MRLS Friday: Practice, qualifying and a PWC TC thriller

Pro Mazda practice. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MONTEREY, Calif. – Action wasn’t completely intense during Friday’s sessions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, since it was primarily practice for the three Mazda Road to Indy series and only practice for the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes. However, the PWC Touring Car classes staged a thriller in the lone race of the day.

Mazda Road to Indy

Kyle Kaiser, who probably has more track experience than the rest of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field combined at Mazda Raceway, set the pace in Friday’s opening 30-minute session from 10:30 to 11 a.m. in the No. 18 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda at 1:16.0457. Ed Jones and Sean Rayhall completed the top three, with Jones’ title rivals Spencer Pigot fourth, RC Enerson ninth and Jack Harvey 12th. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ fifth driver and series debutante Heamin Choi had an off course excursion at Turn 9 roughly halfway through the session, and returned to the paddock.

Max Chilton lowered the bar in session two to the day’s best time of 1:15.8720 in the No. 14 Carlin entry, and Jones was second at 1:16.0448. Kaiser’s morning time meant he ended the day third on the combined timesheets. Pigot was fifth, Enerson sixth and Harvey ninth on the combined times.

Chilton has new signage on his car this weekend, in the form of Activision’s Skylanders franchise.

In Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Juncos Racing also topped the timesheets with Will Owen  posting a 1:23.424 in the second session. Pato O’Ward led a Team Pelfrey 1-2-3 in the morning session, at 1:23.445 over teammates Raoul Owens and Santi Urrutia, driving at Mazda Raceway 16 years to the day after his hero, Uruguayan countryman Gonzalo Rodriguez, lost his life at the circuit going into the Corkscrew. Urrutia was fourth in the afternoon session, while title rival Neil Alberico was ninth and sixth in the two sessions.

Jake Eidson (1:26.207) and Nico Jamin (1:25.489) led the two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda practice sessions, with Jamin some 0.787 of a second faster than the field in the second session. In the final session of the day, qualifying, Jamin took the pole position for the first of two races this weekend, and set a season pole record in the process (11 straight, 12 overall).

Pirelli World Challenge 

The first of three PWC TC/TCA/TCB races during the weekend was nothing short of a barnburner. Late race contact occurred between TC class leaders Ernie Francis Jr. and Vesko Kozarov, with Adam Poland then sneaking through following a two-lap shootout for the win after a late yellow. Poland’s first win of the season came after he’d made a crazy save through Turn 8, going into the gravel but catching the car before spinning out.

“In turn eight, the car got pulled right and I couldn’t catch it in time. Then I ended up in the gravel trap,” Poland said.  “Winning today’s race has made for a much better mindset for the weekend.”

Jason Wolfe and Joey Jordan won in TCA and TCB, the latter driver having completed an impressive last-to-first drive after his car was found out of compliance following post-qualfiying tech inspection (right front wheel with too much camber).

“Coming from the back is never easy, especially here at Mazda Raceway.  I definitely planned out how I was going make my moves for passing,” Jordan said.

Alessandro Pier Guidi (GT) and Ben Clucas (GTS) led the individual practice sessions for those classes. Both classes have qualifying tomorrow before their sole races of the weekend on Sunday.

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)