The full Mazda Road to Indy field at IMS. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Weekend Preview: Mazda Raceway

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MONTEREY, Calif. – The Mazda Road to Indy seasons come to a close this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for their lone road course standalone weekend of the year (Pro Mazda and USF2000 also raced at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in May).

All three of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda have two races apiece at the Northern California road course, which takes the place of Sonoma in the calendar.

Title bouts will be intense in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda for sure, while USF2000 may well see its title wrapped up after the first of two races on the weekend.

Each of the three categories are powered by Mazda racing engines, and Mazda scholarships will be awarded from the more than $2.3 million season-ending prize fund.

Race fans who are unable to attend the action in person at Mazda Raceway can watch the the six races streaming live at RoadToIndy.tv or on the Road to Indy mobile app. Live timing and scoring can also be found at IndyCar.com and on the Road to Indy app. The Indy Lights race broadcast will air September 24 at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

INDY LIGHTS

Indy Lights will again have a 13-car field, same as it did at St. Petersburg to open the season, for bookend best fields of the year. Is it perfect? No. But the competition all years has again given rise to the “quality over quantity” measurement in the first year of the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda package.

Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones are separated by only 18 points, and fourth place RC Enerson still has a semi-realistic chance in fourth at 36 points back. Of the title-contending quartet, it’s actually Enerson who’s won most recently, having secured an overdue first win at Mid-Ohio last time out.

All have teammates who could help steal points off the other title contenders. For Harvey and Enerson at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, it’s Ethan Ringel, Scott Anderson and series debutante Heamin Choi, who joins in a fifth car.

Pigot’s teammate at Juncos Racing, Kyle Kaiser, is a top spoiler with a wealth of track experience and a win in last year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma in Pro Mazda.

Jones’ Carlin teammate, Max Chilton, has been on a roll the second half of the season and looks for his first road course win in Indy Lights to go along with his first oval win at Iowa back in July. Chilton has one prior Mazda Raceway start, in Pro Mazda, back in 2007 as a 16-year-old.

The two drivers in single-car teams have been better of late too, with Sean Rayhall starring to win twice for 8Star Motorsports and having nearly won the TUDOR Championship race in PC here last year. Andretti Autosport’s Shelby Blackstock has past track experience in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

Belardi Auto Racing’s pair of Felix Serralles and Juan Piedrahita round out the field.

The Indy Lights championship will be determined in two races: Saturday at 3:45 PT (6:45 ET) and Sunday at 2:40 PT (5:40 ET) this weekend.

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PRO MAZDA

The stage is set between Santiago “Santi” Urrutia and Neil Alberico to duel over the Pro Mazda crown. Urrutia enters with a 29-point lead over Alberico and could clinch if he gains more than five points on Alberico on Saturday.

Top spoilers elsewhere include the drivers from Juncos Racing (Timothe Buret has an outside title shot, Garett Grist and Will Owen have been fast, Jose Gutierrez unlucky) and Andretti Autosport (Weiron Tan is a title contender and Dalton Kellett has past track experience).

Notable others looking to impress include Daniel Burkett and Florian Latorre from Cape, Pato O’Ward of Pelfrey, Victor Franzoni of M1 and Michael Johnson of JDC, the latter of whom is paralyzed.

The Pro Mazda doubleheader will feature race one at 2:45 PT (5:45 ET) Saturday and the finale Sunday at 11:40 PT (2:40 ET).

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USF2000

The “Nico, Jake and Aaron show” that has defined the 2015 USF2000 season has its closing act this weekend, as Nico Jamin closes on the series championship. He can clinch on Saturday, but if he runs into issues, Jake Eidson has a chance.

Aaron Telitz and Anthony Martin look to continue their strong seasons as well. Another storyline to watch this weekend is the Team Pelfrey teammates, as all four drivers – Ayla Agren, Luke Gabin, Garth Rickards and Nikita Lastochkin – are only separated by 20 points. Agren, Rickards and Lastochkin are separated by only one point.

The USF2000 weekend features a doubleheader with race one at 10:30 am PT (1:30 ETSaturday, followed by the finale Sunday at 4 pm PT (7 pm ET).

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INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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