Harvey, Jones, Pigot at St. Petersburg. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Indy Lights set for dramatic title showdown at Mazda Raceway

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The fascinating climax to the 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season occurs this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with three realistic title contenders and a fourth driver eligible who could possibly play spoiler.

They will all be competing for the $1 million Mazda scholarship, which will reward the champion with a three-race IndyCar package for 2016, including the 100th Indianapolis 500.

Just 18 points separate Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones heading into the two-race weekend, while RC Enerson is also mathematically alive at 36 points back (a win nets 30 points, with one bonus point available for pole, most laps led and fastest lap… 12th place nets 9 points, so the maximum single-race swing is 24 points).

Somewhat strangely, none of the top three in points has won in at least three months, since Pigot swept the doubleheader weekend at Toronto in June. It’s been since the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis in May for Harvey, and since Long Beach, in April, for Jones.

Harvey enters as the favorite, the experienced Indy Lights shoe who has at least been in this position before. The 22-year-old driver from Lincoln, England, who now lives in Indianapolis, lost on a tiebreaker to Gabby Chaves last year. He’s keen to atone this weekend.

“This year in many ways there’s nothing particularly new,” Harvey said in a teleconference last month. “I think what you take from the experience is the highs and the lows and just keep continuing to work on them. We obviously saw Mid-Ohio was a tough weekend, but we still came out leading. Those are the main points.

“Looking in that regard, the team has won multiple championships, they’ve been battling to win the championship since Indy Lights started. I feel like there’s a lot of knowledge and experience for me to bring to the table, but also they’re bringing to the table themselves. I think not panicking, staying focused and relaxed.”

Harvey drives the No. 42 Racing Steps Foundation entry for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. More info via the Mazda Road to Indy’s “Meet the Contenders” series is linked here.

Pigot, who turns 22 later this month, enters just six points back in the No. 12 Mazda/Doug Mockett & Co./Rising Star Racing entry for Juncos Racing. The young American from Orlando has been the Mazda Road to Indy poster child, having won three Mazda scholarships in his career to date. He narrowly missed out on a USF2000 title in 2012 but looks to add an Indy Lights crown to his Pro Mazda one achieved last year.

“Every season’s different. You’re racing against different guys. The tracks are different, the cars are different. It’s hard to really compare two seasons to each other,” Pigot said in the same teleconference.

“In this situation I know to just stay calm and focus on the job at hand, not really worry about anyone else, but the team and I are going to go into the weekend focusing on us and how we can get the most out of the car and the most out of my driving. We’ll just let the results kind of go from there.”

Pigot’s “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

Jones, driver of Carlin’s No. 11 Toys for Boys Miami/United Rivers entry, is the youngest of the bunch at 20. The Dubai-based Englishman is also newest of the group to North America; he emerged on the scene from the outset at St. Petersburg with a weekend sweep, leading Trevor Carlin’s championship quest in the team’s first season in North America.

“It would be an amazing achievement, to come to America and win in my first year,” Jones said. “That’s always the aim, but to make it a reality is another thing. My goal and my dream is to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and winning the championship would allow me to do that.

His “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

At various points, there’s been drama between these three this year, most notably between Jones and Harvey at Mid-Ohio last race weekend, when they collided battling over the lead in race two. Tempers were also hot between the two at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend back in May.

Pigot’s been unlucky at times this year, notably on the short ovals where his pace went unrewarded, while his contact with Harvey at Mid-Ohio was costly for both drivers.

Enerson, the New Port Richey, Fla. native, is 18 and has exceeded all expectations in his rookie season in the championship. He survived a vicious accident at Toronto to then race again not even 24 hours later, thanks to a heroic rebuild by his Schmidt Peterson crew of the No. 7 Lucas Oil entry. He finally won his first race at Mid-Ohio, which was no less than what he and the team deserved.

While he’s unlikely to leapfrog that trio ahead of him, the fact he’s even in this position speaks volumes about the season he’s had, and speaks highly of his career trajectory for the future. His “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

This is the 30th year of Indy Lights, and these four have put on an incredible battle throughout the year to determine the championship, in the first year with the new Dallara IL-15 Mazdas. It’s almost a shame only one of them can be crowned champion.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”