to hold the championship lead.

In the two oval races, Harvey has 49 points while Pigot has 28 and Jones 24. Overall this year, Harvey has 261 points to Pigot’s 247 (14 back) and Jones’ 232 (29 back).

“We tested there earlier in the year and the car worked fairly well,” Harvey told MotorSportsTalk after Milwaukee. “It should be a good weekend for us. We have to will it to happen if it’s not.

“That’s the stage of the season we’re at. We have to dig deep and see where we can extend the lead in Iowa, go to Mid-Ohio and kick ass. If we win Iowa it would put us in a good position for Mid-Ohio. It’s simple but it comes down to execution, really.”

The series returns to Iowa after a one-year hiatus. Sage Karam was the most recent Indy Lights winner there in 2013, leading a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports podium sweep ahead of Gabby Chaves and Jack Hawksworth.

PRO MAZDA

Pro Mazda returns to action for the first time since Toronto last month, and for its second and last oval race after also racing at Lucas Oil Raceway in May. It also marks the series’ first trip to Iowa Speedway since 2012.

Uruguayan rookie Santiago Urrutia is still well-positioned in the championship, up 30 points on Neil Alberico, but had a DNF at Lucas Oil.

Meanwhile just 23 points separate Alberico, Timothe Buret, Weiron Tan, Garett Grist and Pato O’Ward from second to sixth. So depending on how they all do at Iowa, those positions could swing. Tan dominated at Lucas Oil, although the flat 0.686-mile oval is a different animal from the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway, which is flat all the way around.

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)