MRLS Friday: Practice, qualifying and a PWC TC thriller

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